There are some people who say that they like Ha Noi as a city and hate HCMC and others who say just the opposite. I can’t decide which city I enjoy the most and I don’t believe that I’m being wishy-washy or undecided when I say that there are things about both places that I really enjoy and therefore I like them equally.
Most of all I think that I enjoy the change. Spend too long in Sai Gon and you realise when you remove yourself from it that very occasionally you need a break. That probably explains why I rode in the taxi from Noi Bai International Airport into the centre of Ha Noi with a wide smile on my face which was equalled only by the smile I was feeling inside.
I love the fact that there are farmers toiling away in their neat and orderly rice paddies only metres from the end of the runway and that every available bit of arable land is being used to grow something, even if it is situated between the four lane main highway and a giant advertising billboard. There stand the centuries old family grave plots with the rice growing as close as is possible without giving offence to the much venerated ancestors, children are riding water buffalo and there is the hustle and bustle of people going about their everyday business.
My smile broadens as we head into the city and I look down at the market gardens and rose gardens in amongst the tall buildings near West Lake (Ho Tay) and down on into the old quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake where the narrow streets are crowded and full of activity. It’s Sunday and there are many people out and about browsing and shopping and drinking coffee at tiny trendy shops.
I’m staying in a tiny street (Hang Hanh St) a stones throw away from the lake in a small boutique family run hotel that we discovered when Brendan & Amber were with us in Ha Noi last February. We have stayed there a couple of times since then because the staff are so friendly and the street is full of interesting places to eat and drink and buy music or movies or have a pedicure and massage. I’m here for work this week so I asked them to book me in here. I didn’t want to come home tired of an afternoon and have to walk miles to find a cold beer or good food.
The room that I’m in is not in the actual hotel building but is situated in the building next door. I access it by climbing four very steep flights of stairs and then I climb a small stepladder propped against the wall through an opening into the next building and viola, I’m home. I love the fact that when I come in of an afternoon I can here all of the noise and voices from the street below along with the sound of chickens which are being housed on the balcony of the old house opposite. I continue to smile.
I like the fact that when I arrived at the hotel I was greeted as an old friend or family member might be. “Hello Mr. Roy. It’s good to see you again. How have you been? How is your family? We are glad to have you back with us again”. You see, we stayed here with Brendan & Amber on their last day in Ha Noi and they caught a taxi to the airport from the front steps. There was a lot of hugging and many tears shed as they left, which entertained the locals no end, but also gained us much empathy as they understood that we love our children and were sad to see them leave.
Two doors down from the hotel is a small bar run by 2 young Vietnamese ladies Hong and Diep and we have had some fun times there. As I recall we sat there and drank far too much after the kids left, and as soon as I step into the street this time. Diep spots me and calls out “Hey, long time no see. Where have you been, we’ve been missing you?” I go and sit for a minute to talk and catch up and promise that I will come back for a drink later that evening. First I have some chores to attend to.
When Dutchie went back to Australia we gave him our Caf? Del Mar cd’s so my first task was to buy some more of those. No problems in this street as there are approximately 10 CD shops to choose from. Then I had to walk around the corner and up to Hung Dao St to buy some Lycra tops for Lisa. There is a lady who sells them on the street in tiniest of alleys where tops are hung on wooden racks in what is effectively the entry to her house. She is situated directly next to an antique shop where Brendan & Amber and us bought some interesting looking scrolls (the ones now hanging in our bedroom) and they bought us some jade carvings depicting rather pornographic poses as a thank you present for having then stay.
Lisa had purchased some tops at that time and had given me a sample which I showed to the lady. At first I ‘I’m sure that she thought I’d come back with some type of complaint, but her smile returned when she realised that it was important that I buy the right ones. As there were many colours to choose from I jumped on the mobile and gave a running description to Lisa as I bought them. I think the lady thought that all her Tet’s had come at once with the number of tops I bought.
Lightly laden I head back to hotel but stop and have a couple of cold beers in a small bar/caf? where I have been before and watch the traffic flow past on the street outside. The waitress smiles at me and I smile right back. Why wouldn’t I, I’m back in Ha Noi and looking forward to the week in front of me.