Date: 08/06/2007 | Author: Dave

Hanoi is the place where are travels combine with real life the most. Hair cuts, new glasses, camera repair etc. We experienced this fine city in three bursts. Twice at the Hanoi Paradise Hotel in the Old Quarter and then for our last two nights at the lovely Kate's house.
The Old Quarter is by a long shot the maddest piece of a city I have ever been in. Most of the pavements are occupied by the contents of shops, street restaurant seating, cooking, bicycle repair stations and parked motorbikes. Consequently, pedestrians get to share the road with the (5) millions of motorbikes said to be in Hanoi on any given day. My first 24hrs in the Old Quarter involved three near misses. Here (as in Saigon) they are the masters of the near miss. To cross the road without flinching takes a few days of practice. (tip) Move at a slight diagonal toward the traffic and never ever stop. Gaps open up for you.
In the same way as being four up on a small motorcycle with no helmets in this traffic feels irresponsible, dragging one's children out into this oncoming traffic feels the same. You are just trusting that no-one will hit you.
We arrived back from our trip to Sapa at 5am. The life in the city at this time of day is amazing. Our taxi took us via the lake back to the Hanoi Paradise. The hotel opened up and took our bags. Straight away we jumped onto motorbikes and went back down to the lake. We probably would never have dragged ourselves out of bed that early just to see people exercising but once we started walking around Hoan Kiem Lake I was so glad to be amongst the action. We are watching an early morning ritual, as suggested by Ho Chi Minh, that thousands still partake in today, some 40 years after his death. If Tony Blair said that we should exercise in Hyde Park at 5am I doubt that 40 people would turn up. (see video)
From here we head to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum to pay our respects to this country's eminent leader. We thought we were getting a head start on the crowds but joined a queue that we could not see the other end of. After filing in strict silence past his body we carried on to have a look at his humble stilt house in the grounds of the presidential palace. A rather fractious day this turned out to be and we all should have had a siesta.
We adopted the very cosmopolitan streets near St Joseph's Cathedral for shopping and dining. There is a great tapas bar there called 'Salsa'. Ella and I both had haircuts around the corner from 'Salsa'. Mine went well, but Ella was in tears for two days. The rest of us thought it looked great!
There are many artists in Hanoi that copy (oil) paintings and we found a pencil artist that we liked and had him copy a photo of Ella and Florence. It looks fantastic. We got him to sign it so that it is not as easily mistaken for a black and white photograph. We need to post this (and also the impressive pile of dresses that Gabby has purchased) home before we leave for India.
When we first arrived in Hanoi we went out to West Lake to meet Kate and her boys. Kate had emailed us a few recommendations for Vietnam before we arrived in Asia and we were keen to meet her. An affable Australian with three very nice boys. They live, with their French dad, in a big house by the water with a pool in the attic that opens up to a nice view of the lake. After our trip to Halong Bay, we spend our last two nights in Vietnam at Kate's. Her hospitality was outstanding. A very cool lady.

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