Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hanoi arrival Mar. 10

The contrast with Bangkok after the 90 minute flight is striking. The weather is much cooler, in the high 60s, overcast, and everything is GREEN. The ride in from the relatively small airport was lush with rice fields being maintained in a traditional manner, cows everywhere (including a near-crash between our taxi and two cows in the road!), the women hefting water from the canals into the fields while the men watched!!!

Each house is narrow and tall, usually bright colors, looking a bit French, not surprising given that country's colonialism here for 80 years ending in the mid-1950s with their defeat by Vietnamese freedom fighters at Dien Ben Phu.

Our classic, charming old hotel, the 1901 Metropole (now part of the Sofitel chain), is in the old city near the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake. Graham Greene, who wrote _The Quiet American_, and other famous writers have stayed here. It's atmospheric and warm. Our high-ceilinged room on the 3rd level (floor 2 here) overlooks the wide boulevard in front with a ceiling fan, French doors, and a balcony, but also a marble bath and Internet access. Just the ticket.

Though drivers are just as wild as in Bangkok, one big difference is that the primary driving implement is the HORN. Where commuters 20 years ago were all on bicycles, now they're all on motorbikes. They whiz in and out of traffic in an even more aggressive manner than Vespas in Italy. It's amazing, and occasionally freightening, to watch. Crossing the street is even more life-threatening than in Bangkok (I wouldn't have believed it).

After a short walk about, we had dinner in the Spice Market restaurant in our hotel. It was a fine example of Vietnamese food in an elegant setting overlooking the hotel courtyard. The dishes were varied, inventive, fun to see and eat. We were especially taken by a beautiful Vietnamese woman in a green, silk ao dai playing a traditional, single-stringed instrument with a ball and spike at one end. She plucked it with slim fingers to produce the most soothing music. The ao dai is a two piece costume with long, full pants covered by a long tunic slit to just above the waist and a mandarin collar. Quite beautiful, flowing and looks comfortable.


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