Saturday and Sunday: May 1-3
We traveled from Halong Bay to Hanoi, a city between two rivers which is what Han noi means. This city's history is tied to French colonialism - its architecture, cuisine and local culture still bear evidence of the French influence.
On Sunday, our last full day in Vietnam, we visited the Museum of Ethnology, a center for the preservation and exhibition of over 50 minority ethnic groups in Vietnam.
We later lunched on our own in a little cafe in old town called, "Little Hanoi". Our French baguette sandwiches were delicious or maybe we were just really hungry. We walked around old town looking for last minute discoveries, visited another pagoda and in the evening, we attended a performance of the world-famous Water Puppet Show. The show was accompanied by a traditional Vietnamese orchestra and Cheo (a form of opera). The show depicts a series of ancient Vietnamese folktales, acted out by puppets over a pool of water. The puppeteers are actually in waist high water behind a bamboo blind as they operate the scenes of planting, harvesting, fishing, a turtle legend and a sword, similar to 'excalibur', and dancing ladies. The puppets were not new to those of us who saw a similar show earlier performed in the museum's water pond. However we did not have the beautiful accompaniment of the orchestra.
We opted not to take the optional tour on this day as we wanted to walk around more and work on this travel log.
The farewell dinner was nice as we shared what we liked most, what we would change and how nice it was to have met on this journey. We departed on May 3rd at 8 am.
A few final notes:
We didn't say much about the fact that April 30th was the anniversary of Vietnam's reunification, or the end of the war as we know that date. Both Saigon and Hanoi had prepared for the celebration with lots of lights, banners and neon signs. Catching a glimpse of these two cities at night was beautiful. Admittedly, I for one was happy not to be on either of these streets on the 30th, not knowing what could happen if someone did not want to see Americans. After all, many people died. Like Cambodia's genocide, many Viet people were impacted by devastating loss.
I wrote a few postcards, however I am not sure they were mailed by the hotel. Even though we were told about the censorship, I didn't expect they would read each card...in front of me. Here's hoping they were posted. This was in Hanoi.
Regarding Cambodia: The book by the S-21 survivor, Bou Meng, contained this passage in the final notes by the researcher Huy Vannak, who assisted Meng: "Today the country is composed solely of victims, perpetrators and their children. Victims and perpetrators live with each other in the same communities under a 'culture of impunity". The lives of the Cambodian people made a lasting impression, so much so that this part of the tour continues to haunt.
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the country's second largest city. Its population in 2009 was estimated at 2.6 million for urban districts, 6.5 million for the metropolitan jurisdiction. From 1010 until 1802, it was the most important political centre of Vietnam. It was eclipsed by Huế, the imperial capital of Vietnam during the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802–1945), but Hanoi served as the capital of French Indochina from 1902 to 1954. From 1954 to 1976, it was the capital of North Vietnam, and it became the capital of a reunified Vietnam in 1976, after the North's victory in the Vietnam War.
The city lies on the right bank of the Red River. Hanoi is 1,760 km (1,090 mi) north of Ho Chi Minh City and 120 km (75 mi) west of Hai Phong city.
October 2010 officially marked 1000 years since the establishment of the city. The Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural is a 4 km ceramic mosaic mural created to mark the occasion.
The city will host the 2019 Asian Games.
Final Thoughts (MjM)
Hanoi, the final stop, does not disappoint. To capture the essence of Viet Nam’s capital it is tempting to present it in a contrast to our other stops, so why not.
The population density varies being less then Phnom Penh’s average of 5,358 inhabitants per square kilometer for the urban area but far exceeds in the Dong Da district with 36,550 persons per sq.km. From personal observation I believe that count is a bit low.
Given its density Hanoi is a clean city with an updated infrastructure (except electricity, see pictures). Saigon shares a similar level of infrastructure but has extensive building going on in every part of the city we visited. The most impressive buildings and roads in Hanoi are still French built or inspired. According to our tour guide a looser bureaucracy in Saigon is creating a better business environment.
We have already blogged about the traffic and driving style in Vietnam but Hanoi was the worst. However, never saw any accidents, just near misses.
Hanoi’s Old Section is just old and dense, unlike Hoi An, which is ancient and charming. Hoi An is small town America as we would fantasize how it was 200 years ago. Hanoi is more than the senses can take in.
DaNang has extensive French infrastructure that has been enhanced by maintaining its colonial streets and bridges while fostering modern growth. I would seriously consider Da Nang for investment or an extensive stay.
Hue gets an undeserved bad review mainly from where it occurred during the tour. It followed Hoi An and we were physically in need of a break. The massage at the hotel wasn’t enough. And, we were at the point where every tomb and temple looked the same. Lots of imperial history there.
Ha Long Bay is unique and not comparable to anywhere else I’ve been. It is on the verge of becoming the tourist capital of Viet Nam, already laying down a structure of dead end streets waiting for the developers.
I’m glad I came.