Overland Travel Odyssey – Hello Hanoi!

Divided into four parts, the posts covering our travels in Vietnam start in Hanoi, with Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City to follow!

Hanoi

Ancient flag (left) and current national flag

Ancient flag (left) and current national flag

After drawing breath at a hotel within striking distance of Don Mueng airport in Bangkok, 20th December saw us getting up at 04.30 for the short walk to Departures!  After a brief flight we arrived at Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam with its population of 8 million, most of which it seems, rides a motor bike or scooter!   This was the start of our trip to Indochina with Buffalo Tours –  in other words, three countries in two weeks!  Having been met at the airport by Tin Tin, our guide, we were driven to our hotel in the centre of the city, the Authentic Hanoi Hotel to freshen up before capturing some of the sights.

Vietnam has a long history of Emperors, Kings, French occupation, wars, communist rule, an American war from 1964 to 1973 to stop the spread of communism, and continued communist rule!

It was to be a whistle stop city tour, starting with a visit to the 11th century Temple of Literature, which was built in homage to the Chinese scholar Confucius and is one of the few remaining examples of Vietnamese architecture in Hanoi.  That afternoon it was a hive of activity, because university students who had graduated were having group photos taken, a ritual in Hanoi!

We then visited the Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake, to learn about Emperor Le Thai, a magic sword and a giant turtle.  A large 200kg turtle still inhabits the lake, and is checked for the effects of pollution on a regular basis!

Then the highlight for us – a show at the Water Puppet Theatre.  Water puppetry is an ancient art over 1000 years old and originally performed in water flooded rice fields, scenes depicted during the performance.  Almost the size of a small West End theatre, the auditorium was packed.  As the action began, a group of 7 players sang, recited their lines, and played traditional instruments.  The sides of the stage (a pond) were lined with woven bamboo panels, and as they parted, puppets emerged in boats, or just swam; dragons breathing fire surfaced; fishermen caught fish which jumped out of the water; even a water rat scuttled up a tree to escape a dragon!  The puppets were manipulated by 9 puppeteers who stood out of sight, controlling rods under the water and by somehow manipulating the rod, drummers drummed, ladies danced and dragons weaved through the water.  Very, very clever, and great entertainment for 45 minutes.  Just as much fun as a Yuletide panto in the UK!

More fun as our day finished off with a cyclo ride through the Old Quarter’s 36 streets, socalled because of the 36 guilds that established themselves there in 13th century each trading in a different product from silks to rice.  It still teems with shops, people, motor bikes and the occasional car.  Just fascinating!

In the evening we braved crossing 8 streets/road junctions to walk (not for the fainthearted) to the Green Tangerine French restaurant, and enjoyed a delicious meal in the atmospheric courtyard.  A great way to conclude our stay in Hanoi!

Next: Wintry Hue

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