Day 4 of our ongoing trip in Hanoi, Vietnam, and we spent the day meeting up with a friend and just discovering more about this city.
By complete coincidence, it turned out that a friend of ours from back home was planning a trip to Southeast Asia at the exact same time as us; today, our paths finally crossed.
Shaughnessy arrived late the previous night from Bangkok, but had been in no shape to go out, so we connected with him this morning. We decided that an easy thing to do would be to take an electric bus tour of the city. It only cost us 300,000 VND to rent the bus and driver for an hour’s tour of the city. Marcie and I had walked so many of these labyrinthine streets already, but it was neat to see from this new perspective, whipping around in this tuk-tuk-style vehicle.
In truth, we spent most of the trip catching up with Shaughnessy and hearing about his adventures in Thailand and comparing stories. One thing that did catch my eye, was the old city gate.
Built in 1749, this is all that remains of the wall that once surrounded the old city of Hanoi.
After the tour came to an end, we caught some lunch, then ended up helping Shaughnessy finding a hotel for a night. Seems like he had bungled up his booking, so had no place to stay for the night, so we ended up scavenging the city in attempt to find him a room. One hotel sent us to another, then another, and each meant another trek through the chaotic city.
And chaotic it was. You see, when we started out in the early afternoon, the streets were quite sedate (I find it always quiets down here at that time of day), but, as our venture continued, I could feel the energy on the streets palpably increase until it reached a full frenzy. Welcome to Friday evening in Hanoi, I guess!
So, despite this being our fourth day in the city, there were all kinds of new sights to be seen, including:
- A rooster (crowing like it was sun rise)
- Many people burning votives (offerings)—so a lot of open flames on all the already-perilous sidewalks
- An old man peeing in the middle of an ornamental garden
- People with super-loaded bicycle carts of goods to sell
- Song birds in cages lining the back alleys
- An infant girl strutting out from her mom’s shop, onto the sidewalk, hiking up her dress, and peeing like no tomorrow.
To be honest, too much peeing for my liking . . . but the song birds were a surprise. We have been down so many alleys and narrow streets, but today was the first day we saw so many birds out. Perhaps, it’s a custom peculiar to Fridays? My preliminary research hasn’t revealed much except that keeping song birds is a cultural customs here.
As for the burning of offerings, it seems to be something done according to specific days in the lunar calendar. I saw people burning paper and different types of colourful fabric, including felt.
Here’s a few pictures I tried to snap while we navigated the frenzy:
In the midst of all this, we passed a school, and got to watch the amusing and universal scene of children scampering out of their classrooms on the last day of the week. Except here in Vietnam, there are no parents waiting in their cars to collect them. They’re waiting on their scooters. And on the children jumped, and off they zoomed, into the moving maze.
Eventually, we sorted out a hotel for Shaughnessy, and Marcie and I and made our way back to our hotel. Along the way, I needed to fetch a pair of trousers I had purchased in the morning that had needed tailoring. What an expert job, and completed within the day!
After a quick rest, we headed back out into the streets to reconnect with Shaughnessy and visit the Friday night life of Hanoi. The whole of the old quarter is entered around Hoàn Kiém Lake. The road that rings the lake is usually teeming with traffic, but on the weekend nights they close it to the traffic and it’s magically converted into a family playground. Instead of incessant honking, you hear live music, chatter, laughter, and all the sounds of mirth that go with a world suddenly being released from the grim reality of the workday.
We had a lot of fun wandering around the lake, watching all the activities. We began at the enormous stage in one of the main round-about. Music blasted from this so loudly that you could feel the thrum in the pavement. I think there is a big concert happening there on Saturday night, but on this night, it was just pre-recorded music playing, with some dancers.
Heading away from the stage, we found families immersed in many different entertainments. Children played skipping rope, or built wooden towers, or drove around in toy cars.
There were live musicians, karaoke, fortune tellers, and, of course, plenty of treats to eat.
The buildings and the remnants of old architecture were lit up. In short, we were in the midst of a festival!
The weather was perfect; the rain from earlier that day had abated and we found ourselves in mild twenty-degree weather. We eventually made our way back to the main square and ventured up the market street. Like the main ring road, it had been closed to scooters and, here, countless vendors (and I mean, countless) had set up to sell their wares. To be honest, I didn’t find this part very interesting—it was just more of the same regular items that you can find everyday on the streets. I was hoping to find something antique or mysterious (like perhaps a doorknocker!), but if that section of the market exists, I haven’t found it (yet)!
Well, that was are day (and night). Here are a few shots of the various details I discovered during our wanderings.
Next up, a two-day tour of Halong Bay!