Friday, 16 October 2009

Hanoi


So, Hanoi was great. It is a very noisy, busy, energetic place, and somehow the trillions of scooters make it all the more overwhelming.

We left HK late on Wednesday before National Day on 1st October (which marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC) We flew Hong Kong Express, which I thought had gone bankrupt, but still seems to be in operation. Met the guy from Hotel Elegance 3 (catchy name) at the airport, and after about a 40 min drive, arrived at the hotel, relieved to see a big comfy bed.

What did we do on Thursday? It was kind of drizzly, the tail end of Ketsana I think, but generally we were really lucky. We went for a wander around the Hoan Kiem Lake, whose name means "Lake of the Returned Sword". Legend has it that 15th century hero Le Loi was given a magic sword by a giant golden turtle in the lake (a bit far-fetched, but stay with me)He then became emperor, AND defeated the Chinese, then gave the sword back to the turtle. Not sure how he located the turtle. That detail is lost in the mists of time. In the middle of the lake is the Thap Rua tower, a monument to the turtle.



We went to the Ngoc Son Temple, which is on a little islet thingy in the lake. It was quite like temples we've seen in Indonesia, HK, Macau, Beijing....but none of them had a giant taxidermied turtle in them. He was found (boshed over the head?) in 1968, and is 2.1 metres long. Quite a sight to behold.

Also in the temple was the best Terrifying Horse I have seen since Yogyakarta:


In the afternoon, we had yummy Vietnamese coffee at the Hapro coffee kiosk next to the lake. The secret to Vietnamese coffee seems to be vast quantities of condensed milk - a staple of the HK diet. I think there's another secret, to do with the way it's brewed, I don't know.

A bit of wandering around the old quarter (aka traffic dodging) in the afternoon, appreciating the contrasts of life in HK and Hanoi. People eat on the pavements! can you believe it?! and, dearest Legco, they DO obstruct the pavement, but get this - nobody minds! Who would have guessed that people enjoy eating outside? You know that European lifestyle that everyone aspires to here (if property ads are to be believed) well an integral part of that lifestyle is eating outside. Get with the programme, as they say. (I am currently listening to the genius of white boy rap, Vanilla Ice, so I hope my temporary decade-slip can be forgiven).

OK, rant over.

We continued our game of Frogger visiting a few galleries =, which are all over the place. It became clear pretty quickly that 90% of them are essentially identical, and while they may not exhibit the same artists, you couldn't guess that. We did eventually find two that were more interesting, the Dong Phong Art Gallery, and the Life Photo Gallery.

By this time, decadence called - so we had Metropole Hanoi's Chocolate Buffet. YUM. It was pretty good, although I think Ross was a bit surprised that it wasn't more adventurous - just hot choc, lots of little chocolates, brownies, stuff like that. No chilli chocolates, or lavender and chocolate, or chocolate-dipped anchovies or anything. While we're on the subject of hugely-expensive hotels, it's interesting to note that there is actually a Hanoi Hilton - well, my point is that there are two. There's an actual hotel which is part of the international chain, and there is also the Hoa Lo prison, aka Hanoi Hilton which is where Senator John McCain among others involuntarily spent some time.

The next day we made a beeline for Lenin Park - yes, that's right, Lenin Park. It is super-strange, as you might expect. It's appropriate in many ways: soulless, enormous, criss-crossed by unexplained train tracks, not as advertised and essentially pointless. The promised placid Bay Mau Lake is no more. Nor are the paddle boats that resemble giant geese. I was looking forward to those. Here's what it looks liek now.




The Temple of Literature was founded in 1070, and it's a beautiful complex of traditional buildings and calm fishponds. Never mind Lenin Park, this was the real peaceful oasis (despite the tour groups sporting matching caps from, yes, you guessed it, mainland China)



Finally, we went to the water puppets - unmissable on a visit to Hanoi, so they say. It was great, charming I guess. Very low tech but sweet. There's a shallow pool of water at the front of the theatre, and the puppeteers operate the puppets from behind the curtain. They portray various little scenes from Vietnamese life (back in the day) like fishing for frogs, gathering the harvest, lions fighting, kids playing, stuff like that. Bits of it reminded me of Punch and Judy actually.


87 Pho Ma May is a tube house which has been restored to its former 19th century splendour. Being a tube house, it is long and narrow - this was a way of cheating an ancient system that calculated property taxes according to a property's width. When we went, the house was full of children, making lanterns and carving patterns into melons in preparation for Mid-Autumn festival. The idea is that the lanterns are lit up at night, and the light catches the moon's attention - he will then grant the wishes of the child holding the lantern.



I'm sure Ross will remind me of all the bits that I have forgotten to include, but how's that for a whirlwind tour?

Here's a video of what it's like trying to cross the road. Admittedly it was Mid-Autumn Festival Eve, but this is not an unusual quantity of traffic. And the pedestrian crossing light was green.


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