Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Friday in Vietnam

Staring out our 15th story window, I couldn't see more than a mile because of the smog. Our view looked down on the InterContinental, where a steady stream of motorbikes brought workers three rows deep behind the hotel. The city woke up early, the streets dotted with pointy woven hats (they actually wear those? I thought only tourists did!) and motorbikes fighting for the roads.

Our objective for Friday was to explore the city and buy some paintings as a 10th anniversary gift to ourselves. The concierge looked dubious when we told her we planned to walk to the Old Quarter - the recommended area to see in Hanoi. She was right to have her doubts, as it was a few miles from our hotel. But along the way we were able to take in the feel of it - the buildings 4 to 5 stories high and one room wide, each a different color from the next, like it is against the law to have the same as your neighbor; the massive amounts of wiring hanging over every street; the people selling everything from kleenex to plastic bowls to snacks along the road. My personal favorite was the women carrying fruit balanced on two large flat baskets, hanging from a pole over their shoulders. A man in a pedicab hounded us to take him for a ride. He even showed us a sign that said, "The money is not the important thing. It is the pleasure of giving you a ride," or something close to that. We didn't bite - it was too interesting to take it in slowly.

Once in the Old Quarter we booked a tour to HaLong Bay for the next day, and were given assurances that we would have the "superior" tour with a comfortable, air-conditioned bus for the 3 hour ride and that our boat would have lovely lounging chairs. We also rented a motorbike from the same agency so we could look as much like locals as possible (though me clutching my Lonely Planet Vietnam in one hand while we rode might have given us away as tourists). Then, on the recommendation of our concierge, we headed to the south part of the Old Quarter to see if we could find a camera. Yes, I know, we have a wonderful camera. But that camera stopped at the Hang Ten clothing store counter at the airport in Singapore and did not continue on the journey with us. I can't tell you how many times I kicked myself during this trip because I didn't have my camera. Erik said he couldn't be mad at me for leaving it there because my self-punishment was more than enough.

No cheap cameras to be found, we gave up and went to Hang Trong street where there was rumored to be lots of good shopping. We spent the better part of the day looking at paintings, trying to decide which was best. In the end, we decided to think it over and found a place for a good cheap massage (gotta love Asia for cheap massages). Our dinner was next to a beautiful Catholic church where they were holding a wedding. Can you imagine a priest chanting in Vietnamese?

Our ride home was a little harrowing, since we weren't familiar with the one ways. Thank God for Erik's aunt and uncle who got us into geocaching this summer so that we now own a GPS. If not for that, we might still be driving around lost in Hanoi. Thanks Bill and Jan! So our GPS guided us back to the Sheraton where we watched 3:10 to Yuma, which is a good movie. I won't mention how we obtained said movie. A very full but enjoyable day in Hanoi.

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