This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution in the 2006 journey, click to the left or right of an image in blog mode.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Chaotic Charm of Old Hanoi

Our first hotel

12th Oct 2006 Well here we are in an intriguing place we never expected, nor intended to be. The old quarter of Hanoi with its crazy mix of Parisian and Chinese architecture, with avenues of shady trees and hard sell Vietnamese traders and scammers.

Last night we flew to Hanoi to avoid the endless bus journey from Vientiane to Hue in a crazy little turboprop with six scimitar shaped propeller blades that hugged the ground like a US military transport and made a huge crashing bounce on landing. I thought at the time it was Russian, but on further inspection I'm sure it was a French ATR72. We avoided Lao airlines as everyone said their track record was shaky at best and everyone flying regularly between the countries tried to fly Vietnam Air.

We had e-mailed two guest houses that have e-mail addresses and in the old city of Hanoi out of a fear of ending up scammed or mugged on the way in from the airport late at night, but one didn't reply to confirm and the other tried to hex us with stories of scams by other hotels and both demanded we pay $10-$11 US to hire a taxi to get to them so no one else could seduce us. Then to cap the bag we got seduced right in Vientiane airport by a tout who offered us a ride to 'his' hotel in the city for $2 each on spec. This hotel called the Tien Tan also masqueraded as a very beautiful establishment when it is actually an old French five story tenement but they gave us a penthouse suite for $9 a night - pretty much the same as the others and today arranged our train tickets and a tour to Halong Bay and hired us a motor bike to cruise the streets in the most chaotic country in the world. The only trouble is the penthouse is pretty hot with the sun beating on the ceiling and no air con.

Our penthouse room with a view

The Parisian atmosphere of the neighbourhood below

We took of on the motor bike which had electric start and an automatic clutch and visited the temples on the lake in the old city.

A series of images of the temple in the middle of the lake

Panorama of the big lake

In Hanoi you absolutely have to have your motor bike guarded
in a pay park or it will immediately be stolen

Christine immediately got scammed by two women pretending to set her up for a photo shoot in a coolie hat and panniers and actually made off with her $25 Kmart watch - but in the process got arrested to our innocent howls of protest. We have the whole thing on video and only found the watch missing when she took a shower later.

These two women persuaded Christine to have her photo taken
with the panniers on, but in the process stole her $10 watch.
The police must have known it was a scam because they
immediately arrested one of the women while the other one ran.

Busted on the spot!

As the lonely planet commented about the scams and thefts in Vietnam (Christine's watch included) the Vietnamese police are the best that money can buy - meaning if you want action you will have to pay them off.

Then we wandered the city rapidly getting lost in the maze of one way streets and hectic chaotic flow through motor bike traffic which is an art in itself to negotiate (try the internet for video clips of Vietnam's utterly chaotic traffic intersections). We had to pay touts to guard the bike at every place we stopped or the bike would be stolen in a minute flat according to the hotel proprietor.

As it was, we got scammed again by the touts trying to charge 10,000 instead of 2,000 and then found the bike mysteriously disabled when we came back with a team trying to seize the keys and claim the spark plug was broken. We had to jump on the bike and run the lights to persuade them all to settle for 10,000 (about 70c US) instead of 100,000.

Then we made it to a tourist office I had seen and managed to pick up a map after becoming lost several times and, as well as going to the big lake, made it to the Ho Chi Min mausoleum pagodas and to the Temple of Literature, thus clearing many of the major sights in day one.

A funeral

The little shrine outside the Ho Chi Min memorial

A tribal woman visiting the attractions in Hanoi

Ho Chi Min's memorial where he lies in state

A series of images of the Temple of Literature

The literature itself is preserved on stone tablets

There was a traditional Vietnamese music group playing and offering CDs.

I later bought several Vietnamese musical instruments and you can hear by own compositions here.

Video of Traditional Vietnamese Music in the Temple of Literature

People commonly eat in the street often right on the pavement, particularly at breakfast.

A series of street scenes in the Old Town

Tourists travel in pedal rickshaw convoys

A series of images of one of the notable historic Vietnamese houses, this one was free

Tomorrow we are going for two days to Cat Ba island and Halong Bay (the subject of the next posting) after which we will have one days rest in Hanoi to photograph the old city before hitting the night train for Hue.

When we returned from Halong Bay, we found the hotel had somehow forgotten we had a prior reservation and had filled up, so they arranged to get us into another hotel half a block up the street called the Venus which was even taller and had a beautiful room with inlaid furniture and the secure atmosphere of a family run establishment.

The Venus Hotel where we ended up when we returned from Halong Bay

Beautiful inlaid furniture

Panorama from the roof

Video of a motor bike ride around town holding a video camera in one hand

A temple in the Old Town

Preserved meat on sale in the street

The night markets

Musical instrument shop - there are many kinds of Vietnamese lute, violin and zither

Our train tickets finally turned up at 4.30 the evening of our departure. The Venus kindly let us stay till 9 at night for an extra half charge of $5 US and the other hotel, which had completely forgotten our return, finally got the tickets (pretending all along they were locked in the safe).

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