Initial glimpses of Hanoi Part 14

 14:58:09.4200000 | 12.7.2010
So here we are now in Hanoi. It's a crazy wild city from what we've been able to see so far. We're staying in the Old Quarter in a very tiny 2* hotel for US$50/night. It's more than adequate. Only ten rooms - 5 stories with two rooms to a floor - one on the front of the building, the other on the back. Our room is on the 3rd floor and looks out over some rooftop into someone else's balcony - almost close enough to reach out and touch. It's a little strange as the surrounding buildings are higher so we don't actually get any direct sunlight. But it's OK for what it is and it's only 1 night as we leave at 8am for our cruise of Ha Long Bay.

We had yet another somewhat chaotic ride from the airport with some American woman from Ann Arbor whose driver didn't show up to pick her up, we made it into Hanoi. From the "highway" we passed areas that look rather modern and built up with some tall buildings but our taxi driver took us right into the heart of the Old Quarter where there is a maze of tiny streets with very narrow buildings shmushed up against one another. the sidewalks have been commandeered by parked motorbikes so there's no place to walk but in the street.

After checking in at the Splendid Star 2 Hotel, which is down a couple of twisty alleys off a side street off another side street, we settled down to relax for a few minutes before venturing out into the chaos of Hanoi's Old Quarter in search of the nearby lake which seems to be the heart of the area, and the Water Puppet Theater nearby.

We set out at about 5pm and managed to wind our way to the lake - which isn't very far, it just seemed to take forever when the streets are so narrow and the motorbikes come at you from every direction and nothing is written in any language you can easily understand. At one point we got lost and dragged out the map and twisted it and turned it this way and that til we were able to line up with streets with the street signs(at least we assumed they were street signs!) and eventually found our way (getting home in the dark in our exhausted state later was another story).

The lake is small but beautiful with some very old structure built on a little island in the middle. there is a narrow park that runs around its perimeter and around that the ubiquitous thoroughfare of whizzing, beeping motorbikes. The park is filled with tall trees with lanterns strung throughout which we later witnessed while we were stumbling back all lit up in a daze of bright color.

At the far end of the lake we found the Water Puppet Theater and as luck would have it, there were two seats in the front row for the 6pm show that was about to start. If you've never seen water puppets before, they are without a doubt one of the cutest most endearing performances to be enjoyed. There was a live band with two female singers who sing the songs in Vietnamese, sitting adjacent to a very large "stage" of water several feet deep. An elaborate drapery system stretches across the middle of the stage behind which the puppeteers perform. The puppets are made of wood, somewhat like marionnettes, except they are controlled by rods under the water. There must have been about a dozen or more scenes - water spewing dragons and lions, the boy riding the back of a water buffalo, two peacock like birds who actually cuddle and mate, lay an egg and hatch a tiny offspring! There are boats filled with people, rice paddy farmers and a host of other Vietnamese characters. The bodies are jointed and move, some spout water, one catches a fish and all are so charming and delightful that even though I had no idea what the story line was, I was completely memorized.

Our post-theater walk took us to a seemingly endless street market and dinner at a fast food Thai restaurant - which for about US$7 for the two of us was really quite good. The restaurant scene was a jumble of young people, families and even dating couples and the occasional traveler. But the food was delicious, fresh and satisfying. Good ol' pad thai and a mango salad with chicken and roasted coconut.

The walk home was a sight to experience. Motorbikes coming at us in a continuous stream and the ever constant honking of horns. we stopped and videotaped it because you have to see it to believe it - thousands and thousands and thousands coming from all directions. Unfortunately, this site won't let me upload any video.

We fell asleep to the sound of the rain on the tin roof just outside our window. Hopefully it will serve to cool down the heat & humidity outside, at least for a little while.

To be continued...