Ladies & Gents,
May I present to you: Hanoi! The city that 7 million people (and 3.5 million motorcycles) call home.
I loved it there. Loved it. The extent to which I didn’t even realize until I arrived in Saigon (which is basically as though New York and Bangkok had a child together — an insomniac, motorbike-racing child with ADHD).
In Hanoi, the stores and hotels are extremely narrow, tall affairs, due to the fact that at some point in the past (no one could seem to produce the exact year), shop owners were taxed on the width of their establishment. Anyway, the upper levels of the buildings are all styled after the French Empire and in various states of dilapidation, providing much architectural distraction for yours truly.
In the Old Quarter in Hanoi, each street belongs to a different trade. After a number of days there, you find your directions taking the shape of: “Ah, yes, the museum! Just go down bamboo street until it meets red drum street, make a left onto button street and if you keep walking about five minutes that way, you should find it, just next to copper bowl street.”
But what I loved the most about Hanoi was the endless posibility of surprise. Each street had its own niches, its own pockets of quiet, just waiting to be discovered. You could escape the traffic and the bustle just by popping into one of the many pho shops and sharing a bowl with the locals who’d stopped in for a quick snack. Likewise, on the street dominated by jewelry shops, there existed a house whose entire second floor was converted into a shrine, and you could wander in and out without encountering a soul.
Perhaps my favourite place was the cafe hidden near the main roundabout, where you had to bypass the tailored clothes and tourist trinkets in the storefront, pass through a narrow hall, and then order your drinks on the ground floor of what turned out to be a secret cafe with a great view of the lake.
–Sorry, re-reading that passage made me realize that it’s long past time to change the subject. Moving on!
One of the day trips I took out from Hanoi was to Tam Coc, in Ninh Binh province. This area is sometimes known as ‘Halong Bay on the Rice Paddies.’ The same incredible karsts abound, only this time you get to explore them in a rowboat along the Ngo Dong river, or on bicycle.
Improving slightly in the concision department: it was lovely! Finis.
Anyway, as Sam mentioned, we were dropped off in Hue for about four hours by fortuitous accident. The mausoleum of Tu Duc was by far the most beautiful of all the sites/temples/shrines/you-name-it that I’d seen in Asia. This was, of course, due largely in part to my own personal aesthetic, which happens to go wild anytime you find some combination of the following: turqouise, brick, moss, dilapidation of any kind, ponds, blocks of colour, slight drizzly weather, etc. etc. etc.
Sam basically had to drag me away.
Relaxing in Hoi An was lovely. After three days of wishy-washy resistance, my desire to save money was (surprise!) overcome by my desire for a custom-made coat. The coat, along with some other junk, is now making its way across the globe and should arrive in Toronto (hi Dad!) anywhere between 3-6 months from now.
On my last day in Hoi An, I took a cooking class in which I was the only member, and was observed the entire time by every member of the restaurant staff, who apparently had nothing better to do. Very intimidating when you have to flip a crispy shrimp pancake without the aid of a spatula.
Anyway, in Saigon for the day and then off to the Mekong Delta, then into Cambodia.
Hope you’re all well, and please keep the emails (or blog-response poetry) coming!
From Saigon with love,