Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunny day in Hanoi

Before I get to the sunny day -- which is especially nice after the drizzly clouds of yesterday -- a bit about last night. First, I was thrown back with exhaustion yesterday afternoon, and whenever we paused for a minute I fell asleep. We went out for dinner to a place that is listed among the most popular restaurants in Hanoi (Quan An Ngon) and had a perfectly awful dinner. Perhaps we just didn't know what to order off the vast menu, but man. Bad. The crispy shrimp pancakes were dripping in bad-tasting oil, the steamed spring roll with shrimp and mushrooms was soggy and bland, the pork ribs with chili and salt were chunks of unpleasant fat, and the grilled beef with chili and salt were the best thing we had, only because we could distract ourselves by the lengthy chewing that was required. I had a Ha Noi beer which tasted kind of oddly of rice and something else; it left me longing for a good old beerlao, the beer of wholehearted people. We took a short walk trying to find the night market, but exhaustion wore on us so we went back to the hotel and crashed very early, 8:30 I think.

A terrific, awful headache woke me up, and we think it was due to the air. This is a good time to mention that the air is not nice to breathe, and it stings our eyes and throats. So many Hanoians wear cloth masks that cover their faces, leaving just their eyes peeking out. But the air does seem better than it did in 2005; back then, it was most common to see people wearing protective elbow-length gloves in addition to the masks (which they even wear on the bus). So no gloves this time around, which is an obvious sign of improvement. There seem to be more cars and fewer of the little putt-putt scooters. But I do think it was the bad air that gave me the terrible headache, which woke me up and kept me awake much of the night.

Breakfast this morning in the hotel was just fine, and we headed out to walk to Hoan Kiem Lake, which is in the center of the Old Quarter of Hanoi. We were out at 8am, more or less, and the streets were so quiet. We thought it might just a regular Sunday morning thing, but we learned that the major street was blocked to traffic because there was some kind of race going on. We walked around the lovely lake, watched the people, wandered through narrow (crazy busy) streets, and stopped for a coffee float.

Tonight we take the overnight train to Sapa, so we won't be back on the blog until tomorrow -- assuming we can get online in Sapa. We spent one night sleeping on the plane, then one night in bed in Hanoi, one night tonight on the train to Sapa, the next night in a bed in Sapa, the following night on the train back to Hanoi, then a night in Hanoi. It makes me dizzy. And happy.

the elevator floor in our hotel. for some reason i find this very bizarre.
regular street scene around our hotel
more street scenes around our hotel
the national library
a cool tree on the grounds of the national library. click to enlarge, it's quite amazing.
this sidewalk is practically empty, but the sidewalks are something like this: bikes and motorcycles parked in rows, and people eating and cooking. there are usually these small blue plastic chairs and tables, and we gather you just sit down and someone will bring you food. the bowls of pho are usually wonderful-looking (and smelling!) but we haven't yet had the courage to try to navigate the encounter. ordering, dealing with money, it's very confusing.
so here we are, at Hoan Kiem Lake. it's kind of like Central Park for Hanoi.
more shots of the lake
really so beautiful, and such a gorgeous day
these gates lead to a little red bridge that crosses the lake and leads to a temple. hi marc!
to manage the overwhelm of horn-honking and the constant threat of being run over, we stopped at this little place for something to drink. it was right on the lake, and the breeze was just right. hi lori!
this is what we got -- a coffee float. the coffee was strong espresso, and the ice cream was GREAT. just the treat to get us through the morning.
near the park was this monument to the old emperor Ly Thai To (mid-15th century), who got the message from heaven to retrieve a magical sword, which he used to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. One day after the war, he stumbled upon a giant golden tortoise swimming on the surface of the lake; it grabbed the sword and disappeared into the depths of the lake. The name of the lake -- Hoan Kiem -- means Lake of the Restored Sword, because the tortoise restored the sword to its divine owners. Pretty cool.
If you could read Vietnamese, you could read about it on this sign.
there is a tortoise in the lake, but almost never sighted. but we saw this one when we were having our coffee float. it was GIANT. we later read that this is one of 3 of these turtles in the world, and the only one living in the lake. and we saw it. again: it was giant. we read that it's longer than 6 feet.
Hanoi is the City of Peace
but it's not all magical tortoises, women in ao dai and conical hats, and ancient charm. Witness Playboy Hanoi.
We have to check out of our room at 3pm, and we don't get our train until 8pm or so, so we'll have some hours to wander and find a good spot for dinner. Next post from Sapa!


  1. Hi Lori *waves madly* just found your travel blog once more and had a quick (gasp wow! amazing! oh!) read-through. Sooo interesting. Looking forward to more:) Stay safe and happy:)
    a couple of things -
    you're nearer to my daughter than I am - she flew to Perth Western Australia on September 26/7th, forever. I'm jealous of you! (as per usual!)
    and I misread the caption on your final photo " ...WITLESS Playboy.....
    :D yeah! I thought you'd like that lol;P
    love and hugs from pamela xxx

  2. HAHA!! WITLESS Playboy, yeah, that's hilarious. I am very close to your daughter; most of the people who look something like me here are from Australia. xo


Thanks for leaving us a message!