terça-feira, 15 de novembro de 2011

Hanoi (english)

I will put here my experiences regarding my trip to Vietnam. However, since were practically very intensive 4 days with tours, pictures and experiences I will break the story into 3 posts with an entire one just to Hanoi, another one about Halong Bay and the last one about Tam Coc. Anyway, Hanoi was my "operational" base for all the tours and also the most cultural experience in the trip.This trip was quite expensive but I think it was a good value for the money with everything going smoothly and even better as I expected. The best cost-benefit strategy would be like this: direct flight between Phnom Penh and Hanoi with a scale in Lao, 1 day in Hanoi, 2 days/1 night in Halong Bay, 1 day in Tam Coc, return flight to Saigon and bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh. Let's cut it to the chase:

I left my work at 2.30 pm stressed since I hadn't had the time to finish a task and someone would have to that for me. I went quickly to my apartment just to pick my bag and camera - my only baggage - already packed.I found the first - but not for the first time - motorbiker on the street and after some bargaining we set at $2.50 to the airport. We got some rain on the way and since it's always the same motorbiker and he's usually very friendly to me I made up to $3. After 2 months of Cambodia, get to the airport once again was a sudden reintegration to the modern World and I thought that weird. Lights, large spaces, few people, cleaness, etc, some day that was common. Since I just had bought a new digital camera, I decided to try it.

On the plane, as always, some basic turbulence. I landed in Hanoi around 8.30 pm and I went to look for Vietnam Airline's bus that does the route to the turistic area Old Quarter for only $2 - a cab would cost $15. The fact that I have taken this bus at this time made it possible to know Vietnam in a much closer and friendly way. On the way, looking at the maps to figure out the way to get to my hostel I decided to ask the person next to me if he was able to speak in English. Then I discovered Hâu (Hón) who during these 4 days offered the best recepetion and hospitality on my whole life and now I have the debt to pass this forward to somebody else. When I showed him the map he told me he would have to go through the same way and thus I just had to follow him. As soon as I left the bus I've started to see/feel the differences to Phnom Penh. First, the temperature was much cooler around 19/20 degrees. Second, after crossing some streets and getting to the Hoan Kiem Lake it was totally lightned with plenty of people walking, running, dating, etc. Suddenly I felt freedom. We wen through the lake and arrived to the heart of the Old Quarter, small alleys but still crowded by turists and natives walking around. It's worth mentioning that Hanoi is more than 1.000 years old, 1.001 to be exactly and thus older or as the same as many European cities. Hón helped me to find my hostel and insisted to come with me to check if the room was ok (6-bed dorm - $5night) and also talked to the staff. After the check-in he invited me to join he and his friend drinking some beers in the bar in the corner. This is one of the Vietnamese traditional habits even though there were plenty of foreigners there. On this neighborhood at the corner there are many bars. They put some benches in the front and the customers can stay there drinking Bia Hanoi. The beer is very cheap and taste it's a little bit stronger than our Brazilian beers. It cost VND 10.000 = $0.50 and still he didn't let me to pay. (with the bottle on my nose).

I have discovered that they drink (very) slow. I had 2 bottles when they had just 1 each. After that we went to eat some Vietnamese traditional food. 

This is the Vietnamese Noodle Soup (out of focus) and it's a mixture of rice noodles, vegetables and meat.You should eat it with pepper sauce, garlic sauce and lemon. It's very nice and the price is around $1.50 even though again they didn't let me pay for it. After they let me at the hostel but Hón offered himself to take me to a tour around Hanoi in the next day since he would have a day-off. I agreed and we scheduled at 7 am. Before sleeping however, I've found someone with a cave lantern light reading in the dark of the room. It was an English guy, whose name I don't know, who has been travelling for the past 10 months and should finish his trip in Vietnam and Thailand to further going for a 1-year work experience in Australia. I didn't get his name but still we talked a lot about many stuff up to 2 am, from work to college, countries and cultures. I slept little and then around 5.30-6 am a Swedish group came in with a lot of noise... :S
I woke up, went downstairs and had my hostel's "super" breakfast made of a basic sandwich of ham, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonese. Soon Hón arrived and we started (my) adventure through Hanoi.

Hanoi's Ophera
People exercising
Common picture in Vietnam, a lady carrying fruits, etc
Hoan Kiem Lake and the Thap Rùa
Hoan Kiem Lake means Lake of the Restored Sword which is a refference to the emperor Lê Loi after he have expelled the Chinese from Vietnam and returned the sword from the Golden Turtle God Kim Qui.

Ly Thai To, the first monarch of the dinasty

This picture should be present in 99% of tourist's cameras in Hanoi

After the red bridge there's a Pagoda (temple) called Ngoc Son which means Jade Mountain Templo.

Wedding couple taking pictures in the temple's entrance
After finishing the circuit around the lake look who I have found here, Mr. Leênin, a courtesy between comunist countries.

