Hanoi, north Vietnam
Trip Start Aug 26, 2009
13Trip End Sep 30, 2009
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A category 8 typhoon is quite a serious weather condition, as all buildings are closed and public transport comes to a grinding halt. Needless to say that Hong Kong airport also closes to all flights. This is regardless of whether they are International or local. Luckily, the night before we were due to fly out, the typhoon warning had been down-graded to category 1. It was still pretty breezy outside,but it was now "all systems go".
We had decided to catch the 'airport train' this time travelling our way back to Lantau Island. The weather was rainy and windy
Our flight to Hanoi was once again in a smaller aircraft, which was a beautiful blue and silver colour with ' the logo,'Vietnam Airlines' written along its sides. Shortly after take off, it seemed as if we may have been going to experience some 'post typhoon turbulence', as there was still some atmospheric activity at about 8 thousand feet. I looked out of the port side window and over the front of the wing, to see the deceptively small speck of Hong Kong disappear into the blue of oblivion. We climbed in an upward bank for what seemed some time, then eventually levelled off. The remainder of the flight however, was relatively smooth and I'm sure the pilots in the cockpit were also weary and avoided the turbulence wherever they could. Dave as usual had dozed off to sleep, as this is what he usually did in aircraft. He had done so may flights in his travels, that just about nothing phased him anymore
I was excited, as what seemed only a short time later, that the pilot announced our descent into Hanoi City and my very first memories were of descending through a mist of rain clouds, then suddenly seeing a beautiful brown and green patchwork quilt of fields far below us. A silver river meandered its way between the clefts of a deep valley. From a height it resembled a long snake weaving in and out of the far away farm lands. At first I guessed it may have resembled one of many other places on earth when viewed from the air. Then later upon landing, it occurred to me, that the history of this country was one of much political turmoil, heartbreak, determination and passion for life. I was wondering what we would find here as travellers in this land and whether or not the people were going to be friendly or otherwise. I couldn't speak a word of Vietnamese language but I'd been told a lot of them now spoke good English.
Hanoi Airport was at first in appearance, very similar to other airports at which I had landed. I could see from the wet patch on the tarmac, that it had been raining heavily here also. The plane taxied to the arrivals terminal and Dave and I grabbed our day packs from the overhead lockers and made our way to customs.Once inside the airport, I noticed the immigration officials were all dressed in military green, some with red shoulder epaulets and golden stars signifying their rank
At first, we just sat around in the airport cafe and ordered what we could read in "Vietnam-English" and waited on confirmation of our hotel booking. We had been sipping ice cold tea and chewing on some type of pastry, when I noticed a rather well dressed, young Vietnamese man, walking about with a piece of A3 sized paper, held high above his head. I could just make out what was written on it. He appeared to be scanning the cafe, as if looking for some one, when I heard him suddenly call out in broken English.."Taxi for Del -lick and Dav".....Taxi for Del- lick and Dav", "Oh", I wondered could he be trying to say Derek and Dave by any chance.? As it turned out he was looking for us, and had arrived in a brand new four wheel drive at the airport to pick us up and transport us to our destination. This was really service, I thought, as we began carrying our own back packs to the exit of the airport.( not that we didn't trust anyone at first ).The taxi driver,motioned us to wait at that spot, while he went and fetched the vehicle.
As usual, it wasn't long before the local taxi drivers and free-lance luggage handlers were surrounding us, offering us every thing from hotel discounts to guided tours, marriage to eligible sisters or cousins, or" keys to the city". As usual,we had to tell them, "no thanks,as we had already booked," but this still seemed not to make much difference, as they were also persistent, right up until the time we loaded up the waiting four wheel drive
Night had begun to fall, as a hot rain drizzled down the windows of our luxury car. We drove along a sealed, dual carriage, highway. The brake lights of the cars in front of us seemed to reflect a glistening pattern upon a wet road. I took it that we were travelling due north,as there was a compass embedded into the dashboard of our four wheel drive. The compass needle had begun deviating from its magnetic north position, every now and again, but for the most part, showing us to be headed in a northerly direction.
The driver attempted to converse with us in the best English he could manage. During our ride however he occasionally broke into his own Vietnamese language. At times,I observed Dave just nod his head and respond with.."ah yes, yes, that's right, yes"...,ah yes very good"...Oh I see, hmmm, that's really interesting". I smiled to my self as I knew that of all the languages Dave could understand, this was probably not one of them. The remainder of our long trip into"Hanoi City" was articulated in Vietnamese and reasonably fluent English. We respected that the driver was really trying hard to speak our language. For after all we did manage to find out what we needed to know, which was basically.
