Ha Noi's Old Quarter (Ancient Quarter, Quarter of 36 Streets) is a not to miss experience in Ha Noi. We had visited parts of it several times on foot during our days leading up to the Tour. Yesterday we joined are tourmates for a cyclo tour (a cyclo conga line more like it) as each one of us got our own cyclo and driver for an hour tour to and through the Old Quarter. Being Saturday it was a little less hectic than a weekday (a good thing because I'm think 20 cyclos in a row didn't do much for traffic management!). The Old Quarter is in an area that started to develop in the 13th century and originally was reached by canals from the Red River (a la venice)l In the early 1800s after the construction of the Hanoi Citadel and its wall the area developed a a series of villages that all specialized in some form of craft or service. Over time these villages connected in a rabbit warren of streets and each streets took on the name of its "speciality" (tin street, cotton street, cheap shiny toys from china street..oh sorry...that is one of today's labels). Some streets stay true to their names, others have "re-specialized" - shoe street, shiny red packages for wedding and parties street. Although there are a few areas that cater to tourists (with hotels, travel cafes, and tourist shops) most of the area is of and for the people of Ha Noi. Wait until you see the pictures when i get home.
The architecture is a hodgepodge of new and old, fit and decaying, modern and old french colonial. The French colonial is undeniable and gives the area a wonderfully romantic look especially since there are also large trees squeezed in amongst the buildings (some young ones growing out of roofs as a matter of fact).
On Friday we joined up with the Smithsonian Tour group. A group of 24 interesting and educated people from all parts of the U.S. (and beyond) with interesting stories and interesting views. It turned out to be a very pleasant group to be with over the next couple of weeks. We were fortunate.
Our time in Hanoi together was spent at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh's Stilt House, the Temple of Literature, attendance at a traditional Water Puppet Show and dinner at the Wild Lotus. Most of these attractions are probably best discussed and experienced through the photos in my flickr photo blog : http://www.flickr.com/photos/abaesel/collections/72157609130626360/
But one fun and memorable event was the "water show" after the water puppet show. The water puppet theatre is located across a main street from Hoan Kiem Lake. When the show was over (a truly unique theatrical event...worth the time) we got stuck in the human traffic trying to descend the stairs (why? what is this about?) Well what is was about was monsoonal rains emptying the heavens onto the streets of Hanoi. It was a deluge...and the streets were NOT handling it. The water was so high you couldn't make out the curb, sidewalk or plantings between the theatre and the lake...which i think means the lake was in the street! We waded across a lane of traffic in about a foot of water (some with, some without their shoes on) to get to the bus. Our trusted leader, Tam, rigged up an umbrella posse who ferried us back and forth with at least our head staying dry! Then it was off to Wild Lotus on the other side of the lake through water that was swamping scooter engines and causing all sorts of consternation and the sudden blossoming of multi colored ponchos everywhere...like water lilies! A wild evening.
Now we're off to Ha long Bay.