Halong Bay was something else. I spent the following day in Hanoi still swaying to my inner lilt. Like Angkor Wat, I will write about it properly later.
Today is our last day.
The weather turned just as we drove back to B+B Hanoi Hostel. The rain, it poured. It felt cool though on checking the temperature was only 19 degrees minimum.
I do not know if it is because our return is so near, because this is our final city, because we are pooped or because the weather now mimicked our mood, but you may have to take my opinions with a wary (or weary) eye.
Hanoi is not for me.
I have tried to like it, tried to give it a few days before passing comment. Tried to let it seep in, but I just can’t change that feeling. It is a bit urban-esque for me. Like London is to Edinburgh.
Yes there is traffic, but not in that friendly careless way of Ho Chi Minh.
Yes there is an urban park, but with more lake and pavement and not enough green.
Yes there are markets, but I am a bit marketed out.
The Old Town is pretty cool. We have been trying to find things to do that will keep us warm, dry and (for want of a better word) chilled.
I highly recommend the Women’s Museum. An interesting insight into Vietnamese women during the war and to this present day. An interesting insight also in variations on perspective, akin to the Black Taxi Tours of Belfast. I enjoyed its authenticity. Not to mention the book stalls in the front courtyard.
We also decided to try our hand with the 35minute ‘Green Tourism’ tour. This was pretty cool. A drive around the city in an electric (half covered, half open) car. You get that cyclo feel of being close to what you see, yet with a bit more padding.
One of things I really loved as we drove around were the variations on each street. L told me that there were 36 guilds with each street being dedicated to a particular trade or ‘Hang’. So for example, the Silk Street would be named ‘Hang Gai’. I was particularly taken by the paper street (fantastic woven baskets and bags) and the metal street (where folk were sitting on their doorsteps welding, metal sparklers flying in all directions).
It was here I finally bought the last of my souvenirs and wondered if I should indeed have made a silk something in Hoi An. Oh well, gotta have something to come back for!
We missed the timing for the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (a bit further out than you think) and stuck to coffee shops and general wandering for the rest of our time in Hanoi.
It is not that people here are unfriendly, it’s just that they are not particularly friendly. That is my feeling anyway. It is a melting pot of potential opportunity and whilst we have been used to being the ones ogling and gazing, here in Hanoi a certain uneasiness followed me as we were walking around, especially at dusk. I did not feel as easily safe here as the rest of Vietnam, though again this could simply be a reflection of my own tiredness. Though I am not sure.
In any case, you definitely get the sense that everyone here is trying to make it, one way or another. And some of that desperation clings to your skin, soaking into you.
We did not go to Ninh Binh or the Perfume Pagoda or any local Pagodas. We did not hire bikes and cycle through paddy fields, we had done all that.
Instead we did what we do best – people watch. Sitting in coffee shops and various eateries watching the world go by. Watching how real Hanoians live their life. From the highs to the lows, the rich to the not so rich. We wandered through bling-tastic designer malls and lost ourselves in the narrow motorbike lined backstreets and alleyways, smelling local delicacies wafting through their kitchen/living room/dining room/bedroom.
We watched as the nearby restaurants cleaned their vast pots and pans in the streets, clambering and clattering, a cacophony of instruments. By midnight, the lights were off, shutters down and streets cleared. Even the horns seemed to put their voices away for another day, only to awaken again at dawn.
Who needs an alarm when the swings of life wake you for you?
All right Hanoi, maybe you’re not so bad after all.