The Hassan's

Uncle Ho and
Chairman Mao

World Tour '98

(Read Other First Person Travel Stories)

Greetings from Hanoi

Leaving Hue was really a hard thing to do. That is one of the nicest places we have visited and it would have been real easy to stay. Don't think our dog, Carter, would enjoy the climate. Actually the climate was not too kind on Lois either, but she made it through. Says next trip should be somewhere where a ski parka is required.

Took the plane to Hanoi as everything we heard said that the train trip was really uninteresting. There is no way we would ever consider going any distance in Vietnam by bus. The roads are really in poor condition and the drivers must constantly dodge bikes, motorcycles and the water buffalo. It is the water buffalo you really need to look out for. We've watched our driver a couple of times and gotten a headache within a few minutes. Not sure you want to travel through a country with your eyes closed. One place we hired a car / driver printed clearly on the receipt that there was no "ensurance". Not sure what that meant but I think it was not reassuring, or is that self-insuring?

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and at the airport and the roadway into the city this became very clear. The terminal was still fairly primitive but they are building one beside it that looks like any small airport in the Western World. Two level building with service ramps and all the other bells and whistles. It took us about 15 minutes from the time the plane landed until we were out of the old terminal. Progress will probably mean that it will take an hour to get out of the new terminal. The roadway was four lanes in each direction and the couple of taxis and handful of motorcycles enjoyed the wide open spaces. As we got closer to the city our driver took the shortcut which entailed going down dusty little alleys in between the food stalls and livestock - old habits die hard we guessed.

Hanoi is really two cities in one. There is the old French Quarter that houses all the city's wealthy and the government buildings - translation: no reason to go there - especially since Uncle Ho is currently undergoing "maintenance" so you can't see him until December. In the past they flew him to Moscow each year - did he get frequently flier miles? Vietnamese then got wise and bought the "technology" from the Russians so that Uncle Ho didn't have to travel as much. The Russians will probably need to come back here and get the "technology" in the future, that is if they decide to "keep" Mr. Lenin.

The other side of Hanoi is the "Old Quarter", where life hasn't changed much in the last hundred years. The streets traditionally each contained certain products and are named accordingly. Amazingly this is very much still the case. Streets for shoes, silver, silk, bamboo etc. You decide what you want and there you will find it. We did not look for or find the "souvenir" street until the very end of our stay and that in itself was very interesting. The streets are very narrow and the sidewalk are parking lots, cafes and general spill over from the shops. Thus you must maneuver down the road weaving in and out of all the bikes and motorcycles. There are few cars as they stay mostly in the French Quarter. It takes a while to get used to the traffic dodging but like in "Star Wars" if you close you eyes and let the force be with you it is simple.

We went the first night in town to the Circus. It was an very entertaining experience. There were a total of 8 Westerners in the building, very easy to count in the crowds of Vietnamese families. The circus was presented as a Vietnamese folk tale - of course we had no idea what they were saying or singing - but it had a King-Queen-Strong Man- Beautiful Princess- rougish clowns- dragons (not real) - but a real 20 foot boa constrictor, elephants, monkeys, horses, bears, and a whole troop of performing dogs. It was a lot of fun. In the whole auditorium of Vietnamese families we saw not ONE child crying, throwing a tantrum or doing anything but having a wonderful time. Quite possibly that was as wonderful experience as the Circus itself.

One of the things we wanted to see was the countryside outside Hanoi. When we tried to hire a car and driver to take us out there we had a very difficult time getting the concept across. Why does someone want to look at farmers and water buffalo. Much the same response we get when we tell them we want to walk instead of riding. We did get a driver and get to explore some of the countryside. It was accomplished by "suggesting" that we visit a village that made pottery, that they could understand. The farmers we met were amused by us being there, but they were as friendly as everyone that we have met here.

End Part A

Copyright 1999 Lois and John Hassan

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