Christmas day in Hanoi. We’ve been here for 2.5 days. There is so much to see, hear, taste and smell, I don’t know where to begin writing about it. Here’s a list:
- Streets are very busy with a zillion scooters and motorcycles – honking is incessant and necessary as a means of warning pedestrians and other drivers (or just saying hello?). Crossing the street is perilous at best. I almost got run over yesterday – NEVER change your mind after stepping off the curb and walk backwards!
- Everyone wears a face mask – the smog is bad. Everything is filled with dust and grit. Our eyes are irritated but that might be because there is so much to see. The sun comes through the smog but is a big red ball at sunset, not clearly seen. I have no idea if you can ever see the stars at night.
- There are markets everywhere – practically each building has a storefront. Many are just a small counter with a few pots, a table or 2 on the sidewalk with small stools (the kind you use in your kitchen to reach the top shelves) where people sit, eat, drink, smoke and generally chatter. In other words, their days are passed at street level. You can buy just about anything at any time. Our favourite purchase is food – oranges, pomello, bananas, baguettes, pho (noodle soup) and sitting down for tea or coffee once or twice a day. We eat our goodies as we walk, never stopping more than a short while to have a hot drink or to check our map. People come up to us constantly to sell us a ride on their motorcycle or on a cyclo, or maybe they want to sell us fruit or have us pay for a photo with me carrying the fruit baskets. As I waited for Leon outside the ATM, a nice lady wanted to sell me all kinds of t-shirts that she had embroidered. It’s hard to say no and keep smiling at times. I wish I knew a few words. I know they are only trying to earn a living.
- There are lots of temples, monuments and museums to visit – we’ve seen the Military Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, walked past Ho Chi Min’s Mausoleum and several embassy buildings, including Canada’s. We visited the Cathedral and the other main Catholic church. We actually made it to Christmas Mass today, but too late. It was all in Vietnamese and I couldn’t tell they were signing the last hymns, not the opening hymns. The church is very large and was quite full. It was a little odd to realize they sit with all men on one side and all ladies on the other. We broke that rule and arrived very late. You can imagine what they thought of us!
- Public toilets are scare. It’s a real problem for someone like me. I have managed to source some decent places at the big modern mall downtown, a few nice cafés and in public areas like museums. Toilet paper is not always included and most often it’s hard to clean your hands afterwards. Just in case you were interested…
- The food is indeed very delicious and healthy. We had pho on the street the other night. The bowls were not actually washed between customers, but it was all fresh and yummy. The cost of a large bowl of chicken and noodle soup was $2 a person. Bread today was $1 for 2 small baguettes. Dinner last night in a very nice restaurant, including 3 beers and one dessert was $25 for 2. The market on the streets behind our hotel has so much to offer – fish, eel, clams, veggies and fruit, garlic, ginger, lemon grass, fresh noodles, fresh pork, beef, duck, chicken and dog! Yes, that’s right! Ok, don’t think about that too long. We were happy to find out from our tour guide that they don’t eat dog in the South of Vietnam.
- Shopping is all about bargaining. But then again, when you can buy a double sized silk sleeping bag liner for less than $10, you don’t want to dicker. You can buy all kinds of clothing or shoes, but I think it might be hard to find things in my size – Leon and I are rather large by Vietnamese standards. I think my almost 6’4” son would be stared at constantly, not to mention my tall and voluptuous daughter. As it is, Leon and I get all kinds of looks. It may be because we are fair and have mostly grey/white hair compared to the locals. They must think we are looking really healthy for such old folks!