Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hanoi Ahoy!

hanoi streetscene

A quick post just to recap our trip to Hanoi. Jo visited Hanoi in 2000, and I've never been, so we thought it'd be a great shortish trip out of Singapore - not too much overland travel and an interesting place to see the pace of change in SE asia. The weather should also have been a nice change from the heat and humidity which has really been starting to ramp up in the Spore.

After flying in to Hanoi and of course being fleeced (but not too badly) on the taxi into town, we spent the first couple of days exploring the lanes and alleyways of the Old Quarter. The tags 'charming' and 'peaceful' might once have applied to this part of Hanoi, but as of 2011 (and I dare say a good deal earlier) these descriptors no longer apply. Cars trucks taxis scooters harleys and cyclos all compete with pedestrians and pole / basket aunties for space on the road. And horns are freely and frequently used by all who possess them. Interestingly, this is rarely in an "angry" tone, just an "I'm here and I'm coming past" tone. Much like India and I guess rural Indo / Thailand. BUT very much unlike Singapore. hmmm.

Suffice to say that after 2 days we were ready for the beach and some quiet time, but the weather and Uncle Ho had other ideas. The whole region was in an unseasonal cold snap and the average temp hovered between 15 and 20, unlike the 22-27 we (and others) were expecting. Brrr. So, kayaking around Lan Ha bay off Cat Ba island was out. As was sleeping. Uncle Ho visted Cat Ba some time in the 50s. The locals celebrate the anniversary of this fact by erecting a huge wall of speakers on the main dock and blasting viet techno at the line of facing hotels. Other companies and associations join in by putting up small tents on either side of the main dock and installing karoke PAs to compete in who can play the loudest. From 6pm on the first night they played until about 2am. Then they started again at... 6am. And played all day. We had to leave.

But first we managed to squeeze in some rockclimbing in the National Park - great, but the local farmer also got in on the music biz act and started blasting the valley with his techno. Music to plow by, maybe? Incidentally the valley was riddled with craters from American bombs dropped during the war, with the larger ones being turned into dams. The buffalo still had all 4 limbs, so he'd obviously managed to evade the UXO thus far. Exhausted from climbing we had a ... mediocre ... sleep... and jumped on the first bus / boat / bus / bus back into Hanoi. Needless to say, the old quarter now seemed relatively calm! Our last days were spent combing the (real) art galleries where we picked up a piece, and I fortuitously managed to catch up and have a beer or three with Ross W, who was waiting to get back into Yemen after the protests kicked off there.

A great trip in all, pity about the weather and the noise though!

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