Wednesday, November 6, 2013

And Then I Fell In Love: Hanoi

Wizzing around Hanoi with my backpack on the back of a xe om (motorbike taxi), I realised a few things, first among which was that, no matter what people had said, the drivers in Hanoi are not crazier than those in Vietnam's larger Ho Chi Minh City to the South. While the space is tighter, the pace was much slower.

A slightly atypical street view of Hanoi - only made so by the yellow temple festival decorations, everything else represents the norm. 

My other realisation as we wound through the narrow roads of old quarter, rubbing elbows with other drivers, pedestrians, and all manner of goods for sale along the way, was that I was very likely going to come to love this place. Unlike my two companions who began to find it cloying and claustrophobic, I couldn't help but draw energy from the constant flow of the crowd winding it's way through that maze of streets.

A local drives his produce across the long width of the red river that splits modern-day Hanoi.

Although it has only been the country's capital since it's reunification in 1976, Hanoi is arguably the true heartland of Vietnamese culture. Located on the Red River Delta, the area has seen continuous habitation since 3000BC. Though the country was occupied several times by foreign powers: the Han Chinese from the 2nd century BC until the 11th AD, the French from 1887-1940 and the Japanese from 1940-1945, Hanoi often played an important role in it's governance. For much of the country's Independence (AD 1010-1802), it remained Vietnam's most important political and economic centre. It was also used as the capital of French Indochina from 1902-1954. Perhaps most memorably in recent times, it formed the home base for the General Ho Chi Minh's pro-independence Viet Minh and the communist North. 

The Mausoleum of Uncle Ho Chi Minh. Embalmed and on display against his express wishes, his mausoleum is open to the public everyday bar Monday and Friday. Check with tourist info for times. Lines are always long, so get there as early as possible.

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