Having spent a leisurely week or so slowly taking in Laos arriving in Hanoi Vietnam was a bit of a shock to the system. Manic buzzing vibrant frenzied energetic are all words that come to mind when thinking of how to describe the city. Having said all that after one evening wandering around the old city quarter I felt right at home.
The Hoan Kiem Lake area is a lovely escape from some of the madness of the narrow streets and traffic of the old quarter. It is said to have got its name in 1428 and there is a detailed narrative involving King Le Loi a metal bar which becomes a sword and a tortoise…..look it up if you’re interested! Anyway its a nice place to sit and watch the world go by and is beautifully lit at night by all the buildings surrounding it.
For me I love to watch the people moving through life doing what they do to get a sense of a place. Hanoi has a wealth of street sellers carrying baskets of almost anything around stoping when they find a corner of the street to settle in and open up shop. The only thing that annoyed me slightly was the number of ladies who would suddenly appear and pop a basket holder on your shoulder without asking and then want to take your picture for you only to then demand money. That’s fine if you want a picture but you did need eyes in the back of your head to stay ahead of this game! But don’t worry the majority of street sellers are just that.
There are clear signs of the links to the former USSR and the cities communist history with random concrete statues of Lenin or a groups of soviet workers mixed in with the evidence of the cities colonial French past. I think it is in the people that you can get a true taste of the real Vietnam both busy and hard working, as well as resourceful and determined.
The housing situation is interesting to see. Technically being a communist country everyone should be equal (I really don’t think it actually works like that) so people are allotted land for building homes or growing produce. This means that properties are tall and skinny reminding me a bit of Amsterdam and dutch houses. Its clear that ingenuity is used to get the most from your bit of space and cram in as much as you can!
Hanoi of course is also the resting place of Ho Chi Minh. He is eternally incarcerated in a mausoleum not far from the centre of the old quarter and people queue for hours to be ushered past for a thirty second viewing. That delight was not available to me as the place was closed for a refurb (both the building and the body!). It is interesting to note that he really didn’t want all this pomp and ceremony his last wishes being that he should be cremated but the government had other plans as he was considered ‘the father of modern Vietnam’. I do wonder what he would say if he could comment on his current situation. You can go and see his home which is on the same grounds as the Mausoleum and that makes it clear how simple he wanted his life to be having very few possessions and devoting his life to getting the French out of Vietnam.
The grounds around his home are beautiful and worth a wander round. As an aside in Vietnam yellow is considered a very important colour so any important buildings are painted with a particularly bright sunshine shade inside and out, in case you were wondering!