Monday, November 30, 2009

Hanoi street scenes

[NOTE: When we traveled to Vietnam in 2009, I used Posterous for a lot of the photo hosting for this blog, because it as an easy way email photos from my phone.

With the subsequent death of Posterous, now most of my Vietnam travel posts have broken image links... I have the photos still, but it will take some time to recreate the visual narratives... Apologies for broken links below.]


Some random pics from our 2nd day in Hanoi:
Hoan Kiem lake (near our hotel):

Saw these stencils all over town and have been speculating over what they might be. We showed a photo to the receptionist at the hotel and she said they are... (wait for it...) advertisements for a mortgage refinancing company. Bill posting is, I believe, not allowed, so these would be guerrilla advertisements, and harder to remove than handbills (which we also saw -- took us a while to realize they were advertising the same thing -- I think it's the initials of a company, and then their phone number):






The streets in old town are named for what the vendors historically have sold. Sometimes the name matches what they are still selling, sometimes not so much anymore. This is counterfeit street -- we think it would historically would sell the fake money and dollar bills that buddhists leave on altars as gifts for their ancestors -- these shops probably still sell that kind of thing, because we've seen it everywhere on altars. However right now, the whole street is full of these (I think) wedding decorations:


And Christmas decorations:




Blacksmith street -- all things metal, welded, soldered, forged, etc. We did see a blacksmith working on the sidewalk, but didn't get a shot of it. Hard to see in the pic, but these are metal birdcages (a lot of people keep songbirds here, maybe the way we would keep houseplants), metal hat racks (many businesses have hat racks for umbrellas and motorbike helmets), metal garment fixtures, etc:




I don't remember what street we were on when we came across these kewpie dolls...




Or this music store -- most of the stuff in the front was for tourists, but they had some playable guitars in the back, and I saw some decent violin cases stashed up above in storage:




High-end wedding dress shop in the French quarter:




Rollercoaster in Lenin Park:





After being turned away from a popular French bistro whose kitchen had already closed, we had our best meal yet this afternoon at a hospitality/food/beverage training school for disadvantaged kids called Hoa Sua School. A very quiet, peaceful courtyard in a beautiful French colonial building (quiet is rare here... exactly what we were hoping to find after 2 days of walking through traffic and crowded sidewalks). Great food, reasonably priced -- and really great service (though they're learning, so occasionally a supervisor would step in to help, or take over and demonstrate). Daniel had Vietnamese, I ate French. The servers were darling. We had a lot of fun here -- plan to have dinner here again before we leave:




Tried the local Vietnamese (Dalat) wine for the first time -- we had actually tried a glass in Hoi An earlier, but it had been open too long and had turned to vinegar, so it wasn't really a fair try. We ordered a bottle here, and it was actually quite good - light-bodied and very drinkable (I'm not a big wine connoisseur, but I enjoyed it, and Daniel said it was good):


Duck l'orange:



Our server on the left. After the meal, we tried to let her know what a good job she had done (her English was quite adequate for taking our order and meeting our needs, but beyond that, she had a hard time understanding us, so it took a few minutes to get the point across). She seemed to think she didn't do a very good job (she said no, she is "very bad" -- maybe because she needed help opening the wine, tried to clear our dessert plate a little too early). But in the end, I think we made it clear that we'd had a great meal.


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Anti-smoking poster outside of the World Health Organization office:




Evening tai chi warmups:















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Last post for a couple of days as we'll be in Halong Bay.

Hue street scenes

[NOTE: When we traveled to Vietnam in 2009, I used Posterous for a lot of the photo hosting for this blog, because it as an easy way email photos from my phone.

With the subsequent death of Posterous, now most of my Vietnam travel posts have broken image links... I have the photos still, but it will take some time to recreate the visual narratives... Apologies for broken links below.]


Backtracking a few days, here are some pics from our 2nd day in Hue -- rented bicycles, braved the traffic (not so bad like Saigon or Hanoi, but still a little alarming, especially on wobbly rented bicycles) and crossed the river to get out of the tourist areas. Explored and found a lake in the citadel area in a residential neighborhood that was definitely off the tourist track. Also took an hour or so cyclo ride in some of the less touristy areas of Hue.
Ate lunch here -- it was packed with locals when we sat down. We were some of the last to leave. Here, it's all cleaned up (there had been napkins all over the floor, which apparently is a sign of a good place).




Spotted this along the way -- a full PA system being hauled on a cyclo:

Didn't have to go too far to get out of the tourist areas -- the Citadel side of the Perfume River is a lot quieter, once you get away from the Imperial Enclosure. We rode around for a couple of hours and saw few westerners:

Hue, Vietnam
Quiet lake we found while exploring bicycling. I'm guessing the platform had a temple or pagoda on it once upon a time:






After bicycling for a while (which was somewhat relaxing, but also somewhat nervewracking -- in order to get across the river to the quiet areas, we had to wade through some pretty heavy motorbike traffic), we decided to take a short cyclo ride -- a lot of the drivers speak enough English that they can act as a tour guide, and though we'd already seen enough of the official "sights," we thought it would be cool to have them take us around for a half hour or so anyway, again maybe a little off the beaten path. It's a nice, relaxing way to be in the traffic and be able to take it all in, without having to negotiate the traffic like we did on the bicycles...
I had met my cyclo driver earlier in the day -- he had been following me from shop to shop trying to talk me into hiring him for a cyclo ride (I was something like a block from the hotel, so wasn't interested at the time). But I ended up talking to him for a bit. When he asked where I was from, and I said "U.S.", he gave a big thumbs up and said, "Obama! I like Obama!" Said he's seen Obama and his daughters on TV, and he seems like a good family man. Won me over, so when we decided to take a ride later that day, we looked around for him until we found him again. He grabbed a friend to drive Daniel around. Here's just a couple of pics. We had a really interesting time riding with them and talking to them, since it gave us a chance to ask "What's that sign say?" "What's that big building over there?" I have some other pics and videos I'll post later.


