Hanoi and Goodbye Vietnam

Date: 08/06/2007 | Author: Gabby

I loved Hanoi - we spent over a week there in total, with our side trips to Sapa and Halong Bay in between.
For the first part of our stay we booked in to the Hanoi Paradise Hotel, great value - boasted that it was the only 2 star hotel in Hanoi with a swimming pool. Surrounded by windowless concrete, it was the worst indoor pool we have ever seen. Despite the humid Hanoi heat, not even the girls were tempted to have a dip!
The hotel was in the middle of the Old Quarter of Hanoi where the back streets are fascinating and a hive of activity - definitely a great place to be staying to soak up the atmosphere of the city. Most of the activity takes place on the pavements which meant we often found ourselves walking on the road. Keeping a firm grip on the girls' hands and doing our best to make sure they didn't get knocked by the thousands of motorbikes that whizz through the streets was no mean feat.
It was easy to while away several hours wandering through the narrow streets. You can buy almost anything here - Dave managed to get a couple of new pairs of designer framed reading glasses, ready in an hour, for about $19. I bought, well, lots - dresses, bags, silk - it's all dirt cheap (well that's my excuse) and as we were sending another box home, why not?? We even commissioned a local artist to do an amazing pencil drawing of one of our favourite photos of the girls to send to Mum for her 70th birthday (this is a photo of it!). The girls LOVED Hanoi, there was loads to see and do, the restaurants were great and once again they loved the thrill of getting around town on motorbikes.
A lot of Hanoi's activity takes place early in the morning. We haven't really been morning people on this trip, so we discovered this by default. We arrived back in Hanoi at 4.30am after our few days in Sapa. As we couldn't check in to our hotel until 9 we decided to head to Hoan Kiem Lake to watch the early morning Vietnamese exercise rituals (check out the video!). We couldn't believe it, thousands of people - walking or jogging around the lake, groups of people doing T'ai Chi or aerobic type exercises as well as plenty of solitary exercisers. Apparently, Ho Chi Minh told everyone they should get up early and exercise - 40 years after his death, many people are still taking his advice. By 8am we were queuing with 1000s of other people to see the man himself - Uncle Ho, as the Vietnamese often refer to their ex-President. He wanted to be cremated, but in typical communist style, he has been preserved for all to see and pay their respects to. He looked rather waxy - but the cold air conditioned mausoleum was a great place to escape from the morning heat!
For me, the real highlight of Hanoi was our last 2 nights when we stayed with the lovely de Ruty family in their gorgeous house overlooking the West Lake. I'd had an email introduction to Kate, the only female member of the de Ruty household, from a friend in London. This French/Australian family have lived in Vietnam for about 13 years. Kate invited us to her house one evening and then to stay for our last few nights in Hanoi. She is an amazing woman and her husband and 3 boys were lovely and very welcoming. Ella and Florence loved the boys, Martin (11) and Benjamin (13) were particular hits. I was especially proud of Ella's flirting abilities with Thomas (15). Kate was so generous to us while we were there and it was so great to get an insider's view of the city. It was a very special way to end our time in a magical country.

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