January 22, 2002

Hanoi

It was with great trepidation that I got on the plane from Bangkok to Hanoi.
I'd heard many conflicting stories about Vietnam, often from the same
person. It's known for great beauty, irritating salespeople, friendly
people, and angry people. But there I was, a day late since all the seats on
all airlines were full the day before. sleeping on an new Airbus.

The Hanoi airport was another suspicious brand new airport. At least it had
planes, but I think they were all small military planes. The new terminal
(maybe 8 gates with jetways) had none except for us and another plane which
arrived a few minutes later. Immigration was slow, I was in the crew line
(between the crew of the two flights), but of course they processed the crew
members as they arrived, sometimes more than one at a time and also hassling
the (Australian) first officer of the other plane for some reason or
another.

On the other side there is nothing. Apparently no money exchange, maybe not
even a restaurant, just lots of taxi drivers hassling us. Eventually a bunch
of us took the official mini bus (beat up van) into the city, which after
trying to scam people on change (common practice--prices are in dollars, and
they give change at the rate of 10,000 to one until you ask them to give it
to you at 15,000 to one like they should) and driving through vietnamese
traffic, dropped us off at some hotel.

A word on the traffic. Hanoi is an old city (~1000 years), and the old town
retains many of the original streets and buildings. Luckly they haven't
moved up to significant numbers of cars yet, there is no place for them. The
main road from the airport into the city goes along the levee in a
not-so-old quarter, one way for cars and two for everything else. The rule
of the road is just go, and honk your horn to let others know you're there
if you want to pass them/cross an intersection/not be hit. In other words,
all the time. Pedestrians walk on the right (as with the vehicles), because
they are traffic, just the slowest of the modes.

Back to Hanoi. Again, the touts are everywhere. Trying to send us to hotel
rooms. Trying to sell postcards, cigarrette lighters, whatever. Eventually a
few of us sit down for a drink, and talk to some other tourists and find a
place to go.

But I actually like Hanoi. The hotel is just inside the old quarter, where
many streets retain their original craft, or a new craft. The street
bordering the south side of the 'block' makes bamboo ladders and such, the
street on the north side makes metal rod things (security grates, bird
cages, etc), if you turn right you'll come to the sheet metal street and so
on. Some streets are turning in the tourist service street, but I guess that
makes sense too, so long as it's not all of them.

The next day I went to the Jade Mountain temple in Ha Hoan Kiem. The
vietnamese temples are far more interesting to me than the Thai ones I've
seen. Perhaps because they're smaller here, and somehow more
sophisiticated--I haven't heard (yet) about the great miricles or buddah's
footprint (he never went to SE asia) or anything. Some of the altars are
have writing as their backing. Maybe it's my jewish instinct speaking, but
it's more pleasant. Today I was at the temple of literature, which was the
first 'university' in Vietnam. It is dedicated to Confucious and other
scholars. I wonder how it is in the rest of the country, but here in the
'heart' of Vietnam it's quite interesting.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm off to halong bay on a package tour, and right now I
need to meet some people...

Later,
Matthew

Posted by MBlain at January 22, 2002 12:00 AM
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