With an overnight stopover in Kuala Lumpur, we arrived in Hanoi today. By the time the visa was put in our passport the long queues at immigration were gone and we entered the country without problems. The driver from the tour operator was waiting patiently and drove us in town to the L’Heritage Hotel in the old quarter. The first part of the drive was over a good 4 lanes motorway through the countryside. In town it got busy. Narrow streets and overall motorcycles. The bicycles must have been upgraded to scooters. The hotel is a narrow tall building like most in the old quarter. We were told this is for tax reasons (pay per street length). The staff is friendly and the room fine. The noise of the street is kept outside with a double glass window. In the evening we walked outside the hotel, along the road looking for some street food. Walking was hampered by all the motorcycles that were parked on the sidewalk. Different than in Malaysia, the street stalls are just a few small tables in-front on the pavement instead of a large plaza with different vendors. The pavement is so narrow, some tables are even encroaching on the street. This is obviously not allowed. During our meal a police van came by and the owner quickly tried to bring some tables inside. However the police managed to confiscated a few. Later some tables were again put out on the street and quickly occupied. A street singer pushing a mobile disco unit came by and filled the street with his loud singing.
In total we stayed 5 nights in the L’Heritage Hotel in the old quarter. It was the stopover place for our 3 trips into the countryside. On the first day our niece-in-law, Jolene, dropped by. Despite that it took her 2 hrs to reach our hotel she was there at 10 am. We wandered through the maze of streets in the old quarter towards the Hoan Kiem lake which lies in between the old quarter and the so-called French quarters. In the lake is a small temple on an island. It was overflowing with primarily Asian tourists. Along the shores of the small lake, ladies in traditional dress were lining up for a fotoshot with the temple in the background. It was Woman day.
Most European visitors make a so-called food tour to taste the different Vietnamese dishes. We see them passing by in groups when we were sitting on the side of the street for our evening meal. We opted for a private guided walk. Jolene showed us the St. Joseph Cathedral (1886) with the large colonial style buildings around it. On the other side of the lake is the Opera House (1911), which we unfortunately could not enter. Just like all the opera houses in South America it was modeled on the one in Paris. This one was however far less opulent. No large pillars, bronze statues or all colors of marble. Obviously the community here did not need to show off their successful independence for the motherland. In the nearby National Museum of History (1930) the long development of the Vietnam nation was exhibited. Many dynasties had come and gone. A central theme was the struggle for independence from China. In the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long on the other side of the old city the main theme was the struggle for unity of the country in the American war of the sixties. Next door to the Imperial Citadel is the large mausoleum for Ho Chi Minh. He was the leader of the Northern Communistic independence movement. We traveled through town using local taxis. They were not expensive and in this way you did not get lost. We had asked the hotel clerk to write down the site names in Vietnamese and this helped.