The sound of Hanoi is honking horns, ringing of bicycle bells and the chirp of birds. The bikes honk as they approach intersections, the cyclo peddlers ring their bells to attract customers and all along the streets, high above the footpaths are birds in bamboo cages adding their song.
The trip from the airport took about an hour on Friday evening. I felt like I saw all Hanoi out on their bikes – families of four were common. The toddler in front of dad and the baby between Mum and Dad. I saw one exhausted little boy asleep with his head on the handlebars, on another bike an excited little girl was standing on the seat between her parents, arms stretched wide.
On Saturday morning I headed down to the lake after breakfast. In Canberra, Lake Burley Griffon is filled with runners, cyclists, joggers, boot camps and personal trainers plying their trade. In Hanoi, the lake in the morning is home to the elderly energetically stretching, meditating, doing tai chi or yoga breathing. And some what inexplicably, some kind of organised dance with couples waltzing to Chinese pop music.
But of course to get there, I had to cross the road. Crossing the road in Vietnam is an artwork. A delicate ballet where pedestrians stride confidently out and the traffic ebbs and flows around them. I took a breath and headed out and somehow weaved between bikes and cars and buses. Or they weaved around me. I am not sure.
I spent the rest of the day getting lost in the old quarter – a fascinating section of town where each street is given over to one type of product. One street is haberdashery – mostly zippers and curtain tassels as far as I could see. The next is gravestones, then decorations, one for shoes, one silk and a Bunnings lover’s heaven – a whole street of hardware stores. You can spend hours darting down alley ways and finding rope street, funeral money street or anything you can dream of street. I had a bowl of pho ga for lunch at a place recommended by the hotel and it was delicious.
I met the group in the hotel foyer in the evening – a group of 15 mostly from Australia and the UK but also three from Norway. We headed out to the water puppet theatre. I am not sure if I can even describe it but the stage is a pool of water, the backdrop is a temple and puppets pop up from under water or through the temple doors and perform. There were dragons and phoenix, duelling water buffalo, fishermen, dancing goldfish, a flying dragon and at the end, a dragon dance. It was magic.
We finished the evening with a dinner at a local restaurant.