Before my trip I focused on getting ready. Do I have needed immunizations, do I need a bug repellant, do I need a walking pole, what is the weather like so I pack the minimum yet have what I need for all climate zones, etc., etc. Then, as I was sitting on a plane, and I knew it will be one of those long flights indeed, I finally had time and peace of mind to ask myself,
‘What it will be like in Vietnam of today, what will I see when I land?’
I was very curious. I have been to several Asian countries before and my first thought was, “How developed will it be at this stage, since 1975 was so long ago, and some of Vietnam’s neighbors have advanced economically and socially”.
When I landed in Hanoi it was already very late at night and I was happy to be in relatively good shape. My first impression was that I was landing in Poland way back in the late 80’s, except that the people looked different. Things appeared old and tired, formal and uniformed, like a small town. A great relief was that my ride was there and my name was visible.
On the way over to the hotel I got the first taste of a sea of SCOOTERS! It is the main mode of transportation. It seems like everyone owns one. Over the next two weeks traveling through Vietnam, I learned that riding on the road, and crossing a street, is an art. It is done by feel. On a bike you feel your way around other bikes, same direction or the opposite, to get to where you are going. Walking across a street, you feel your way in-between bikes looking for an opening to start crossing the road and then just keep going…. the bikes then know what direction you are going and can go around you. If the lights are present, which is few and far between, then it is only a suggestion.
People I encountered, almost everyone, were always very nice. Gentle, offering help without being asked, strangers smiling. The Old Town and the Lake, in my mind, are the most beautiful and interesting parts of Hanoi, especially when it gets dark. The Old Town is lively, colorful, full of interesting little shops like places where everything is made out of bamboo, or from metal or from fabrics, or, sells only traditional shoes. The streets are packed with people. It seems like the whole city is eating dinners and lunches outside – and it turns out, that is often the case, as places to live are small and kitchens even smaller. What struck me right away, is that people you see eating and socializing on the streets are all men, practically without exception. So I had to ask why. And the why was simple, women are eating and socializing at home and men do this on the outside. This is the tradition and perfectly normal.
And the Lake, right in the middle of the city, is very picturesque with a beautiful park all around, lots of trees, benches, trimmed grass and clean. Eating this surprisingly delicious Green Rice ice-cream, specially grown around Hanoi, sitting on a bench and looking at colorful lights at night was a real treat – highly recommended.