Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sleepy in Hanoi

We are waking up on our second and last day here in Hanoi. We take an Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur this evening, leaving at 18.05, arriving at 22.30, which makes us think that we are also stopping in Bangkok as the flight should not take four hours. (While typing this, I spoke ot a couple of girls from KL who tell us that there is a time difference, with Malaysia being an hour ahead, despite being more westerly than Vietnam. They are from PJ and like us earlier, they were trying to delay their flights back to KL to give themselves more time here in Vietnam. Unlike us, tehy are enjoying the cold weather here!)

It is again cool, dare I say it, cold, and cloudy in Hanoi and this is to be our experience of this wonderful city. The door of the hotel is open AGAIN, letting in the cold air, the sounds of the street, the motorbikes, the hooters, while across the road a shop is full of Christmas decorations, comnined with red Chinese well-wishing messages and makes a bright contrast to the general gloom.

Richard has bought a Christmas tree, Christmas lights and Christmas baubles and I am interested to see how he is going to take this all back home with him, together with all the presents he has bought. We are both going to have to buy ourselves new rucksacks to carry all teh stuff we have bought. Looking at it just now, as I was packing, I cannot say that we have necessarily bought the nicest things, I suppose more the things which are easier to carry.

Life on the streets of the Old Quarter of Hanoi are like a theatre with a collection of the finest characters you can imagine,l especially the old people who sit outside on their tiny little stools, doing some trade or other, luike the old man with the grey beard who appears at 5 am every morning with his wife and who is always one of the last to go home. Not exactly sure what it is he sells, but it is some brew or other. There are endless numbers of women in peaked hats carrying their double baskets on a stick on their shoulder. They will often come up to you to ask you to buy their bananas, pineapples, doghnuts, pastries or whatever. Sometimes, you will say yes, if you are a greedy pig, or hungry, like me, and they return your favour by asking a ridiculous price for their wares giving you, again, the stress of having to bargain down. Actually, we are quite good at bargaining, as mostly we are buying stuff we don't really want to we can easily walk away and see the price plummet as we do!

Yesterday, we were called off the street to an eating place outside which a young man was grilling meatballs, which looked and smelled like the kofte we have in Turkey and the Middle East , and which is generally what I eat when I am there - so I was intrigued. It became even better when we came to sit down whereupon we were each served with a bowl of apple soup, then a plate of fresh white noodles, a plate of salad leaves, including lettuce, mint, coriander, lavender and then along came plates of meatballs (I think it must have been lamb, but teh lady said it was pork, whatever, it was spiced just like a kofte) and some spring rolls, all this to be dunked into the hot apple soup. So, so delicious! Bon Cha, it was called and highly recommended.

After this, we took out two motorbikes, with riders for a two hour trip around Hanoi, a scarey experience, given the narrowness and crowdedness of the streets, their inclination to go across red lights. We were taken to a couple of pagodas, the massive West Lake, on the north side of town!, Ho Chi Minh Museum, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the railway station (by day!) and the Hanoi Hilton, a prison built by the French to intern and torture the Vietnamese, later used by the Vietnamese to intern and treat very well, shot down American pilots, including the (now Senator) John McCain. We arrived back just on the two hours, paying the lads their 50,000 VND (three dollars).

Later on we were to visit teh Water Puppet theatre and see a delightful water puppet show, water puppets being a traditional form of entertainment before TV, DVD's and mobile phones showing movies and playing music. A curious but typical sight here in Vietnam and Cambodia is computers being used to download music to people's mobile phones. Probably all illegal, but done very openly! The show was accompanied by live music and comprised scenes of village life on the water, with dragons, storks, phoenix, jumping fish, fishermen, fishwives, children playing and so on. Totally delightful and a lovely way to spend our last evening in Vietnam.

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