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MIKE ECKEL | For the Associated Press | | No Comments Posted | Posted: Saturday, April 9, 2011 5:00 am

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HANOI, Vietnam — Close your eyes in the streets of


Hanoi’s Old Quarter and you’ll experience two
sensations. The first is the earsplitting cacophony of
conversation, cars, clamor and chaos. The second is
the realization that closing your eyes for very long in
such a crowded place can be unwise, unless you
enjoy being jostled , bumped, hustled, shouted at, or
maybe even knocked down.

Such is the Vietnamese capital, lurching into the 21st


century with the swirl of unfettered street capitalism
set to the music of Communist proclamations.
Everywhere people are buying, selling, hawking
goods and offering services , while nationalistic music
and announcements about keeping streets clean play
in the background. Six million people live in this
former colonial metropolis; add hundreds of
thousands more who jammed the city last fall for the
celebration marking its 1 ,000th anniversary, and you
sense that Hanoi is spinning into a new era.

This is not to say that traditions are endangered. The


Old Quarter is arguably the epicenter for the city’s
connections to its past.

Wander its criss-cross of streets — with tall trees,


Vli OldQuarterinHanoi, Vietnam
, is fulloffoodvendors
narrow buildings, louvered windows and people’s
whosecustomers
siton tinyplasticstoolstoeatrightnearthe lives spilling onto sidewalks — and you’ll discover a
street
. district known as 36 Streets, named for the craft
guilds that populated the neighborhood over the
CHITOSE SUZUKI — Associated Press centuries, mixing Vietnamese and Chinese
merchants and artisans together . Silk Street (Hang
Gai), Silver Street (Hang Bac), Sails Street (Hang
Buom), among others, all offer their crafts and other
IF YOU GO goods for tourists or locals .
No major international carriers serve Hanoi's The Old Quarter’s oldest building, the Bach Ma
Noi Bai airport directly from the United States (White Horse ) Temple, dates back to Hanoi’s original
or Europe, but travelers can easily connect incarnation as the imperial city of Thang Long —
via flights from Bangkok, Singapore , Seoul , Soaring Dragon .
Hong Kong or other Asian hubs. Travelers
from most countries need visas to visit For culinary traditions, Cha Ca La Vong is a
Vietnam , usually obtained ahead of time . nondescript restaurant on Cha Ca Street that’s been
U. S. citizens can get them through the serving up one dish for more than a century . Sit
Vietnamese Embassy in Washington , D.C., down at a communal tables shared by random guests
or through online visa processing services. — common language not required — and forget the
Hanoi has accommodations to suit any menu. Waiters bring out tabletop, gas-fired stoves in
traveler's budget. For tourism and visa which chunks of marinated, turmeric-coated whitefish
details , check traveltovietnam.com or are fried in oil — by patrons themselves — along with
vietnamtourism.com . dill, chives and other greens . Dump the mixture over
rice noodles, top with peanuts and wash it down with
a draft beer known as bia hoi.

The fish itself doesn’t deserve many superlatives and


More from this section tourists have pushed up prices, but it’s still worth the
experience. You can also find bia hoi at the corner of
Hanoi's Old Quarter an eye-opener for tourists
Luong Ngoc Quyen and Dinh Liet streets, where

http://news.google.com/news?edchanged=1&ned=us 10/04/2011 10:44:52 SA


Hanoi's Old Quarter an eye-opener for tourists Page 2

Travel digest: Annual Rosemaling Show in Milwaukee backpacker tourists outnumber the Vietnamese sitting
and a spring pottery exhibit in Lake Mills on the stoolsO
Around the world: Reporter logs 37 ,000 miles across Pho is the dish Vietnam is best known for — a
four continents
steamy broth of beef or chicken with noodles, greens,
Waterford sparkles with Irish charms star anise and spices. It’s served up everywhere, and
everyone has their own spice secret. Order a bowl
Let books guide travels
from a sidewalk vendor, squat on a plastic stool a
More ... foot or so from the traffic , savor the broth and watch
the crush of people go by. You can also sop up good
soup in quieter , though less interesting settings in the
indoor comforts of the chain restaurant Pho 24.

Vietnam is one of the world’s top coffee exporters , and it’s known for bitter, super-strong coffee, lightened
with condensed milk. You may also see ads for ca phe chon , the coffee famously brewed from beans that
have been digested — in one end , then out the other — by weasel-like animals known as civets. Real civet
coffee is extremely expensive — $100 a cup — so beware of imitations, which are extremely common,
particularly in areas frequented by tourists.

Hanoi’s noise doesn’t yet rival that of its larger southern counterpart, Ho Chi Minh City, but it still can take
some getting used to. If the incessant beeping of motorbikes and cars pushing through the streets aren’t
enough, there are the exhortations blaring from the pole-mounted loudspeakers, courtesy of the Communist
Party, which remind listeners to keep the streets free of trash, not to mention the eternal supremacy of the
Party.

The blare of slogans like the “Vietnamese Communist Party Will Live Forever!” may inspire you to learn more
about Ho Chi Minh, the revered revolutionary leader who died in 1969. A massive museum west of the Old
Quarter features Ho ’s biography in a series of displays that are Cold War-archaic and mildly informative .
Despite sometimes bizarre exhibits, the respect and admiration the Vietnamese people express toward Ho is
genuine.

Just a block away is another structure you could easily find in Moscow’s Red Square: Uncle Ho ’s
mausoleum, where his body is embalmed for public veneration . Like his comrade Lenin, Ho had no interest
in being turned into a museum display, but party leaders spurned his request. For older Vietnamese , the
mausoleum is a site for honoring Ho, and visitors are expected to behave respectfully, as if visiting a funeral
parlor.

If the Old Quarter din gets overwhelming, stroll down to the edge of the quarter until you see Hoan Kiem, the
Lake of the Restored or Returned Sword, and marvel at the smallish 19th-century pagoda called Thap Rua
(Turtle Tower), which appears to float on the water when illuminated at dusk. Crowds will be thicker at the
lake’s north end, walking over the Sunbeam Bridge (The Huc), a red pedestrian bridge that leads to an
island where the ornate Jade Mountain Temple (Den Ngoc Son) stands .

Just across the street from The Huc is the epicenter for another of Vietnam’s most authentic art forms : water
puppetry. Accompanied by live music performed on traditional instruments, the puppeteers at the Thang Long
Water Puppet Theater stand in the water, behind a bamboo curtain, using poles to move wooden figures
through the water.

During the millennium celebration last fall , the government spent a fortune on festivals, fireworks, concerts
and propaganda — all aimed at bolstering Vietnamese pride and showcasing the renewal of a city that was
bombed repeatedly during the 1960s and ’70s. While the Old Quarter connects to Hanoi’s past, it is
otherwise a city that ’s soaring into the future . Some would say it’s about time .

Copyright 2011 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in Travel, Lifestyles on Saturday, April 9, 2011 5:00 am Updated: 11 :08 am . Hanoi 's Old Quarter , Red River Delta

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