From Vietnam with love: it's all about people - Dal Vietnam con amore:la gente soprattutto

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Impressions of Hanoi

So, as I had figured, Hanoi as compared to HCMC is more charming, beautiful and fun. The French influence is much stronger and evident in the beautiful houses, which kind of mix 1930s style French and Vietnamese elements, and in the wide tree-lined boulevards and elegant government buildings. Several people I ran into speak French, and the signs in hotels and tourist places tend to be in French as well as English (unlike HCMC).

While Marco had meetings I went around town with Maia, although we could really only manage a few hours in the morning before it would get too hot and we'd have to go take naps. It seemed impossible that it would be hotter and more humid than HCMC, but it was. People complain about the weather in Hanoi a lot, because although they do have a change of seasons, it is almost always overcast and humid.

As usual, Maia was the superstar wherever we went. People always wanted to take pictures with her and gave her little presents. We strolled to the central lake, which has a pagoda on a little island in the middle, and through the old town which is full of narrow streets selling mostly touristy things. There we visited an early 19th century house of a Chinese merchant family that has been preserved as a museum. Lots of beautiful dark wood and a little courtyard in the middle. We also went to the museum of Women's History, which was interesting but depressing since it focused on the role of women assoldiers in the various wars.

One evening we went to see the water puppet show at the municipal theater. It was very cool! The puppets and sets were beautiful and ornate and the puppets were operated on and in the water from behind a backdrop of an ancient pagoda. The best part was the dragons that spit fire. Maia loved it and jumped around and clapped the whole time (incontrast to some British tourists who wore the same miserable, sour expressions throughout the show).

Another thing we did was visit the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, which was very interesting for the history and the pomp, although kind of creepy. You are strictly controlled the whole time, and have to check your cameras and backpacks, and are rushed through the mausoleum by guards placed at regular intervals. The mausoleum was pleasantly chilly, to preserve the body of Ho, who looked like a wax figure to me. (I have heard that it IS a wax figure, and that Ho’s real body is somewhere else and only shown to deserving important people).

In general, the atmosphere there is quite pleasant – sort of relaxed and Old World-ish in spite of the constant motorbike traffic, whereas HCMC is all modern hustle-and-bustle. It’s definitely worth a few more visits, maybe when the weather is not so damned hot…


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