The first two flights to Hanoi were without complication, the third was a different story as the flight was delayed and the entry into Vietnam was lenghtly and it wasn’t until 2:00 AM that I finally arrived at my hotel in Hanoi. The VISA process can be completed upon entry into Vietnam if you have some paperwork in hand. Fortunately, one of the buddies I traveled with-the Monacan, is a computer geek and was able to help me get the PDF file printed without a PDF reader! Anyway, the lines for immigration into Vietnam were very long-several delayed flights all arriving simultaneously.
Arrived at the hotel and all I could see was a metal gate over the front entrance to the place. The driver rang a bell and the metal floor to ceiling gate opened up and I was escorted to my room. The entrance looked like the gates in a closed shopping mall. Strange! I was tired and just crashed! Got up the next morning and discovered I had gained two hours as Vietnam is two hours behind China. I wasn’t so tired after all!
As I breakfasted, ( I passed on the beef noodle or chicken noodle soup) and the desk clerk told me my driver and guide were waiting for me. We visited a famous prison, the Museum of Literature, the travel agent(for some changes in my itinerary) and an absolutely superb lunch at a Vietnamese fish restaurant. Some fresh veggies, herbs, peanuts, fish sauce, noodles were placed on the table. A large ceramic bowl with hot coals followed with fresh water fish sauteeing in the pan on top of the hibachi looking grill. The fish smelled heavenly and by adding the aforementioned ingredients, one created their own lunch. I ate enough for two people, it was so good. The fish sauce had chilies, just hot enough to remind you that you are not in Kansas anymore. The Hanoi beer worked as well.
After lunch, I had a walking tour of the old section of Hanoi. Narrow streets with millions of motorbikes, more than I have ever seen before. This is a very young country-60% of the population was born after the Vietnam war and they buzz around on bikes without a care. Crossing the street is nerve-wracking as traffic signals are infrequent and cars, pedestrians, rickshaws all vie for road space. A rather frenetic place, this Hanoi.” Good Morning Vietnam!”
I needed olocal currency, so the ATM machines are convenient here, but the shock is when you see the choices for withdrawal! the current exchange rate is 16,000 dong (yes! Dong!) so I withdrew one million dong from the ATM. It turns out, I had drawn $65.00. I ama millionaire in Vietnam and a schmoe elsewhere!
The highlight of the day, after the lunch was a water puppet show early thiws evening. The travel agent arranged a ticket and the stage is a pool of water where a screen provides the backdrop and characters appear from behind the screen skimming on the surface of the water, orchestrated by puppeteers behing the screen.Dragons, kids, boats, fish, all kinds of symbolic Vietnamese figures tell stories while dancing on the water. This was different from anything I had ever seen before! A wonderful show!
Am about to go out for dinner at a NY Times recommended place, that should be edible! Tomorrow is a full-day sightseeing tour to another scenic spot in Hanoi. Until then, Journey well!
posted Monday March 2007