A dragon made of fake flowers adds some color to the gray city
We are still battling the travel doldrums. Hanoi is a nice city-- it just has been constantly engulfed in a cloud. When the plane put down its landing gear, the ground wasn't visible through the dense gray. The cloud seems to have permeated our mood as well. It seems like we should like Hanoi, a busy vibrant city with pretty buildings and a lively street life, but we just haven't clicked with the city.
We took the Vietnam Air minibus shuttle into town. As we arrived, the touts began their touting. Our packs were the only ones in the back of the vehicle so when one of the touts went for the back door, Rowshan pushed him away. The tout said “Fuck” and tried to get at our bags again. Rowshan grabbed him by the front of his neck and pushed him away yelling, “Fuck You! Go Away!” The guy yelled stuff back in Vietnamese. Rowshan yelled, “You want to fight-- come on then!”
I said, “Rowshan, that's enough. Lets go.” The tout got on the back of a motorbike and said something as he rode off. Rowshan responded, “Come and get me then!” But, the guy just rode off. We hope he will reconsider his choice of career as tout.
It made for an unpleasant arrival but later Rowshan said, “Poor guy. I'm so angry at being constantly hassled that I took it all out on him!”
“But do you feel better now?”
“Anyway, for all we know the guy wasn't a tout but a robber trying to steal a bag and throw it on his friends motorcycle and ride off,” I rationalized.
Lonely Planet does mention taxi/moto touts who if you refuse their hotel can get verbally or physically aggressive. So I guess Rowshan just preempted him. As we walked towards the hotel street a young woman approached us, “Hello! I'm a student!” We tried to just walk by but she continued trying to stop us. “I'm a student!” Rowshan and I pushed past with our huge bags and continued on. Incidentally, there is another scam where people pretending to be students wanting English practice lure tourists to places where they end up with exorbitant bills or where other acts of extortion take place.
The area is full of touts and people trying to sell stuff. People have a tendency to hit me on the arm (or grab my arm) to try to get us to stop and buy something. A woman hit my arm today so Rowshan hit her arm, “Let her see how she likes that!” I'm really wanting to punch someone myself. It is so hard to stay in a good mood. My mood lifts then someone pesters me and I'm pissed off again. The traffic is pretty insane as well and it is a harrowing experience getting across some of the streets which are swamped with motorcycle drivers.
Motorcycle filled street
We just saw a water puppet show which put me in a good mood. Then we had to walk out into the cyclo guys and the people selling stuff. I managed to brush it off until we got back to the hotel and the receptionist started trying to sell me tours-- for the 5th time.
Cyclo drivers with a tour group
The puppet show was very cool. The stage was an area full of water with a building in the background. The puppets were on wooden poles and the puppeteers hid behind a screen and manipulated them by moving the poles under water. The puppets were brightly colored with joints which made them move in cool ways from just the movement of the pole. The show was accompanied by a group of live musicians.
Water buffalo and tenders puppets
Musicians at the water puppet show
We also took a walk around the Hoan Kim Lake in the old town and admired the Tortoise Tower. There is a path going around the lake which offers a respite from the traffic.
The Tortoise Tower
Finding peace in Hanoi
The Temple of Literature is a very communist sounding name for an 11th century university. Walking there we got out of the tourist area and the city became a bit more likable. In the market, people ignored us which was quite refreshing. I still don't seem to delight in the bustle, exotic smells and visual stimuli like I normally would. On our way there we passed a woman crouching on the ledge of a building gripping a knife. I joked that this is what happens if you stay too long in Vietnam and that the knife seller who wanted to sell a knife to Rowshan (while he was really pissed off) probably had sold one to this woman.
A flower seller at the market
The Temple of Literature grounds were marked by several tour buses. Still it was a peaceful place with its traditional architecture, bonsai trees and courtyards. The 2nd courtyard had covered pavilions filled with Doctorate Stelae which were stone tablets with inscriptions in Chinese each set on a stone turtle's back.
Entrance gate of Temple of Literature
Tower at the Temple of Literature
There was a temple to Confucius and a building where musicians played mini-concerts using traditional instruments. Behind this was a beautiful wood house which had been built in 2000 based on traditional architecture. It was built using heavy pieces of wood and had that warm old wood smell. From the balcony we could look down on the ceramic roof tiles-- each with a curved point on the end. On the outside of the building were a giant drum and giant bell. The buildings and arches were adorned with dragons and carved flowers.
Temple of Confucius
Statue in one of the courtyards