Sunday, June 11, 2006

little hanoi

The flight to Hanoi was uneventful, finding the public bus a piece of cake, and walking to the Old Quarter sweat-inducing. Despite the fact that my guide book told me it is rainy season, I have yet to see a drop of liquid except the ones falling from my sweating brow. I accepted a free motorcycle ride to a hotel from a nice looking guy. His hotel was indeed reasonably priced and clean; it also included breakfast and internet. Perfect.

I booked my tour for the next two days to Halong Bay, bay of 3000 islands. I spent more than I wanted to, but Halong Bay is what made me want to come to Vietnam, so I thought I should experience it in style - overnight on a boat with only fourteen people, meals, kayaking, touring caves, and swimming in hidden lagoons all inclusive.

I thought that Hanoi’s old quarter would be filled with old colonial style French architecture, but I was wrong. It’s just like any other big city filled with alleys, women selling fruit (and the chance to take your picture with the fruit-filled yoke), and the same souvenier bags and sandals as every other city in the country. There is a lake in the center of the Old Quarter, however, and after wandering around the embroidery district and soaking up the Confusion vibes at the Temple of Literature, I sat down for a rest on its shore.

I was sitting there, thinking about what to write in my journal when a young Vietnamese guy approached me. I was curious as to what he might be trying to sell me. But he introduced himself and said he was studying English and he comes to the lake every day to talk to foreigners. Riiiight, I thought. But it was completely true. We talked about politics, religion, life in Vietnam, life in the US, and tortoises. His French speaking friend joined us and for awhile we struggled to communicate in three languages. Pretty soon, though, he had to go study for his exams, so he said goodbye and we parted ways.

I debated going into the temple with the preserved tortoise that is apparently very famous here, but decided I’d just keep an eye out for the legendary ones still living in the lake.

Dinner of fresh spring rolls and a vanilla shake, and I was ready to retreat from the heat to my hotel room. Halong Bay in the morning!

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