Friday, 13 June 2008

Further exploration in & around Hanoi

On Wednesday I cycled from the apartment north-west, along the southern bank of the Red River. As soon as I left Hanoi

Yesterday was Carolyne's birthday. We both started the day with a run around Truc Bach Lake: it was Carolyne's first run for many weeks, so ran only one lap that she enjoyed. After our usual early coffee at Pinocchio's, overlooking Truc Bach Lake, we continued walking westwards, along the southern shore of West Lake. It was a beautiful, sunny day but very hot. The shore-line was quiet apart from fisherman with their rods. Some were using insects as bait while others were attempting to jag fish. Some were on make-shift jetties, others waded out to tiny platforms.

When we left the lake we passed along a sring of narrow alleyways about 3 metres wide, lined with small shops and residences. We emerged from the alleyways though an old gate in the former town wall onto a city street.

After a couple of stops for bottled water we arrived at the much heralded Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Its purpose is to showcase the extraordinary ethnic and cultural diversity of Vietnam. It lived up to its reputation, with excellent indoor exhibits of clothes, tools, art and so on, with a special exhibition of photos and the cultural collection of a French anthropologit who lived with a remote tribe 60 years ago. After a break for lunch at the pleasant museum restaurant, we toured the outdoor exhibits of houses and other domestic structures from several ethnic groups.

When I cycled through northern Vietnam 3 years ago I was lucky enough to see many of the small, remote ethnic groups celebrated in the museum. Our visit yesterday inspired us to visit further of these groups.

We finished the day with dinner at Koto, at a pleasant restaurant 30 minutes walk south of the our apartment. Koto is a not-for-profit establishment that provides training in cooking and hospitality for under-priveleged youths. The service was terrific though the menu appeared directed at western tastes.

This morning we visited Quan Thanh Temple, after which our street is named. It is a 10 minute walk along the street from the apartment and shaded by huge trees. It was built in 1030, just a few years after Hanoi was established in 1010. Though not large, it is very beautiful, with superb carvings and inlays of mother of pearl. There's a large brass statue and bell that date from 1677.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

4th Floor apartment in Ba Dinh quarter, Hanoi

We're now in an apartment (4th floor, 134 Quan Thanh in the Ba Dinh quarter) and enjoying life in Hanoi as we'd planned. The apartment takes up the entire floor, except for the stairwell and lifts, so has windows facing all directions. It is fully furnished, has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, internet access, air conditioning and is cleaned 3 times per week. We moved in on Tuesday, a week after we left Canberra and a day after we started searching.

The location is terrific, about 2km from the centre of town and 300m from Truc Bach lake, a small lake that is separated by a causeway from much larger West Lake. The lake shores are ideal for my early morning runs. There are lots of restaurants, both on the street and more formal indoor ones, and a large fresh fruit market nearby, with a supermarket less than 10 minutes walk. There are innumerable cafes, bars and other shops selling every type of good and service. The apartment is a short walk from the museum and embassy area, with many colonial era buildings.

We've also agreed to house-sit a house and cat for a month from 19 June. The house is about 4km from here, and is a typical 4 storey Vietnamese residence, with a small frontage. The young American couple who are renting it are returning home for a holiday.

It's a week since we arrived in Hanoi and the first few days were busy searching for and selecting the apartment, meeting the American couple and agreeing to look after their place, renting a motor scooter, and making arrangements for the apartment. Just paying for the apartment took time, as the lessor wants to be paid in cash, and for the amount of cash required I had to have my passport and spend an hour at the bank. We've also set up our computers in the apartment, connected to the Internet.

We're enjoying exploring parts of Hanoi we haven't seen before spending many pleasant hours walking around the city, including the streets near our apartment. The Temple of Literature is one musuem we've visited. It was built in 1070 as the first national centre of learning or university. We also have the Quan Thanh Temple, an even older structure, several blocks west of here, and after which our street is named. Our plans are to start exploring further afield next week.

Yesterday evening I ran with a local group, the Hanoi Hash Hash Harriers. I left home at 1:30pm and didn't get home till 9:30pm! It was really too far for a run, but was a good social outing as well as a tough run in wild forest. First I had to get to the bus that took us to the run, then a 2 hour bus ride, in a tiny, 40 year old bus with a bout 40 people crammed in. I sat on the floor! The people were friendly: the majority were Vietnamese, with the oldest 75, with many expatriates from Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, Germany and Belgium - at least they were the ones I spoke to. We passed through a lot of rice farms and small villages before arriving in a hilly, forest area. After drinking a couple of bottles of water we set off for a hard, hot 8.6km run.
At half way there was a welcome drink stop, more at the finish. Then came the beer, stubbies of Larue Beer! This is a tradition with Hash House Harriers around the world, and not ideal after running up and down hills in 36ยบ and very high humidity! A beer truck took all the bottles of water and beer out in large eskies because there was no where to drink out in the bush. Carolyne & I will see if we can get out to the same area for a walk at some stage.

There's a second group, the Red River Runners who also run on Saturdays, but more seriously than the HHHH, and they don't drink as much beer! They also run in Hanoi. While you don't get to see the countryside, it takes about 2 hours rather than 8.