Presumptuous to have a view about a city where you spend a long weekend but hey! I’ve seen well paid travel writers do it on less. Anyway, it’s more about the memories and the photos than any real analysis, so here goes:
Around the lake.
Ho Hoan Kiem (Hoan Kiem Lake) abuts Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the cultural and historic heart of the city. The lake is a wonderful, reflective, calm green surface which is in itself an insight into so much of Chinese painting. The Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain) sits on a small island on the southern end. Local people stroll around the tree lined lake, practise at dance classes, do tai chi, play with children and generally relax
Fun in the open
Much of life seems to be lived on the street in the centre of Hanoi. I saw schools practising their dance routines and tons of people playing badminton on the permanently marked courts along footpaths. My travelling companion was , unlike me, one for early morning walks when apparently the best of Hanoi is on display. The best reports were of up to 60 people at ballroom dancing class in the main square next to an equally large number seemingly attending laughter classes.
And of course, there were the ever present bridal photographs
We took an electric tourist car ride through the Old Quarter; narrow streets with discrete areas of speciality shops from suitcase to saucepans. Busy, life on the street again, this time commercial; here a temple, there a restaurant but all go!go!go!
In the market building, some vendors went for the stylish presentation rather than the jumble bin approach.
There’s the Old Quarter and then there’s the rest of the centre – a miss mash of sometimes refurbed and sometimes decaying French villas laid out in wide treed lined boulevards infilled with “the best that could be done at the time” in-fill. Some houses were so high and narrow there could be only one room on each floor; some were chaotic rearrangements of tumbling villas. Many of the commercial premises have been tacked onto what were once the small gardens of old houses and so they opened straight onto the motor scooter inundated footpath. The idea of a “building line” so dear to western town planners is a fantasy in Hanoi. But it all hangs together with cheerful ramshackle character.
MUSEUMS AND TOURIST MAGNETS
Museum of Literature
One of the most endearing sights was the group of young women graduates who came to pay tribute at the Temple of Literature,. In 1070 it was built as Vietnam’s first university and near as 1000 years later young women come to celebrate their graduation.
It took almost an hour for the 3k queue to get us to the door of his resting place where smiling and flashily dressed young guards indicated with a warm gesture that sunglasses were to be taken off. What pictorial memory of Hanoi would be complete without this photo?
The Museum of Women was another on the roller coasting walk; it is smartly curated and this sign was memorable:
The Hanoi Hilton or Hao Lo Prison
This was a jail built by the French colonial government; its first prisoners arrived in 1899. The French kept mainly political prisoners here along with those awaiting sentencing at the nearby Court of Justice. It was originally built to house 500 inmates; at a peak in the early 1950s Hao Lo held 2,000 prisoners. During the Vietnam war American prisoners were held here with great kindness according to the panels describing their time; a view not consistent with some of the stories from those released prisoners.
The last museum we had time to visit was the Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution. Well worth a visit; its wide 1950’s tiled corridors and rooms of glass cases and posters are a little evocative of Soviet influences but overall the museum details the people and the places that contributed to the struggle of the Vietnamese to attain freedom from French rule.
Life on the Street
From the chaos of the traffic to the groups of people sitting on low stools enjoying a footpath meal, there is much worth capturing in hanoi. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
Modes of transport
Finally… we stayed at the Metropole. One of the legend hotels. Its grand history boasts guests from Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard on their honeymoon to Grahame Greene and Somerset Maugham, right through to their much loved Joan Baez and Jane Fonda. And dozens as famous. Now there is a pool and perhaps the conservatory wasn’t there when Green sat to read of an evening?
That really wasn’t the last word.
This woman sat opposite us at the airport leaving. She was flanked by two loving sons.
Her face seems to contain all the pain, determination and acceptance of Hanoi’s past. Bless.