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Trip Report Hanoi Holiday

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Trip report: Hanoi

Arrived HKG 4:30pm for the 7 pm flight to Hanoi, about 2 hrs distant. Security detects a tiny pocket knife in my bag. Mine? Why yes of course. Not permitted on aircraft. Questions me, ‘may I throw it away?’ Well, I guess so if that is the alternative to staying home. Gone. My gf has 2 old friend nail files and these are also detected. However, she is offered a third choice, namely the airline will hold the item for 2 weeks, in her name at the airport. If she so desires, she may easily retrieve them after her holiday. Hmm, not so good. A shifting airline policy on such items suggests sloppy management. Why didn’t I check a bag with the offenders inside? Simple. I had read that the Hanoi airport baggage handlers are the worst in Asia and since we were arriving at night I did not want any delays. But in the end we saw the bags popping onto the belt just like in other airports and no one seemed miffed. So, live and learn.

We arranged to meet our friend at the airport and share the private hire car to the city hotel, 45 mins away. The airport was adequate, open, clean but obviously not totally ‘modern’. We changed money there and both of us became instant multimillionaires because I swapped US$500 for Vietnamese Dong at the rate of 20821 to the dollar. Thus we shared a bag of cash worth more than ten million dong. Luv dat feelin’.

Hotel night staff at Hanoi Sans Souci IV on duty and welcoming, even offering a hot cup of tea. We showed our passports, checked out the rooms, left the bags and went over towards the Cathedral, very nearby, which turned out to be a very nice square of human activity. Vietnam is not quite so crowded as China but it seems that in the Old Quarter the homes are so small, and the family size so big that, apart from sleeping, in fact, there is no room in the flat for the kids and middle aged folks so they are all out on the street at the same time. Unemployment must be a big problem in this society, from what I could see. We had no plan but did have some hunger so went to the 3rd floor rooftop café/restaurant on the square. I would say that the tourist catering cafes are numerous, the menus easily read and extensive, the coffee only fair and the whole mess overpriced. But certainly OK. We ate a bit and, like always in Hanoi, were staggered backwards by the sums: ‘for that simple meal, you now owe 237,000 dong’.

Fortunately, in the morning, I was able to wake even earlier than my normal standard of 6 am thanks to the mighty bells of the nearby Cathedral pealing out their morning Angelus. I find it hard to complain when the worship of the Lord is underway in such a pleasing way. Hearing the bells brought me back to my time along the Hudson River when we could hear from across the wide clear expanse, the Sunday morning church bells of Saugerties. A lovely memory.

The most memorable thought of Hanoi is motos and foul air. The lanes and streets are tight and narrow, filled along the edges with sitting people and filled in the middle with innumerable and rapidly, even chaotically, moving motorbikes, also crowded with stuff or people. So we, and all the other very numerous tourists, were walking along the street kerb as the walkways were filled with people and parked motos. Not real safe nor pleasant. And of course the breathable air obtainable under those conditions was very smelly and not healthy at all.

The food was not as good as north China, slightly better than HK, not as varied as Singapore, only a bit cheaper than HK, and many street eating shops are short on clean. We ate both Western and VN foods, some fusion food in an ‘ambience’ restaurant, and suffered no ill health. Walking shoes we wore daily and we found many good spots, even with the poor maps. The best spot we found was the Women’s Museum, just south of the Old Quarter. I had read about it so thought might be a good chance to learn of VN. A very educational, inspiring, intelligently displayed museum featuring many of the ethnic groups of the country and the role many women played in gaining Independence in years past and the role they play today in finding income to live and raise the kids. Entrance ticket 30,000 VND. That’s right. A dollar and a dime.

Girl friend was miffed that we did not go to Halong Bay, a famous scenic spot on the seacoast, nearby. Well, 4 hrs on the bus, 4 hrs on the boat, and then 4 hrs on the bus is not my idea of a holiday. She could have gone and not cried but we did have an OK day in town. Yeah, lots of walking, some interesting sights, ugly air, fair food, beautiful hotel staff eager to please, high Mass in the Cathedral a few days preceding Christmas, and church bells reminding us of a simpler time without APPL.

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