Hanoi

I arrived in Hanoi on a visa run from Bangkok in 2014.  I figured I’d come to Vietnam instead of Cambodia on a 5-day trip.

Hanoi is similar to so many places in SE Asia – the squalid, old, congested and polluted ones, that is.  The people are ok, not as friendly as the Thais (really- there are no other people in the world like the Thai people). The Hanoians go about their lives with little mind for the tourists trampling around in their city, except to sell them something.

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First impressions of Hanoi.  It was a mix of mostly Chinese influence plus narrow,  four-storey buildings that reminded me of Thamel in Kathmandu.

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Old French Quarter

The streets narrow and congested with motorcycles and honking, like a Chinatown anywhere in the world, but everything runs calmly and smoothly. There are old French colonial touches still around, even a nice French tree-lined boulevard as the main road.

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Hanoi Boulevard
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Typical French Colonial government building
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French Colonial Opera House
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Standard photo of a person wearing the woven palm-leafed pointy hat, the Non La.

I dropped my stuff off in the hotel room and headed out to walk around and see the sights. I was not more than 15 minutes out the door when a lady came by on a motorcycle and offered to show me around. It was hot and so I thought it would be ok to get an overview of the place. The lady, “Cow” ( at least she pronounced her name that way) said hop on and we went sightseeing.

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“Cow”

This is a country that has been under attack for millennia, so lots of statues, museums and remnants throughout town of fighting men, remnants of arms and victory mementos.

We went to the Hanoi prison, famously known as the Hanoi Hilton where US prisoners were incarcerated during the war.

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Hanoi Central Jail, the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War, now a museum.
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Exterior mural showing inmates being beaten.
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Interior mock-up of the prisoners quarters
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Narrow exercise area
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Display photo of US Senator John McCain being pulled from his plane
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Shot down US pilot uniform

After the prison visit, we went tooling around on her motorbike looking at remnants from the Vietnam War, still intact.

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Remnants of a shot down fighter jet, the centrepiece of this neighbourhood
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Another pile of ruined fighter jet
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Captured Iroquois Chopper

2

Hanoi-ing could be the gerund form of the activity of sightseeing in Hanoi, or a play on words, as in annoying, Hanoi style.

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“Hanoi-ing” lady trying to sell me something.

I eventually had to dump Cow. Here’s why.

I was naïve to believe her initial pitch that she was a history major at university and it was her first time driving a motorcycle around for money. Granted, she was nice enough to take me around to the sites, but at the end of the day, she said she wanted some shoes to wear to remember me by.  Wha…?

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Red River, north of the old Hanoi

She took me across the Red River to a very specific shoe shop and inside she found three pairs of high heels she was thinking of buying. They looked cheap. The material was shiny like patent leather, but just plastic. I thought “She wants these shoes badly, and she did take me around, so, ok, how much could these cost?”

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Fake Christian Louboutin shoes

The store lady pulled out a calculator and the price of only one pair was 2.9 million Dong.  That’s $140 USD for crappy plastic shoes! I couldn’t believe it. No way I would buy them, so Cow settled on another pair for $40 USD, which still seemed expensive for the quality of materials.

With shoes in tow, Cow took me back to my hotel but wouldn’t stop in front – more like a block away. I thought that was fishy. Then she asked for more money and I said, “but I just bought you shoes!”

She said she wanted money for gas and  I asked how much and she said the old familiar “up to you”. I offered $20,  but she asked for more. I reminded her I just bought her shoes and that’s all she was going to get. She left saying she’d pick me up tomorrow again.  I had no intention of doing that.

When Cow had gone,  I decided to go look around, Flâneur-style. About an hour later, I saw her on a street corner on her motorcycle with a friend waiting to hustle some more customers. That’s when I knew she was on the hustle.

I paid $60 for that day excursion. A bit pricey. It always takes a day to get to know the game in a new land.

I decided to walk everywhere from then on, even though it was sweltering.

3

A Look at Museums

I got up early the next day and went down to the French Quarter to look at museums. The first was Museum of Anthropology. Another one of these museums with artifacts tracing back the country’s civilization thousands of years leading up to modern times.

