Monday, May 31, 2010

Hanoi, Vietnam

Less than 50 years ago Hanoi was thought to be the potential tipping point of the cold war between the Soviet Union and the western democracies. At the time the United States entered the war in Vietnam, the popular reason was the domino theory which stated, if Vietnam goes communistic, then Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippians and god know who else, will surely follow. None of these countries are communistic today. But Vietnam is. So whether or not America’s involvement stopped the dominos from falling, or whether North Vietnam fought only to unify the country and drive out the puppet corrupt government in South Vietnam and secure their own political ambitious, probably depends on your politics.

I do know this, nearly 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam and more than 2 million Vietnamese. And contrary to popular conception, American did not lose the war. America withdrew its troops in March 1973 having signed a peace treaty in Paris under President Nixon (who campaigned on the promise that he had a secret plan for Vietnam) and left Vietnam to Vietnamization, or in other words, let the two sides settle things between them. And 25 months later, the north captured Saigon and soon after named the city Ho Chi Minh City.

We flew to Hong Kong and 2 hours later flew to HCMC where we stayed overnight in a hotel near the airport leaving the next day via Vietnam Airlines to Hanoi. The airport in Hanoi is quite a distance from the center of the city and our French colonial hotel, the Metropole. The traffic is similar to Indonesia, with motorbikes the principle means of transportation. Our taxi driver is aggressive as are most, and weaves in and out of traffic using the horn to encourage motorbikes to move out of the way.

The Metropole luxury hotel has been in existence since 1901 and every important historical figure that has come to Hanoi has stayed here. A lot of French people were in evidence and the staff will greet you with “Bon Jour” in the morning if they are uncertain of your nationality.

This photo was taken from in front of the opera house. There is no underpass for pedestrians and no stop light to make the cross. The trick to crossing streets is to move slowly, steadily and predictably so the motorbikes can maneuver around you.

The conference Judith attended was held across the street from the hotel at the Press Club, which by its name, tells you that foreign correspondences reported the war happenings there and I am sure there were no Americans involved.

I hung out at the pool when I was not raining or walked around the nearby streets. One can easily live in the hotel.  It has several resturants and bars including one around the pool.  When you sit on a lounge around the pool, the attendant brings you a skewer of fresh fruit and an ice filled glass of water.  Forget the cost, if you ever stay in Hanoi, stay at the Metropole.

People still use the streets to vend their wares. That is fresh meat in the foreground.

The hats in this photo are in much of the art work seen around the entire country.
On the other side of the opera house is the Hilton Opera Hotel, not to be confused with the Hilton that hosted John McCain et alia. Here is the lobby and one of the great art visible there.

The climate in Hanoi was cool and rainy while we were there but when the skies cleared, the sun made it hot, but nothing like the heat we experience elsewhere.

When the conference was finished Judith had made arrangements for us to spend one night on a big boat in Halong Bay, 3 hours away by car and then return to the hotel for one additional night before flying the next day to Hei.

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