11.29.2013

Hanoi

We started our visit in Hanoi with our two young guides from Hanoi Kids.  Hanoi Kids is a volunteer group with one of their activities being tour guides throughout the city.  We went to visit some of the city's landmarks like Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and presidential palace, the One Pillar Pagoda and the Hanoi Hilton.

One night while in Hanoi, we went on a street food tour.  Our guide took us on a walking tour through the small alleyways and streets of the Old Quarter, dating back to the 13th century.  We stopped at many stalls and eateries tasting everything from fresh spring rolls ( my favorite), to traditional Pho, to fresh Eel.  He took us to the most authentic spots, be it an outside stall where you sit on the street to a tiny little restaurant tucked away in an alley.  This is something we probably would not have done on our own as I heard a lot of "what is that???" We ate and ate and ate until we could eat no more.  Our guide was quite disappointed in our stomach capacity.   He also taught us the fine art of crossing a busy Hanoi street with hundreds of motorbikes coming at you.  Just cross the street, keep on walking and don't ever go backward.  You will get hit if you do.  I think I mastered this craft.  According to one of our taxi drivers, there are approximately 7 million people in Hanoi and 4 million motorbikes.
The highlight for me was the day we went on the Red River Bike Tour through Urban Discovery.  We started our tour on a tiny little street in the Tay Ho area of Hanoi.  We passed women selling vegetables on the streets to larger open markets.  We visited a cemetery and learned the customs of burial.  We sampled fresh blossom water at one stop.  Again, we dealt with the chaotic traffic on our bikes.  Just merge on in and keep your fingers crossed.  We rode across Long Bien Bridge that crosses the Red River.  It was built by the French between 1899- 1902 when they controlled North Vietnam.  Now only bikes, motorbikes and pedestrians cross the bridge.  We also visited Bo De Pagoda, a Buddhist temple.  It also houses an orphanage that we visited.  We were able to walk through the rooms of the orphanage and see the kids.  There were a lot of volunteers caring for the children, and visitors also.  A group of elderly women also live there because their children are too busy to care for them.  They were so happy to receive the fruit from the market that Minh, our guide, had bought on our bike ride over.  What an eye opening experience this was for me.  And heartbreaking.