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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Reasons to Love Hanoi

Yes, the pollution will cut off years from your life, the motorbikes swarm like bees skimming past you, in the old quarter, after turning the corner it feels a little like you're in an Escher drawing (wasn't I just on this street?) and not every shop owner is happy to see a customer.

But there are some reasons to love Hanoi...
  1. Food stalls everywhere. It seems like everyone on every corner is eating or having coffee or tea at a cafe. So, pull up a plastic kiddie stool and have a ca phe, bia hoi, or a steaming bowl of pho.
  2. Colonial architecture. When you're not avoiding getting hit by a motorbike or snaking your way around those ankle high plastic seats at a cafe or food stall, look up at those gracious, mustard yellow houses.  
  3. Taxi before you can say taxi. Some companies have meters that are rigged. But if you stick to Group Taxi and Mai Linh, these not only make sure you've had a fair fare, but they're right around the corner if you need them. Don't see one on the street? Make sure this is the first number you put in your speed dial when you get here. Dial them and they are at your doorstep in a jiffy (read: less than a minute). This doesn't even happen in Brooklyn when you make reservations with Arecibo the night before. 
  4. 54 Traditions Gallery. More like a museum but everything is for sale.  A former pediatrician calls Hanoi and New York home. Obsessed with Vietnamese ethnic minorities and artifacts, this man has done his homework. He even guarantees his stuff for life. Visit and he'll personally take you on a tour of 4 floors filled with beautiful objects, and will tell the story behind each and every piece.
  5. Water puppets. I guarantee you've never seen it outside of Vietnam. It makes its home here in Hanoi and is on every tourist itinerary. Apparently the rice farmers began this tradition spending much of their time knee deep in water. There's a live orchestra, singing and some pyrotechnics for special effects. Even if you hate puppets, you'll like this show. 
  6. Ho Chi Minh. I mean the man himself, in the flesh. Yes, the chance to see his preserved body, in glass, guarded by 4 soldiers at the mausoleum is a sight in itself but the crowds snaking their way to get in for a sneak peak are another draw. 
  7. Getting lost. Okay, so the old quarter is little confusing. But you would have never discovered that adorable boutique or that little cafe had you turned on your GPS. 
  8. Superb service at the Rising Dragon Palace Hotel. Not only is this place easy on the wallet, it goes above and beyond any hotel we've stayed so far. Arrive and they brief you on what there is to see and do, upgrade you to a bigger room if they're not busy, babysit your 4 year old on your birthday for free, provide you with a room (for free) to freshen up when you arrive in the afternoon from a Halong Bay boat trip and need to leave the same day for an overnight train to Sapa, accompany you to the train station and carry all your bags to the actual train car, call you a million times to try to arrange a pick up for an early morning arrival to Hanoi, and let your daughter sit at the reception watching kid videos while you continue to snooze. What hotel does all this?
So put on a face mask, walk, hop in a taxi, get lost in Hanoi's chaotic frenzy and enjoy!

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