After two days in Hanoi, we traveled to Ha Long Bay and spent a night on a cruise boat. With its many limestone peaks sticking out from the bay, and Ha Long Bay is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Li River near Guilin, China, has similar limestone peaks. We enjoyed Ha Long Bay much more because boats could spread out in the Bay, while the Li River was a continuous stream of boats down the river.
During our two days in Hanoi, we ate in small restaurants or from take-out stands.
For our first lunch, we looked for something familiar — beef pho. Most pho places in the San Francisco Bay Area serve beef pho, but we had trouble finding beef pho in Hanoi. We discovered that most pho places in Hanoi’s Old Quarter serve chicken pho, called pho ga. We finally gave up and ate at the chicken pho place shown above. A table and chairs are on the sidewalk, but we ate inside.
Like many ancient cities, Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a maze of small buildings and narrow streets and alleys that predate motorized vehicles. Rather than seeking to control vehicle traffic, Hanoi’s streets are used by pedestrians, bicycles, and cars and overrun by throngs of motorcycles and motor scooters. So much life on the streets.
After being taken for a ride in Siem Reap and Hanoi on the same day, for the next two days we only walked from our hotel in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, seeing narrow streets and narrow buildings, a gate from the old city wall, and Hoan Kiem Lake. In the above view from our hotel room, compare the buildings to the cars below, and you’ll see some five-story buildings are as wide as a car-length.
In Hanoi we were pleased with the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, where puppets in a pool depict Vietnamese folk tales. Dating back to the 11th century, puppeteers originally worked in rice paddies. The photo above is from the legend of returned sword. From wikipedia,
Emperor Lê Lợi was boating on the lake when a Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) surfaced and asked for his magic sword, Heaven’s Will. Lợi concluded that Kim Qui had come to reclaim the sword that its master, a local God, the Dragon King (Vietnamese: Long Vương) had given Lợi some time earlier, during his revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty.
Our flight from Siem Reap landed at the new Hanoi airport after dark. Warned about Hanoi taxi scams, we arranged for our hotel for a car pick us up from the airport — paying a premium for what seemed the safest way to get from the airport at night. We stood outside the terminal of the new airport for five or ten minutes before a driver with a sign with our name came. His English was very limited, and we don’t speak the local language, as usual on our Southeast Asia vacation.
After we left the airport, the driver got a phone call and told us he wanted us to change to his friend’s taxi. We told him we didn’t want to do this. The driver slowed down and turned down a dark side road with no people around. For the second time that day, we were taken for a ride.
Following our Angkor tour, we had a free day before our evening flight to Hanoi. We decided to see the Angkor National Museum, which has artifacts from the Angkor temples. We went out to the street to engage a tuk-tuk to take us to the museum, and that was the beginning of our ride.