The winding streets of Hanoi
Uninspired to take another 10 hour bus ride to Hanoi, we jumped at the opportunity to fly for only a few dollars more. That also meant that we had an extra day in Hoi An, to visit and digest the amount of stuff that we were now schlepping with us. We packed the bags full, including the new bag we had purchased and took a taxi to the airport in Danang. Our flight to Hanoi was uneventful but fast. In a few hours we were at Oceans II, a guest house tucked into an alley in the center of Hanoi's Old Town.
After a nap and some relaxation, I headed out to explore our neighborhood. Patrick was still not feeling well, so I took it upon myself to find dinner and snacks for the night. From our 4rd floor window we could see the color changing in the sky and I knew this would be a good time to see the world transition from the working day to a family oriented evening. With my map, I hesitantly turned right at the end of our little alley, hoping that I would recognize it all on the way back. I walked through the narrow alley ways, dodging motorbikes, cars and pedestrians. It is true - no two streets ever meet at a right angle, making navigation in the city a bit difficult. Patrick has an outstanding sense of direction - it is almost unnatural. But I was on my own, so I stayed within a fairly small circumference around our hotel. The streets were alive with energy - shops spill out on the sidewalks because the families live in the houses behind the store fronts. Men and women were sitting on small stools, watching their wares and watching the world go by. I was walking through life - their lives.
This area of Hanoi is organized again by product. One street sold only baby clothes, which led to another street that sold only baby gear, which led to another street that sold maternity wear, which led into another street that sold furniture. This form of city planning was so clear and simple. The street that became most familiar was the one with convenience style stores. Everything spills into the streets, nothing is closed off or hidden or behind glass. I found a restaurant around the corner and sat upstairs on the balcony, eating fried noodles and watching the world below. With snacks and soup-to-go for Patrick, I walked back to our hotel and was pleased with myself that I actually found it.
Water puppet show
After the obligatory fried egg and baguette breakfast at our hotel, we headed out to explore more of Hanoi. This time the streets were busy with the goings on of the day and the noise level was astounding. We arrived at Hoan Kiem Lake, the famous landmark in the Old Town and crossed the red bridge to the Ngoc Son Pagoda. I think that we realized today how culturally full we were. I had felt something similar when leaving South America, although this time it felt much stronger. It is a feeling that you are not able to take in any new information or culture or language or food. We admitted these feelings and decided to make the most of the city and the remaining time in Vietnam. We knew that we would still leave for a boat trip through Halong Bay tomorrow, so for now we just hung out. We returned to the hotel and squared away the Halong travel arrangements. I left again in the early afternoon to buy tickets for the Water Puppets Theatre and arrived at the theatre as the line was reaching the curb. It was finally my turn, I bought the tickets and then slowly made my way through the streets, back home. In these streets is the shoe market - which extends two full blocks and also pours out onto the sidewalk. Women of all ages are clambering over each other to get the latest and greatest styles. I dared to ask if they had a shoe in a larger size and the owner only looked at me and laughed. That was okay, I didn't need anymore shoes.
The evenings Water Puppet show started at 9:00 and we arrived at the Thanh Long Water Puppet Theatre just in time to be ushered in with the many other tourists. This was the most foreigners we had seen since Cambodia, but it made sense - I learned that the daytime performances attract more locals and children. We had not read up about the show, only that this was a traditional art form that dates back centuries. The stories depict legends, folklore and everyday events and serve as a means of understanding and storytelling. The stage consisted of a large pool of water, surrounded by a wooden set and structure. To the left of the "stage" was a group of 8 musicians and singers, who provided the soundtrack for the hour long performance. I thought it was fascinating and of course Patrick figured out immediately how the magic was performed...
To learn more about the water puppets in Hanoi you can follow this link: http://www.thanglongwaterpuppet.org/