Hanoi Street Market
After a lovely trip along the sea, over the mountains, and past rural agricultural and fishing communities, we arrived for just one night in Hue, the imperial city of the Nguyen dynasty. En route we visited a wonderful temple. That evening we were treated to royal feast where we dressed in traditional royal clothing. I kept wanting to bow to Bob who looked like a Catholic Bishop to me.
Dressed for the Imperial Banquet
(grownups playing dressup!)
Our group feasting and enjoying live traditional music
We were out very early in the morning to visit the Nguyen Imperial Citadel and the Forbidden Purple City and a local monastery. There we boarded a boat to travel on the Perfume River to our lunch.
Imperial City of Nguyen dynasty
Car driven to Saigon in 1963 by the monk who immolated himself
protesting South Vietnam's government that discriminated against
After lunch we flew to Hanoi, a city about 430 miles north of Hue. I knew from the information provided that being in North Vietnam, we would have a different climate. Immediately it was cool and we wore layers until we traveled on to Laos.
Hanoi culture is both similar and different from South Vietnam. During the French colonial period, Hanoi was the capital and some of the French architecture remains. During the American War (known to us as the Vietnam War), North Vietnam was the center of the communist movement to reunify Vietnam and remove foreign government involvement. Today it is the capital of a reunified Vietnam, home of the monolithic communist government, and a capitalistic economy with many foreign companies occupying business parks. There is a more serious feel to the city.
The most interesting piece of the economy to me is all the small businesses; it seems there are many more than we have in the USA. In the city are many shops stuffed with merchandise and street vendors who are licensed to cook on the streets and serve meals. There are many more popup businesses, such as the woman in my painting -- selling fruit from her bicycle on a side street in Hanoi. This practice is illegal but often overlooked. As a cyclist I am in awe of what people can carry on their bicycles.
Bicycles, along with scooters, are to Vietnam what cars are to the USA.
Old Hanoi thrives
In the smaller towns as we traveled in rural Vietnam, every home has a business on the street level -- scooter repair, barbers, clothing shops, markets, furniture builders, and restaurants, to name but a few. The people are very industrious and maintain their close family ties.
Small town homes and businesses
We visited the Temple of Literature, site of the oldest university in Vietnam, dating back more than a thousand years. We also visited Hoa Lo Prison, famously known as the Hanoi Hilton to North American flyers like John McCain who were imprisoned there along with many Vietnamese enemies of the Viet Cong. Some of McCain's uniform is on display. We were told not to ask to be taken to the Hanoi Hilton because we would end up at a hotel! The prisons visits were very sobering.
We took in a charming piece of culture, the Water Puppet Theater. These puppets were originally created by farmers during the monsoon season. The puppeteers stand in waist deep water behind a curtain and manipulate the wooden puppets by sticks under the water. There is live music. The small skits are charming stories of love and day-to-day life. Today the theater is a huge tourist attraction on the shores the Hoan Kiem Lake.