Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day 30 - Wandering Aimlessly Around Hanoi

Today was a very relaxing DIY tourist day. I got to walk around the city and go wherever I wanted at any time of the day. I only hired a motorbike once, and instead, decided to sweat it out most of the day.

In the morning, I walked around the Old Quarter District of Hanoi, which is a maze of streets full of vendors specializing in different trades, each situated on a specific street based on what they had to sell. One street was full of shoe stores, another full of light bulbs, another full of headstones, etc. I went to see a traditional tube house and tried to visit some of the other sites from my lonely planet book, but being as it was outdated, I got shut out of two different places because it was a Monday. It seems Monday is a rest day where many attractions are closed, including restaurants. I ended up walking to the Hoan Kiem Lake to just sit on the benches and watch the reflection of the city on the lake. The lake is situated in the center of most of the tourist areas in Hanoi, but is also a popular gathering place for locals at night, where people go jogging, sit around the benches, play badminton, or do group aerobics together. I walked across a bridge to the Den Ngoc Temple and then walked around the lake some more, before settling on lunch and some ice cream afterwards.

The city is full of hidden shops and stores as I mentioned in my previous post. Walking around, (finally with the help of a lonely planet book) I found an awesome art house cinema called Hanoi Cinematheque that plays different films every day of the week. Today they were playing True Grit and The Searchers (starring John Wayne). I bought a ticket and ended up watching True Grit in a theatre with only about 6 other people. It was really intimate. The movie theatre staff explained to me that not a lot of people come because they are only allowed to send notification emails to members, due to the non-profit nature of the theatre, and they also can't advertise in any way. It had something to do with governmental restrictions, which I didn't inquire further into. 

After that, I took a motorbike to the Temple of Literature, which served as a place to worship Confucius. It also served as a place for higher learning in the past, and there are stone engravings of scholars who passed certain national examinations in the past. The entire place consisted of numerous temples, courtyards, and pools. Afterwards, I walked to a restaurant and cafe that were suggested by Lonely Planet, but they were also closed on Monday! Hungry and sweaty i settled on KFC for the first time on the trip. I can't say whether I like the chicken better here or not, because I'm so used to the delicious flavors back home, but it definitely tasted different. 

Cooled off and stomach fed, I walked around some more and bought two lonely planet books for my next destinations (Philippines and Laos) for only 140,000 Dong. Then stumbled across the opening night of a photography exhibit depicting heroin addicts in Vietnam and the stories they wanted to tell. I didn't really see the effects of drugs on the population through my travels, so it was good to be exposed to some of these stories. Countless stories were told of people attempting to quit, only to relapse numerous times. Many of the stories told of men who ended up being motorbike drivers to make cash, sometimes to fuel their addiction. I wonder if I've assisted any of them...

More stumbling around at night in Hanoi led me to a cafe that had an open mic night where Vietnamese youth were performing "Chris Isaaks' Wicked Game" with violin, piano, and guitar.  There is just so much more art here than Saigon, at least from all that I have witnessed. I think it is regarded much more highly here. Then after that I walked to a Jazz club that performed jazz every night with no cover. It was again, intimate, with a small audience, and I ended up staying, enjoying the music after everyone else left. It was a moment I wish I could have shared with someone else. I won't lie, it gets lonely traveling alone, and it'd be nice to have a friend here to share in these moments.

Walked home from the bar down empty streets, a stark contrast to the daytime action. It was a perfect end to the night, with the lake on my right side, french architecture to my left, and the headlights of all the motorbikes in front of me. 

Old Quarter, Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake

Temple of Literature

Music Performance at the Temple of Literature

I Spy the Smallest IKEA I've ever Seen

Afternoon Break in the Hidden Alleys of Hanoi

NOT Vietnamese Street Food

Face-To-Face with Drugs Photo Exhibition

Entrance to Hanoi Cinematheque

Hanoi Cinematheque

Front Row Seats at the Jazz Show

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