Hanoi is the noisiest, most insane place we’ve visited in ages — maybe ever. People eat, park their motorbikes, argue, kiss babies, sell everything and anything they can and basically live their lives on the street. Because it is so densely inhabited (and people here seem to never sleep), there are virtually no sidewalks to walk on. People honk their horns LOUDLY and constantly and incessantly.
Barring the crossing-the-street fear factor, we love it here. Mostly.
As for the Ho Chi Minh memorial (he’s embalmed, but the mausoleum is closed Mondays and Fridays) we only got to see the outside, but the architecture is nothing short of astounding. Probably because of the cramped quarters on the tiny winding streets in the old quarter, the memorial seems especially huge. And the entire setting — the grounds, the flags, the propaganda — is unusually dramatic.
This morning, we toured a number of temples, including the Temple of Literature, which dates from the eleventh century. At the Museum of Ethnicity, we heard loud blaring music and looked at basket weaving. But the best part of this city isn’t the tourist attractions: it is the people, the noise, the sheer lunacy. The shopping, by the way, is its own event: cheap, if you can stomach the ferocious sales pitches, and the interminable (and necessary) haggling: but the silks and weavings, the baskets, the handmade chopsticks, and yes — the epic amounts of designer knock-offs … we particularly love the misspellings (like this wayward bag from last year’s Prada Collection, at left.) Streets are lined with people selling everything, grabbing you by the arm and asking what you’re looking for. Women in conical hats follow you down the street after you’ve told them, repeatedly, that you’re really not interested. But the people of Hanoi are endearing nonetheless, and their sheer vivacity is preciesly what we will take away from this incredible visit. Herewith, a small sampling. (More under photos.)