Who would have thunk it? Here I am, smack in the middle of Ha Noi – or, as is more appropriate, Ha Noise!
After only half an hour here, I realized that the national bird of Vietnam is undoubtedly the honking horn! Everyone does it reflexively, it seems! And there are plenty of people to lean on their horns – taxis and cars and more motorbikes than I’ve ever seen in my life. They come at you in waves – and keep on coming! People warned me that it would be rough to cross the street, but I learned the secret pretty quickly: start across the street and the traffic will weave around you. Amazing, but it works.
The insanity on the roads was apparent as soon as my taxi driver left the airport. No lights, no gentle merges, just people taking their chances. Taxi driver in Ha Noi immediately dropped to the bottom of my list of preferred jobs. (Yes, I tipped my driver handsomely – wow, did he earn it!)
I’m staying in a darling little hotel, the Art Hotel, in the Old Quarter of the city, and it turns out that my street is a hotbed of street food. I’ve already dipped my toe in those waters: sausage on a stick; rice paper rolls filled with noodles and coriander, dipped in fish oil, vinegar and peanuts; some type of cheesy deep-fried thing, and a pan fried rice patty with some other unidentifiable filling. Not bad for one evening’s work! Let’s see what my stomach says tomorrow.
In addition, when I arrived at the hotel, the staff greeted me with fresh watermelon juice, watermelon slices and mini tarts. I couldn’t eat all the treats, but the juice was lovely and refreshing. My room also has a plate of rambutan, a relative of the lychee that has a spiny skin. So nice to be welcome.
Tonight, I wandered through the Old Quarter to the Water Puppet Theatre for a performance of a craft that originated in the flooded rice fields. Puppeteers stand waist deep in water to maneuver jointed wooden puppets attached to long sticks. They make them move, dance, swim and even, in the case of a water dragon, spout water at other puppets.
I thought the puppets, painted with traditional costumes, were unusual, but I was actually more intrigued by the accompanying live music: traditional Vietnamese instruments, including a string stretched taught that is plucked by one hand to make different sounds that are created by a pole that is massaged by the other. The variety of rhythm instruments was also amazing. I need to do a bit of research to determine what they all were.
After turning down numerous offers for rides home (taxis, pedicabs, motorbikes), I managed to get only mildly lost and am back in my hotel, with rose petals scattered on the bed and some yogurt as a bedtime snack. (I put it in the fridge.) Very sweet touches – I do feel welcome. And even though my room faces the street, with the window closed, the honking horns are barely audible.