The Old Quarter
Our last stop in Vietnam, Hanoi was a busy ending. It was a strange mixture between Ho Chi Minh City and something like Hoi An, little streets and crazy intersections. During our time in Hanoi, we stuck to the Old Quarter, a neighborhood that was once known for its older buildings and local life. Unfortunately, extreme tourism is slowly emerging: boutiques are popping up, hotels grow like weeds, and the old lifestyle is slowly being squeezed out of the tiny streets, far too small for the amount of motorbikes and cars that are traversing them. You get a little bit of both: a taste of what it used to be and what it is becoming.
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
The Old Quarter is situated around a mini-lake or huge pond, depending on how you see it. There are nice paths around it, with many benches and some coffee shops. It was amazing to see how much the limited greenspace was being used (even if the trees are a little dusty). All of the benches were always occupied with people, regardless of what time or what day. People are jogging, strolling, walking their dogs, spending time winding down. I think we’ve really missed that: the local feeling of a park, used by all to calm down and relax – if you can over the roar of the traffic. Because it was so full, I have come to realize that the locals can also get a little tired of the massive chaos in the streets and the constant noisiness of the big city.
Water Puppet Show
One of the cultural specialties in Hanoi is water puppetry. They say this kind of puppet show was invented when there was a massive flood and the farmers had to find a different way to put on their puppet shows. The stage is the surface of the water: all of the puppeteers are behind the background (a rather wet job if you ask me), and control the puppets with sticks under the water. So instead of a 2-D experience, we can see the little figures from all angles as they hop around, harvest rice, fish for the massive goldfish that keep popping up, collect coconuts, and perform dances with burning candles on their heads. It was quite funny, a good length (only 45 min), and they had a great group of musicians (complete with women to shout out what the puppets were saying, of course in Vietnamese).
Traveling is exhausting. I’ve often wondered why. You’re sitting on a seat for 8 hours, so why are you so tired at the end of the day? At that point it hardly matters to you though. I also think it has something to do with packing up, dragging your bags into a cab, navigating the train/bus station, getting on, stowing them, etc… then doing all of that again when the ride is over, and if, for instance, you are crossing a border.
Traveling can also be exhausting when nothing fazes you anymore… Hanoi was a bit like that. The same constant traffic, smog, and “un-navigatable” sidewalks, overloaded bicycles (the one I will remember had pig carcasses on it), stores you know you couldn’t buy anything in, ladies asking you to buy something. And always, always feeling a little taken advantage of as tourists (same same goods but different prices). I think we are ready for something new – so here comes China!
Our cozy little hotel.