Hanoi (Vietnam), 02.08.2013
At 06:00 in the morning downtown Hanoi was waking up slowly. Traffic was still light, the heat not too bad, along the streets the first soup and noodles of the day were prepared. I walked the half hour from the central station to the hotel to soak up the first impressions and get a feeling for this city. In the old part of town houses were low rise and narrow, lining up slice after slice. My room wasn’t ready at this time of the morning, so I left my stuff in the hotel, changed and cooled down before heading out for the first discovery of town. It was still early for anything to be open, and I was the only guest at a breakfast place. The early hours of the morning were the most magical ones to discover new places, like the small streets of old Hanoi.
Walking south, I went to see the Hanoi Hilton, or the Maison Centrale, a prison first built by the French to put away Vietnamese rebels against colonial rule. Later USAF prisoners were kept here. Today only a small wing is still standing, the biggest part of the prison has been bulldozed to make space for a shopping center and tower building on top. The museum is very well kept, explaining in detail the conditions of the Vietnamese prisoners. There’s even a guillotine on display, that was used during French rule. In this place I found quite barbaric conditions I must say. The communist propaganda influence was remarkable, it is incredible that in our days there are still people seriously talking about this kind of revolutionary ideologies that have been proven to just not work in every place they were tried, without exception.
Out on the street again, I kept walking south into an area full of old French colonial buildings. Considering the aversion I thought the Vietnamese to have had for their colonial rulers I was surprised to see all these buildings in good shape and full use. Also, contrary to many soviet countries in Eastern Europe I have seen, there were no cheap additions to the buildings falling to pieces. The city had kept a distinct charm this way. In the smaller streets, with less traffic, there were trendy shops here and there, mostly clothes. Turning north again, I reached a lake, that was said to still house some giant turtles. But most importantly, there was a lovely temple on an island in the lake, connected by a bridge in bright red colored wood. I was still exhausted from the night in the train and sweating like crazy, so I rested here for a while, watching the people visit, pray, burn incense, and enjoyed the little wind blowing over the lake.
Right on the northern shore of the lake the old town began, with its small streets full of shops, bars, food shacks. The streets are flooded by scooters driving in all directions. I walked around, found a beautiful narrow temple that had been well restored. And shortly after had to rest in another cafe, the heat was too much for me. One iced coffee later and dried by the aircon again, I made it through another bunch of streets, but felt soon that the temperature would knock me out soon. S it walked back to the hotel, just a few streets away. After a short time I got my room and enjoyed the calm, the non-heat, and a shower almost 24h after the pool in Hue. In the afternoon I took more walks through this old city that has its own magic. There were streets passed several times this day and where I always found some new store I hadn’t seen before. There were so many great places to eat that choosing wasn’t easy. I must say Hanoi has been yet another surprise on this trip through Vietnam.
The next morning it was raining as I took a cab to the airport. Once again the driver confirmed that Vietnamese can’t drive cabs apparently. The concept of a passenger needing to get quickly from one place to another seems unclear. This guy took ages for the ride, drove painfully slow, and changed gear as soon as his car did a maximum of 1500 rpm. The engine shook quite often, I was in the brink of telling him to stop and let me drive. Never exceeding the third gear, we finally made it to the airport. Checkin and security were easy, and soon after I sat in a plane to Bangkok, off for a couple of days of relax.