Finally we arrived to the Ho Chi Minh maosoleum. This was one of the heroes of Vietnam's history. He played a decisive role in the countrie's independence from France and also during the resistance against the USA in the 60s. It's interesting to read about his past: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ho_chi_minh. The Vietnamese call him as "Uncle Ho" and the admiration is so big that all the Vietnamese Dong bills have his face, also some public buildings and musics that mention his name as well the maosoleum with his corpse. There's a long line and some bureocratic process to get into it. Are not allowed: cameras, cellphones. wear hats or put your hands in your pockets, also women can't wear mini skirts which was uncorrectly adressed by the Lonely Planet guidebook as not allowed to wear any shorts - that's not true since I went there wearing shorts. The experience is extremly fast, 1 minute only, but still it's quite interesting. Inside, a coffin with glass walls lights a small old man with white bearb. There's a low light and very strong air-con. Many soldiers guard all the corners. In the wall you can see the Vietnam's symbol and also the comunist axe and sickle. It runs from 8 to 11 am but I don't know if everyday and some months of the year the corpse takes some holiday in Russia for maintenance. 

This is the presidential palace, it's quite close to the maosoleum and we could just look it from outside. The building it's beautiful. I have found some Brazilians around but we could just say hello very fast. After that we went to the Ho Chi Minh Museum which had lots of stuff about his life, Vietnamese politics and Vietnam's War.  

Of all the things I've looked at what most caught my attention was the above paragraph. It reflects the Vietnamese soul and power. Differently from the Khmer people (Cambodia, Lao, etc) they're not likely to be passive. The Chinese dominated Vietnam for 1.000 years and where expelled. The reaction to the USA invasion was very strong and the victory was conquered even though they had the technological disadvantage. In 1975, Saigon was taken and from since then North and South Vietnam became just one.

Then we headed to the Literature Temple (Văn Miếu) which in fact was the 1st Vietnmese university. It was created in 1076 according to the Confucionism's practices. The evaluation system was complex and rigorous and the best students were directly tested, evaluated and ranked by the emperor himself.

Even though there's not an university there anymore, many Vietnamese come there to take pictures for their graduation album. This was one of the many groups we saw inside. 

After so much walking and riding through the city we stopped for lunch.

The food was so nice and it came in large amounts even though it was much more expensive. The dishes were soup, crab, meat rolls, chicken, vegetables, etc.. It cost $5.25/each and I insisted on paying. The beer we took was little bit lighter than the Bia Hanoi and even more similar to Brazilian beer.

National passion, coffee. It's a local habit to drink coffee in the morning, after lunch or in the night talkign to friends and smoking. Vietnam is the 2nd largest producer of coffee in the World, just after Brazil. BUT, different from us that export all the good coffee there you can take a cup of some extremely tasty coffee for just $0.50. This is the "fresh" version with ice and condensed milk in the bottom. Just mix it and it's easy to make at home. Hón insisted on me to take a lot of Vietnamese coffee in my bag when I left Vietnam.

We stopped to take some pictures of the people on the street. The famous Vietnamese hat it's not just a tourist item but people really wear it however it seems to quite cinrcunscripted to Vietnam since I haven't seen anyone with it after crossing the Cambodian border.

After, the tour contined to the West Lake, huge, much bigger than the Hoan Kiem but with less touristc infra-structure and almost free of foreigners - at the time I wen there. Also, in one of its shores there was a small Pagoda which was being refurbished but still we could get insided to take some pictures.

And the emotion about suddnely finding the Brazilian flag? As I have told in a previous post it's incredible how happy we get when we see it outside of Brazil...

To close the day tour we went to the Long Bien Bridge. Built by the French between 1899 and 1902 more than 3.000 workers participated. It was the only conection between Hanoi and the Haiphong port. Therefore because of that the bridge was heavily bombed by the USA during the war and protect it was a higly strategic task to the country. The bridge is more than 2 km length and it goes over the Red River. Below there's an island with some corn plantations which is an incredible peaceful place. There you can't hear the noise of the motors and horns even though you can still see traffic in the bridges.

Finally, after this busy and adventurous day we finished in the best way. Bia Hoi, slightly different from the Bia Hanoi, a weaker draught and cheaper for just VND 5.000 = $0.25 each cup and some peanuts. :) after that me and Hón wen through opposite way and I went home to take a shower and after eating the same thing from the previous day. The next day is going to be very busy but amazing too, the tour is around Halong Bay. Oh, Hón let one of his cellphone wioth me so when I get back to Hanoi I could him back and he could pick me up to stay at his house. Have you ever done that for a foreigner?

Below, some fine pictures in Hanoi within my last days in the city

Vietnamese breakfast: spring roll (rice layer wraped with some pieces of meat and fried garlic over), pepper, lemon, vegetables, garlic sauce and fried eggs which came after

Coffe corner
Electric mess

Awesome dinner prepared by Hón with seafood, chicken, vegetables and Bia Ho

Important: during those days I haven't seen any children working on the streets and juts 2 people begging for money. I'm starting to think that there is some cultural aspect behind that. 

Next: Halong Bay

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