The highlight of my current stay was a weekend cruise on Ha Long Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin where the historic incident with the same name ultimately triggered the Vietnam War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
|Ha Long Bay, Gulf of Tonkin|
|On Ha Long Bay|
Returning to the subject of Hanoi: the city has some of the most colorful street scenes in all of Asia and it is a great place to watch people. It is of course very crowded with hawkers selling an incredible variety of wares and foods in front of their shops, groups of women haunched along the streets eating from their rice bowls with chopsticks, incense smoke rising from small Buddhist shrines, electrical wires running every which way, and of course the constant buzz of motorbikes which intimidate most Westerners and who continuously blink in disbelief as to what they see on bikes. Today I saw a family of 4 on a motorbike including a baby being held by the mother. Here are some other bike scenes: http://www.google.com/images?
Hanoi is a vibrant center of culture, both Vietnamese and foreign. I have been very impressed with the young musicians that perform every evening in the hotel lobby. A classical string quartet plays from 6 to 8 followed by either a Jazz quartet or a trio playing excellent Flamenco guitar. Tonight, the city staged an impressive musical, open to the public, on the portico of the Hanoi Opera, next to the Hilton, which was complete with dancers in brilliant costumes and high-tech sound and lighting systems
Last month Vietnam celebrated 1000 years of nationhood and it was apparently quite the celebration in Hanoi. There are still many decorations, lights and political posters hanging in the streets. And of course, the national hero, Ho Chi Minh, was the center of much of the celebrating. His picture hangs everywhere in Hanoi and he is revered for having driven the French out of Indochine and for reuniting the country by driving the American out of South Vietnam. It is not difficult to understand their pride when one recalls the images of the last Americans leaving by helicopter from the top of the Saigon embassy, Many American military vehicles, aircraft and weapons, captured during the war, were on display during the celebration. However with the war now in the distant past the Vietnamese genuinely like Americans, with the young emulating American youth in most everything, both positive and negative. It's as if the war never happened except during times of national celebration.
20Feb 2011: A tourist boat sank this week on Ha Long Bay. When I read this it made me shiver!