Friday, 5 November 2010

Hanoi, where's the love?

I try to keep an open mind before visiting a place for the first time and not bring preconceptions with me, but my experience in Vietnam has been so amazing up to this point that when reading and hearing people talk about Hanoi being the jewel in Vietnam's crown, I couldn't help but get a bit excited about arriving here. In addition, Hanoi has been celebrating being one thousand years old during October this year. A thousand years. Wow.
I was so impressed by the subtle (and not-so-subtle) elements of Saigon's culture, imagine what Hanoi had to offer!

Sadly though, the image I had built in my head was very different to the Hanoi I experienced over the next 2 nights. I felt very little of that genuine warmth and generosity that was so abundant in Saigon. Instead it seemed I was seen as nothing more than a source of income to be tapped by hawkers on every street corner and market stall.
It wasn't all bad though, and I did only get a very small taste of this city, so I don't want to judge the whole city by these 2 nights alone.  I had a good walk around the old quarter and there were some great photo ops along the way.

Dodgy accommodation, loud noise, bad smells, no space, seedy staff and a plague of ants through my luggage on my first night prompted me to change hotels the next day, and the next hotel (Hanoi Imperial Hotel) was excellent, although it was also far more expensive (still cheap by Aus standards).
Both my hotels were in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, a place that must be experienced to be appreciated. Although scams and rip-offs await tourists on every street corner here, it is still an amazing place to behold. The throng of humanity crammed into these tiny chaotic streets is really something, and the range of things being sold in market stalls beggars belief. Everything is available from a huge range of exotic live seafood squirming around squirting water at unsuspecting passers by in small food stalls through to marble tombstone plaques. Although tourists are everywhere, they are still vastly outnumbered by locals, with the oldies dressed traditionally and the cool kids all showing off their western bling. This is the place to be seen, and a great place for people-watching. Just don't expect many of the locals in the old quarter to show any interest in you beyond your wallet.

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