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While the aircraft was turning off the active runway and taxiing to the gate, my mind started to wander about the sights, sounds and colors of the 2,500-year-old Hanoi. I can’t wait to have a bowl of Pho on the street where it was invented, visit the 1000-year-old Temple, walk to the famous Hoan Kiem Lake, and stroll through the cramped and crooked streets of the Old Quarter.
With that in mind, I hurriedly disembark as if a cheetah was chasing me. I headed right away to the immigration queue and presented my passport. The guy in blue uniform asked me “where is your visa?” I was surprised but responded politely “I am a Filipino and I don’t need a Visa to enter Vietnam” while projecting a sweet smile. He then asked “Staying for how many days?” “11 days,” I said (actually will be staying only for 10 days and that additional one day is my contingency day, just in case). He looked at me, smiled and said “Okay, welcome to Hanoi, he stamped my passport for 15 days stay. Yay!
Collecting my luggage was when I had my first minor scare. When my neck had been stretching long for tens of minutes with no sign of my checked-in luggage. “Has it gone to the wrong airport?” “Had someone else taken my luggage before I arrived at the belt?” These were my sub-optimistic thoughts as I began to worry that my almost 2-week tour would be ruined here right at the start of my trip.
The majority of the passengers that was on the same plane with me has gone clear the bags on the conveyor belt and I was still there waiting. Until a glimpse of my yellow luggage knocked all my negative thoughts away as I quickly lifted it up and headed towards the arrival hall.
On my way out I have noticed that most of the Vietnamese who’s there to fetch a friend or a relative have either a bouquet of flowers or a bunch of balloons with them. I asked one local about this and she said that it’s their tradition of welcoming their loved ones back. Oh isn’t that sweet!
The travel time from the airport to Hanoi Old Quarter was about 45 minutes, and instead of taking a nap, I took it as an opportunity to have a glimpse of Hanoi. While on the road, I saw vast swathes of rice fields with farmers in conical hats, along with buffalo tending the fields. The city was surrounded by agricultural lands, mainly geared toward rice production.
The architectural design of houses in Hanoi was quite distinctive too. It’s very narrow but tall and with verandas. Usually, with no windows on the side walls, so that the neighboring house can be directly attached to it, should the need arise.
Later I’ve learned that it has something to do with old taxation laws in the city. The government collect house taxes based on window area or by the width of the front facade of the building, so houses here have very small front windows and very narrow. That’s why what they lack in width, they make up in depth!
Another uniquely Vietnamese was their tradition of burying the dead – in the rice field! I was so curious about the logic behind this tradition, that I asked almost every local that I came across with. But since they speak little english to none, it took me a while to find a plausible explanation.
Eventually I’ve larned that before, departed family members were buried in the middle of the rice fields because thier family wanted to be close to them. Today, as govern by the government the bodies must be placed in concentrated cemeteries. Bodies are first buried in the ground for about 3 years. After which the bones are dug up, cleaned, and reburied in a different location. Tombstones are made of poured concrete and covered with colorful glazed tiles as families have the money to do so. But for those who are poor and cannot afford such, the grave are covered only with dirt mounds.
Death, though deeply mourned in Vietnamese culture, is viewed not as the final stage in a person’s life but merely a transition into their next stage. The burial process may come as a shocker, but that’s what makes Vietnam unique!
Few minutes later, the tranquil atmosphere faded, the horn honking and motorbike traffic became endless. That means I am close to the Old Quarter. It was common for bikes and motorbikes here to drive the wrong way down streets, against traffic and nobody cares.
The first, small roundabout I’ve encountered was a disorderly mess of converging vehicles, where I was sure there was going to be an accident or, at the very least, it would culminate in congestion. Neither of that happened! It was so fascinating to watch how motorcycles rule the roads and drivers skillfully weave in and out of traffic, interesting!
Crossing the road was definitely an adventure and an experience in itself. It took a lot of guts and courage to not think about being trampled by the millions of motorbikes charging straight at you! Well, I have been in two busier cities my entire travel career – Kathmandu, Nepal and New Delhi, India. I forgot how exhausting they can be with all that sensory overload. Although, I like to think I do okay with cities this size – zipping up and shutting down and moving forward like I know where I am going even sometimes I am hopelessly lost, haha!
I stayed at Noble Boutique hotel, located in the heart of the Old Quarter – a quaint warren tiny streets packed with charming colonial architecture, Buddhist temples and pagodas, hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and tourist offices.
Once at the lobby, I was warmly welcomed by the staff, offered with a refreshing fresh sugar cane juice and a wet towel. Afterward, the key was presented to me together with a nicely printed colored map.
By the time I settled into my hotel room it was already getting dark. Tired from my day of travel, I was hesitant to venture out in the increasing street commotion, but I needed to eat dinner. I made it from my hotel a half block down the sidewalk to the corner cafe, which unfortunately I can´t remember the name of.
I opted to sit outside to get a good view of the street. I’ve noticed that every little bit of space is used here. Even empty pavement becomes a pop-up restaurant. Also, there were a lot of women carrying all kinds of fruit or other things in special baskets hung on a wooden pole carried across their shoulders. I think that entrepreneurship is not only for the selected few, it is simply a way of life here. And guess what I did not see one beggar or a homeless man in Hanoi for the duration of my stay.
Anyway, I ordered a bowl of “pho bo”, Vietnamese fresh spring rolls and a strawberry smoothie. Pho bo is Vietnam’s most popular dish consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles, a few herbs, and beef. While the fresh spring rolls were wrapped nicely in rice paper, filled with shrimp, pork tenderloin, vermicelli, and herbs. It’s comforting and very refreshing! It made my taste buds happy. I love it 🙂
Then I got the bill – over 200,000…dong… WOW!
Sounded like a lot of money but actually it was only $9! And take note they don’t accept tips at the restaurants, you can leave it, but they don’t have this system, instead they just round things up, since they don’t have small bills and coins.
After the dinner, I couldn’t breath. haha. I have eaten a lot! I was happy with the food and the atmosphere that the restaurant provided.
That’s about it. My first day was filled with everlasting experiences and surely the next days will be more exciting 🙂 🙂 🙂
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