ISP period has officially begun! It’s unbelievable that my courses are finished, the grand excursion is over, and in less than a month I will be presenting my research project back in Ho Chi Minh City. But, I bet you are wondering what I have been up to in northern Vietnam right?
I arrived in Ha Noi on a late night flight on October 29th. My first impression of Vietnam’s capital was its phenomenal weather. I had been especially missing the Fall weather of the south when a cardigan is just enough to keep comfortable in the cool weather, so the surprisingly cooler breeze and lack of humidity was certainly embraced.
My accommodations were conveniently located in the “Old Quarter” and near the Hoan Kiem Lake. As you might guess, the area’s namesake is attributed to the preservation of the oldest buildings and road layout of Hanoi. You can easily get lost in this place. There are many little alley ways and if you don’t pay attention you will soon be on a street with a different name even though you haven’t turned a corner. A good landmark note to make as you explore are the types of merchandise and trades sold on each street. During the times of Old Ha Noi, vendors and those of certain trades would set up shops on streets together, today much of that tradition still holds true. For example, my hotel was located at the intersection of Hang Giay and Cau Go. Giay means shoes…and you can bet that almost every store on it street sold every sort of shoe you could think of. It was tempting to not purchase a pair of flats or even a pair of TOMS for ¼ o f the market price right outside the door of my hotel!
I found the Old Quarter to be a bit overwhelming at times though. The area has definitely become a tourist attraction so bars, clubs, and backpacker’s hostels are popping up like weeds. Needless to say, I ran into a lot of foreigners, mostly 20-somethings travelling with friends throughout Southeast Asia and large groups of retired Europeans and Japanese (they were not however, checking out the bar specials). Also will someone explain to me how people from different part of the world seem to know the “tourist” look includes a bucket hat, lots of khaki, a fat Cannon camera?
Oh and how could I forget to mention! In Hanoi, you can purchase one of the cheapest beers in the world. It’s called Bia Hoi. The beer is very light and goes bad within 24 hours there are no preservatives. You can’t purchase the beer bottled or canned. Traditionally, friends will get together for an afternoon at a Bai Hoi street vendor station, order finger foods like roasted peanuts, cheesesticks, fried dumplings, eggrolls, ect. and drink bai hoi. Cost…drumrolll..5,000…VND! Or about 25 cents.
On an educational note….I have visited the Temple of Literature, the remains of the Royal Citadel (darn French for destroying it!), Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, and the Ngoc Son Pagoda that is beautifully nestled on the Hoan Kiem Lake. Like Hue, Hanoi has its own story. My program was lucky enough to have a well-known historian and professor of history from Hanoi University to lecture us about the history of Hanoi from its original establishment by the Ly Dynasty to its current phase. He then took us on a tour of the Temple of Literature and Royal Citadel. As we walked around students and other Vietnamese would stop and respectfully bow to the professor. I felt like I was with a celebrity. He had been teaching for the history department at the University for over 60 years!
Friday evening I boarded the Hogwarts Express Vietnamese Train en route to the Sapa Mountains. Let me tell you, overnight train rides can either be good or bad. I was thankfully able to get sleep on the train but the rest of my classmates barely got two hours. You see, there are many factors prevent you from getting sleep – a) noisy train sounds b) stuffy rooms (A/C was barely working) c) the train stops randomly to pick up more passenger (but one stop was because it hit something…yikes!).
You got to read the next one to see if we make it….