Some pics:

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Entrance to the museum of Anthropology
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Typical cave man diorama
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Painting depicting an ancient sea battle with the Chinese
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In the beginning, there was this turtle…
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Borrowed Indian religious thing
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Wooden Oc Eo Buddha
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Champa Apsaras, like in the Khmer dynasty
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A nice detail in mother of pearl of a chest of drawers. Frankly, a lot of the later stuff just looks Chinese to me.

Revolution Museum

It’s good to get the point of view of the Vietnamese in their struggle for autonomy in the 20th century. We older folks in the west remember the Vietnam War because we grew up with it. From the US perspective, it wasn’t a loss but a compromise. But the Communist Vietnamese really make it clear it was a victory. They won the war by defeating the US-supported south Vietnamese government. When the Viet Cong Army marched into Saigon in 1975, it was really over. (Check out Ken Burns’ 10-part film about the Vietnam War).

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Dinh Diem, South Vietnamese President (who was eventually assassinated) meets US President Johnson
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Iconic photo:  evacuation of the last South Vietnamese at the US embassy. Saigon. April 29, 1975

The museum just has a bunch of old artifacts and pictures. Nothing really great although some stuff is definitely propaganda.

For example, at the Army Museum, there is a Soviet-era MiG 21 with a USAF logo on it!

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The US didn’t fly USSR MiGs in combat
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Claimed battery from a US aircraft. No way an American-made plane had a French battery!

Women’s Museum

Four floors of stuff not that interesting (to me). Here is the highlight for me.

Ao Dai

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The Ao Dai dress

Last time I visited Saigon in 1990, most women wore the Ao Dai.

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Young women riding bicycles in the Ao Dai. Saigon, 1990
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Women walking wearing the Ao Dai. 1990
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Young protestors in Ao Dai. Saigon, 1990

Ho Chi Minh

I’m not going to bother repeating what’s on the history books about Ho Chi Minh. You can click here and read the Wikipedia’s biography.

Here’s one thing I did learn: Ho was a waiter and pastry maker in Brooklyn, New York.  One of the many surprises of his well-traveled life.

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Family photo in Front of Ho Chi Minh’s Museum
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Interior of the museum. This was Ho’s stilted house.
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Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
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Mandatory selfie outside Ho Chi Minh’s Tomb as evidence.

4

More photos walking around the French Quarter in Hanoi.

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A statue of V.I. Lenin
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Ukrainian artist Vladimir Tatlin’s “Monument of the Third International” (1921). You need to be an art student and a student of Marx to appreciate it.
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A bunched-up Army Soldier
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Pet goat on sidewalk. Well, not really…
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…goat is now ready to sell.
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Very good Vietnamese drip coffee. Coffee and bread: a nice loan from French Colonial rule
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Weasels eat these coffee beans, then shit them out and you drink it. I said YOU drink it, not me.
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Vietnamese spring rolls
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Scenic look at the Hoan Kiem Lake

5

Tourists

Hanoi attracts a cohort of youthful travellers mistaking the city as a beach resort. Here’s evidence of beach-attired young tourists (mostly European) who traipse around in swim suits and garish singlets and flip flops.

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These youths seem like pot-smoking, hackey-sack playing, puppy-on-a-rope-wearing-a-kerchief hippies, but as we found out from the 60s social experiment, hippy-looking folk grow up to become Capitalist conservatives. There is no dearth of these types wandering the streets of Hanoi, so rest assured America and the world, in a few more years this cohort will be making your sorry-ass lives more miserable once they take power.

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Well behaved, neatly dressed. I am referring to myself.

6

Dusk in the Old Quarter

People sitting low in the street drinking Tiger beer and Coca-Cola.

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Keep drinking Coca-Cola. I own stock.
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Gussied-up beer gals hawking Tiger beer.
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Bia Hói Stand. This is a refreshing light lager beer brewed daily. There are no regulations by health officials on it and only costs 15 cents a glass.
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My beer of choice
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Late night street performance. I watched for a few minutes. The lady standing up was acting all haughty, screeching loudly and smoking a cigarette
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I kept looking around to see if Warner Oland was hiding his sneeky-ass somewhere in the shadows

 

 

 

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