Thursday, June 30, 2016
Four Nights in Hanoi - Days 23, 24, 25, 26 Our hotel was a block from the Ho Hoan Kiem Lake at the Diamond Elegance Hotel in "He Old Quarter" only a three star hotel but it was ranked number 8 of 547 in the city. The view from the 12th floor restaurant was amazing, 360 degrees and you could see Hoan Kiem Lake all lit up at night and the city skyline from your table. The food was top notch. The room, a huge family room with all of the amenities was a big change from our guesthouse in docile rustic Luang Prabang Laos....a bit of culture shock. But the adrenaline kicked in and we adapted. I read P.O.W. By John G. Hubbell in college and wrote a research paper on it trying to argue that there could still be P.O.W's alive in Vietnam in 2000 although highly unlikely I concluded that it was possible mainly because I had to. In reality if they were there it was by choice because they heard the news back at home and decided to never come back and I couldn't blame them. The book chronicled the lives of several prisoners first hand recollections including John Mccain in the Hanoi Hilton who claimed he spent more of his life there than any other house. I had always wanted to visit the Hoa Lo prison museum in Hanoi or whats left of it. They demolished much of it after the war and decided to build a beautiful hotel right on the grounds of the Hanoi Hilton, but it wasn't a hilton and looks run down and dilapidated today. The room that the prisoners were kept in still exists but even to this day most of the museum is not factual. Example...the captions still don't match the photos they were staged... They were propagated to show the Americans were treated with kindness, games, good food, privileges and respect, when in reality they were tortured daily. The museum takes about 45 minutes to see and costs $5.00. So I love the Vietnamese people and Hanoi. This is a thriving intricate world of old meets new. State of the art hotels next to families pushing portable kitchens to sell food and literally chopping raw meat on cutting boards right on the sidewalk. You will see 150,000 Mercedes and BMWs driving next to bicycle carts and electric bikes. The traffic laws are almost non existent in my opinion yet everyone seems to mesh! Every red light is more like a yellow light and it doesn't matter if there is a cop at the intersection. The motorcycles just honk swerve and dodge the cross traffic. Tuktuk drivers, scooters, pedestrians, bicycle taxis, bicycles, carriers, garbage trucks, vendors of all kinds and shapes, girls riding scooter through busy intersections while texting ...I even saw a 4 year old kid ride a small plastic car flinstone style across four lanes of heavy traffic and everyone dodged him without slowing down like it was normal as his dad laughed along cigarette hanging from his lips, even leaving him behind a time or two....!!! (see photo). I personally saw 2 small wrecks. One a taxi hit a scooter, and a big truck rolled into several parked motorcycles. So we hired a private guide to give us a Three hour walking Street Food Tour. Her name was Sunny and she is a 24 year old student in Hanoi. WE had the best time, going to places we never would have gone to otherwise, dodging in and out of alleys and side streets, back doors and hidden stairways. We tried 7 different indoor restaurants on the street. It was so cool to spend time with a native of Hanoi and who speaks fluent English she even wrote down the addresses and food items we tried for us, and getting to know her and vice versa was cool. This was a great introduction to the city. So I decided to rent a yamaha 125 scooter. They drive on the right hand side unlike Thailand. It was difficult at first. You want to make abrupt lane changes and casually look around as you drive. But thats not possible without having an accident. You look ahead make very slow movements to change lanes unless someone pulls out in front of you or you have to dodge a pedestrian. More than once I had to make a dead stop to avoid a head on. Most of the streets in "The Old City" are one way and some only allow motorbikes no cars. It's complicated but you just anticipate and avoid obstacles and you got it made. (See video). So I rode out to Westlake. It takes an hour and a half to go all the way around it. I was given a tour by following one of the hosts of the hotel who happened to be on his way home said I Could follow him on my scooter to get there (which is not easy in Hanoi!, More than once he had to wait for me). Westlake exceeded my expectations...Its one place you can have a good day. They have families flying kites, lotus flower lakes you pay to see, rows of restaurants, hotels, swan boat rides, street vendors galore, fishing, swimming, dog swimming training, the kid electric car show ( hundreds of fancy polished and souped up electric cars kids drive around next to the lake). sugar cane or coconut juice, ice cream vendors...and you are 5 minutes from the Hoh Chi Minh mausoleum where you can see his preserved body on display, which I chose not to. But Hanoi as a whole was ten times better than I expected it would be! I asked the concierge where to get a haircut, and he said just outside follow me. I got a haircut from this guy who was a serious professional. He was spinning the comb and scissors on his finger but seriously focused on his job. Took 45 minutes to cut. Then he said go up stairs, where two ladies were doing one job...washing hair and faces, hot towel, face neck and scalp massage, ...never had this done..., half an hour later I was escorted down stairs where a third girl finished blow drying and styling my hair. All this for $10....lol. I read online where a guy stayed in Hanoi three weeks and never washed his own hair once! He paid to have it done. There is one on every corner and they are all exceptionally welcoming to foreigners and they do a quality job. So our trip is pretty much over, not ready to go home though. I could do this forever. We have three days in Bangkok then fly home on July first. So back to Thailand it is! At least I can communicate again...I speak a little Thai!