I don’t know what connectivity will be like from cheap hotels in China, so I thought better get this done. I am lying in bed, the sun is coming up, and I have to pack and be out of here soon.
Hanoi is defined against its rival Saigon, in the same way that Berlin is defined against Vienna, Seattle against Portland (Portland -”You comparing us to that pretentious place?” Seattle: “Where?” ) or Beijing against Shanghai. Saigon is more frenetic, definitely more entrepreneurial, varied, and cunning. Past is prologue, and the Americans left their mark on Saigon, for better and for worse.
Hanoi is more self-confident. The Government imprint is here in a big way. Half of the city (the north side) is one big government compound, and they live well there. The coffee houses around Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum are filled with the adult children of officials, hanging out, flirting with each other, posting photos of each other. They dress very chic, talk loudly in public and seem
confident of their future.
confident of their future.
In the old town district, where the streets are narrow and winding it is different. Everyone has a little business that they put out on the sidewalk, selling everything and anything. Handmade postcards, whole kiosks filled with door hinges, travel companies, and of course food. Lots of food, specialized, and often cooked right there in front of you. The foreign business presence is not as great, (as Saigon). The tourists are mostly from Europe, young Germans, and Brits and Scandinavians mostly, but maybe that is just the season.
The lakes in the middle of the city really give the place a serene feel. You can walk a block from the bustle and sit and look at the lake and think you are in the country somewhere. There are two main lakes, Hoy Tai, which is huge, and is located in the northern section near the government area. It is where John McCain parachuted when he was captured during the war. Hoan Kiem is a smaller lake and is in the old section of the city. There are broad paved walkways around both of them, and you can see the personal side of Hanoi on the park benches, people being most intimate and sincere. Saigon has nothing like these lakes. The parks in Saigon have pavilions where in the early morning hours, older people arduously rehearse their ballroom dance moves .
The hotel I am staying at, the Graceful Hanoi Hotel, made all the difference. They are so nice, they serve a great breakfast, and room is perfect. And I can afford it, let’s just say I got a good deal, ($20/night). If they raise their prices it will still be a bargain.
Anyway, I have to pack for China now. I am looking forward to being in a place where I can speak the language and seeing some of my old students. But right now, Vietnam is the place to be. It is open, easy and cheap to get a visa, and amazingly welcoming to all tourists.