As far as traffic itself was concerned ,there were many motor cycles upon the road and quite young looking drivers also riding as if there were really no tomorrow. I wondered why they even bothered to wear protective helmets, as they appeared to be on a suicide mission, weaving in cutting across and at times almost colliding with us, as we drove along the carriage way. It was at first nerve wracking, to see so many motor cycles in one spot at one time.
I noticed that whilst on the road heading towards Hanoi, there also appeared to be a 'department of road works 'and there were by now, unsealed patches of road and road workers with stop and go signs. There were trucks unloading hot bitumen, and other workers standing by a parked steam roller. This all appeared to be taking place under huge bright lights, as it was now well after dark.I looked to the other side of the road and noticed more advertising signs, large bill boards showing cigarette brands, one with a picture of a cowboy carrying a saddle with a 'lighted cigarette' dangling from the corner of his mouth. There were also other indicators of western influence visible as we drove along. For example, I didn't know they ate 'pizza' in Hanoi but there was a sign advertising an 'after hours pizza delivery service'.
I had done a moderate amount of reading beforehand concerning Hanoi and had consulted the "Lonely Planet Travel Guide" but still couldn't visualize what it may have been like to actually be there. However now we were about to find out, as we had pulled up outside the shop front of our hotel. Suddenly,a smallish looking Asian man with a wispy shredded beard, came out to grab our luggage and then commenced to carry it up to our room, which was located on the second floor of an old, but nicely renovated terrace building. We checked in at the front desk behind which sat a pretty receptionist and her male companion. They seemed to comprehend English quite well and were also very polite and helpful
The district in Hanoi of which we were now temporarily resident, was steeped in history, all of which spoke of invasion by and rebellion toward invaders from China, going back some three thousand years. Later again in 1408, the Chinese Ming Dynasty attacked and occupied Vietnam and the city now know as Hanoi. However,the Vietnamese then later overthrew the Chinese in 1428 and threw them out. As to the relatively modern history of occupation by France, America and other countries in the past, they occur too numerous to cover entirely in this blog. However,according to one source:( source ?) in 1887, the French Government nominated Hanoi as the Center for the Indo-Chinese Union and this effectively took over Vietnamese Independence.
As we walked the streets, we could still see that French colonial influence, with its yellow facades, tree lined boulevards and grand site administrative offices. These colonial villages of the old French Quarter were now home to embassies, upscale hotels and restaurants
In past years, the Vietnamese resistance to French colonial rule, had spurred uprisings and attempts at patriotic publications. The communists with their empathy for the Vietnamese peasants frustration with unequal land distribution, emerged as the most successful of all anti colonists.
Yet according to other sources, Hanoi City, was once again occupied by the Japanese in 1940, when it briefly became a seat of 'Viet Minh'.government, after which Ho Chi Min had proclaimed the independence of Vietnam in 1945. However the French returned and reoccupied the city of Hanoi in 1946. In 1954, nine years and a blood bath later, Hanoi became the independent capitol of North Vietnam.
So the city of Hanoi and the country of Vietnam have never really been settled for very long without they being invaded or colonised by one country or another. I must admit though that the Vietnamese people had always done a good job at kicking the invaders and oppressors back out again. This city had really seen thousands of years of history and for a moment, I wondered about its younger generation of people and did they ever wonder about their heritage? I guess some would have but most seemed too preoccupied at just living from day to day. Still we were surrounded by this history and in particular, I recall years ago, reading about what may have been known as the 'American War'. This is probably one of the more well known and discussed periods of world history, spanning approximately 10 years, as America's involvement lasted from 1965 until their withdrawal in 1975. This may have been what was termed an International Cold War Conflict, and it from memory was a conflict between the communist supported, north Vietnamese government and the government of south Vietnam, supported by the US and other anti-communist nations.
Hanoi was also the location of the infamous' Hao Lo' Prison, which I believe translates to something like 'fiery furnace' or stove. ( This I could believe as our time in Hanoi was unbelievably hot and humid both day and night. ). This building also previously known as "Hanoi Hilton' had been nicknamed by the American POWs captured after being shot down by the Vietcong. But besides its political prisoners interned there, was one time visitor and American actress, ..surprise,...surprise... Jane Fonda.....? The mind boggles...All we needed then was 'Paris Hilton' to make things even more bizarre.
Most of our time spent in Hanoi was wandering amongst the many and varied arts and crafts stores that seemed to be just about everywhere we looked. Dave and I spent lots of time walking around Hanoi trying just trying to find one place or another without being knocked down by the many, many motor cycles coming out of every avenue and narrow alley or side street. They were everywhere 24/7. In Hanoi's old French Quarter, just about every street house had converted their ground floor to a shop. There were small businesses just about everywhere you cared to look.
For the most part we did really enjoy our visit to Hanoi and now were looking forward to our long journey by train far south to Saigon or lately, Ho Chi Min City.