Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 17 February 2007

Hoi An and Hanoi

We said goodbye to Thanh and Xuan in Hoi An last Tuesday. The city was bustling with shoppers gearing up for Tet. We went to book our bus tickets on to Hanoi, and found out that the busses stopped running sooner than we had expected, allowing us only 24 hours in Hoi An. Bummer, but travelling in Vietnam during Tet is like trying to get around Latin America during Semana Santa. So, rather than pressing our luck, we booked the earlier bus and headed straight for the tailor shops.

Hoi An is well known for two main reasons. The Old Quarter of the city has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and major development of the area has been prohibited. The ancients alleys and buildings are being preserved and protected, and the waterfront has been saved from massive chain hotels and restaurants. It’s a wonderful town. Very easy to lose oneself wandering here. The other reason people come to Hoi An is for the clothes. Literally hundreds of tailor shops line the streets and fill the stalls in the market places. They are all competing for business, so prices are quite low. Jess and I each had some linen pants made and we spent much of the afternoon and early evening exploring the myriad shops and stalls.
We left Hoi An on Wednesday afternoon and borded our 18-hour bus direct to Hanoi. It was a long, sleepless night, but we arrived around 8am in Hanoi and transferred by taxi into the center. Accomodations were a little hard to come by because of Tet, but we managed to find rooms for our 4-night stay in just 2 different hotels. Not too bad. We spent much of the day on Thursday running errands, because we knew offices would be closed after that. After our Ha Long Bay tour was booked, and our flights to Luang Prabang next week were purchased, we wandered around the streets of Hanoi.

Hanoi seems to be like the older step-brother to Saigon. To quote the popular phrase emblazoned on t-shorts all over and used quite frequently by many Vietnamese: Same same, but different. That’s the best way I can describe it so far. The traffic is every bit as insane, only the streets are narrower. The city is just a big and the poorly drawn maps are just as unforgiving for the wandering foreigners unaccostumed to street names changing every few blocks.

The North definitely has a different feel to it than the south, however. People are friendly, just not as open. Often you have to approach someone for information, rather than be bombarded with it from the street. Although, in the very touristy areas, the bombardment is a constant reminder of Saigon.

We enjoyed a Water Puppetry show on Thursday night, and on Friday night, we celebrated Tet Eve in the streets with thousands of other people. There were various stages set up around the center of the city, and lots of plastic stools set out on the side of the road for beer drinking and chatting. The fireworks over the lake at midnight were met with very audible oohs and ahhs. It was quite hilarious, actually. I didn’t think people actually oohed and ahhed…but in Vietnam, they most certainly do! Saturday morning we were able to sleep in despite having the windows of our hotel room open up onto the street. We heard birds, rather than motorbikes. People were all at home. The one day of the year people actually realx and take time for themselves. It was nice to have an excuse to be lazy all day and not run around and try to see everything.

Tomorrow morning, we leave for a 2-day trip to Ha Long Bay. Should be wonderful. We fly to Laos on Tuesday afternoon.

Old sewing machines and spools of thread are a common site around Hoi An.

Lanterns lit up at night outside of all the shops around the market give Hoi An a different nocturnal feel.

Beautiful fabric and textiles line the walls of all the shops in Hoi An.

The waterfront of Hoi An.

The Japanese Covered Bridge is a landmark in the ancient quarter of Hoi An.

Water puppetry is famous in Hanoi. Here, the elegant stage is set about a pool of water.

Fire-breathing dragons fight with each other for glory in one of the fables depicted by the water puppets.

The puppeteers take a curtain call at the end of the show.

Jess makes her way through the traffic in Central Hanoi. We had to move hotels because our first place was booked up for Tet.

Flower vendors setting up shop on a corner in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.

They are big on two things in Hanoi. Both of which are present in this picture: Spelling things with flowers, and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. (Look closely above the “O”.)

Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. The Russians are “sharing their secrets” about preserving the body of a fallen comrade. Uncle Ho is available for viewing from time to time, but during Tet, the mausoleum was closed. Having seen (and been creeped out by) Lenin in Moscow a few years ago, I was OK with having missed Ho Chi Minh.

Mountains of garbage filled the streets after the temporary Tet markets closed around sunset on Friday night.
Hundreds of people on foot and on motorbikes crowd into the streets to view the shows on Tet Eve.

Acrobats spun from their teeth to wow the crowd of hundreds gathered in one of Hanoi’s busiest intersections.

The trees around the lake are all decorated with lights for the Tet Festival.


  1. These are amazing Helen; just what a sensory-deprived Chicagoan needs to see 🙂

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