Communist billboard:


Kids we came across during a short stop on the cyclo ride, on the other side of the river. A lot of the kids we met when we got off the tourist track were really friendly and eager to talk to us, wanting to use their little bit of English (generally just "Hello! Hello!"):


Fresh-made incense drying, here more or less in someone's backyard:


Here, incense drying in front of a Buddhist temple. We peeked inside -- the monks were playing football/soccer in the enclosed yard:


Daniel's cyclo driver in the striped shirt -- we're crossing the river back on our way back to the busy side at the end of our ride:


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hanoi -- views from hotel

[NOTE: When we traveled to Vietnam in 2009, I used Posterous for a lot of the photo hosting for this blog, because it as an easy way email photos from my phone.

With the subsequent death of Posterous, now most of my Vietnam travel posts have broken image links... I have the photos still, but it will take some time to recreate the visual narratives... Apologies for broken links below.]


We are settled in our hotel in Hanoi -- like we did in Hoi An (the place with the nice balcony and peaceful central courtyard), we're staying in a little bit upmarket place here. In Saigon and Hue, we were in backpackers' hotels, on the high end of budget at around $15-20/night for a very basic though modern room -- ac/hot water/wifi when it worked, TV with cable, free hot breakfast. Basic, but also scrupulously clean with very attentive service. Here, nicer linens, bigger room, an elevator instead of walkup. Still only $38/night for the "city view" side of the tall skinny building.

We popped up to the top (7th) floor to check out the views ended up preferring the city view side because we have we're at treetop level and have a wonderful tree outside our balcony, and the street life is more fun to look at than rooftops. Besides that the lake view side turned out to be just as loud, and on the lower floors, we would have barely been able to see the lake anyway...



Construction/demolition/rebuilding/remodelling seems to be a constant ongoing process in every city we've visited.


Lake side


Hue, Vietnam -- Citadel and Imperial Enclosure

[NOTE: When we traveled to Vietnam in 2009, I used Posterous for a lot of the photo hosting for this blog, because it as an easy way email photos from my phone.

With the subsequent death of Posterous, now most of my Vietnam travel posts have broken image links... I have the photos still, but it will take some time to recreate the visual narratives... Apologies for broken links below.]
 
We are settled in Hanoi, in the old town district. Very busy here as well -- the city is much less populous than Ho Chi Minh, but it doesn't feel like the pace is any slower, and if anything, the driving seems to be less forgiving and more aggressive. But we have yet to leave the old town area, which is, from what we hear, an especially busy place -- spent several hours last night exploring the twisting streets.

Today, we're going to get motorbike taxis and hopefully find a quieter area of the city to explore -- near the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and Ho Chi Minh museum. Tonight, we have tickets to see the Water Puppet theater (water puppetry is a traditional folk-art -- now being staged in a large municipal theater with something like five shows a night). John, hoping after we see the show that I may, after tonight, be able to answer the "what does traditional music sound like?" question. Tomorrow morning, we go to Halong bay for a one-night cruise on a replica of a Chinese junk.



In the meantime, here are some photos from our previous stop, Hue -- walking tour of the Citadel and Imperial Enclosure. The citadel makes up a large part of the city itself -- a lot of the population lives within the outer citadel moat and walls. Within the citadel is the imperial enclosure, quite a large area itself, once housing about 150 structures both ceremonial and "everyday" palaces for the emperor, the royal extended family, other lower royalty, etc. It was a city within the city of the citadel, itself within the city of Hue.

The imperial enclosure is now a historic site in varying phases of restoration, much of it having been been destroyed by not just the war with the US but by several major natural disasters/monsoons. We walked around just the enclosure for several hours and really barely made a dent -- we'd walk through fully restored palaces, then find ourselves among complete ruins, then stumble onto workmen and craftsmen working on a restoration project.

Here are some highlights -- unfortunately, I ate up my camera battery goofing around on the train, and forgot to charge it, so only had my phone to shoot while in the Citadel:




Outer moat and outer wall of the citadel.


Main entrance to the imperial enclosure (there were gates on all 4 sides. This was the one the emperor used, which fed straight into his ceremonial palace, then into his own, deeper enclosure called the Forbidden Purple City. This gate has a structure on top that the emperor would use when he wanted to address those outside of the citadel walls.


Mortar or maybe cannonball damage to outer wall -- there was a deep hole in the middle about the size of a big grapefruit.



One of the secondary gates to the enclosure.





The mosaic tile work was beautiful, made up of different colored shards of broken ceramic pottery.





















Inside the imperial enclosure -- emperor would walk through this gate to get to his ceremonial palace. Everyone else had to walk on different bridges on either side.






These are fiberglass repros:















Emperor's ceremonial palace -- used for formal ceremonies and to address the lower royalty. We went inside, but no photos were allowed:


These tombstone looking things (guidebook called them Stellae) marked the rows that the various royalty would stand in, based on rank, when being addressed by the emperor from the ceremonial palace:


One of the lesser royalty:





Some rebuilding/restoration work being done on another structure (seems to be in the finishing stages):


A different structure, at an earlier phase of restoration/rebuilding:


Carving the ceiling beams:




Staining the wood carving:








Tired after all the walking, we took motorbike taxis back to the hotel.