Getting High in Hanoi
“Head to the North of Vietnam,” they said. “Forget Saigon of the South, you’ll only find the authentic Nam in the North.” Well, not to shed a bad light on Hanoi, I love the city. However, I think it has come along a bit more than the vintage impression you’ll gather from trendy travellers. Day one I took a stroll around the block, as one does, to get their bearings. Circling back having already passed two Starbucks and a recently established McDonald’s. Not that there’s anything wrong with fast food and beverages. A little surprised is all and a tad out of place not to mention their extremely high prices. To put it in perspective, after a quick visit to McDonald's and from the word on the street. When compared to running costs, Hanoi has the most expensive Starbucks in the world! A slight exaggeration, I’m sure, but having just spent the equivalent of 2 locally sourced, wholesome and fresh meals on a big mac. I felt a little ashamed. That said, it’s clear to see that Hanoi is turning over some sort of new leaf. However it does still hold that kind of vintage charm the majority seek whilst travelling. Especially around the old town.
I must admit, when it comes to photographing and writing about big cities, I often feel a little overwhelmed. Both by the sheer size and the endless possibilities. Hanoi was no exception. In fact, many a traveller I encountered there, much like my self. Felt a little lost in the endless alleyways that encompass central Hanoi and the old town area. Sure there are plenty of those notorious sites, moments, museums and the likes but they bear little interest from the vibe among most travellers. Whom tend to explore the city without purpose or final destination, searching for that aesthetic experience. Getting lost with a stroll east or west. Walk one way, then another and you’ll soon find yourself in another world, just one corner away from a true travellers tail.
After 3 months in South East Asia, I saw and heard of many a tradition and celebration that I hadn't yet fully grasp. If you find yourself in a similar mindset a visit to the Ethnology Museum is highly recommended. From the shrines in the locals front rooms, the taming and significance of their elephants to the burning of personal items on the streets. It certainly filled in those knowledgeable gaps helping to put things into perspective. Other than that you have Westlake, surrounded by plenty of go too tourist spots. The classic Ho Chi Min Museum - without doubt the most photographed moment on display. Just don’t get to close to the guards. A chewing of gum or a step off the path and you’ll soon hear a whistle in your direction. My tripod certainly caused a stir. That section was unfortunately short of any coherent part in my Hanoi Videos.
The Catholic Cathedral just by the old quarter is also well worth a visit. It has that neo-gothic design appearing like a younger sibling of Notre Dame. Tip toeing behind the pews during service, camera in hand, I was aw struck by its beauty. Sneaking up stairs I quickly realised the gate keeper had left the bell tower door unlocked. Entering the sacred chamber without hesitation I began to climb the stair. 2 steps later I had what some would consider a moment of clarity. A little angel on my shoulder saying, your a guest in this country Rupert, you should not be here. Only moments after the bell began to ring. Thankfully without me in it.
Kids playing, poultry feeding, builders building and old gals gossiping. You’ll find all and everything in between on the railway tracks which grind their way through central Hanoi. Of course this scene attracts many an Instagramming tourist. Posing right on the doorsteps of train track locals who are clearly used to the intrusion. I guess if you can put up with a train on your doorstep what’s the harm in a few posing tourists. The opportunistic of the locals, of course, happy to craft a few souvenirs and run shop through their front windows. Pay a visit to the Railway Hanoi Cafe for a recommended experience. The following video will Choo Choo you there and back again. Just be sure to ask what direction the train is coming. While it does vary I mistakenly shot a hyper lapse in the wrong direction. Still useable but didn’t quite fall into the video narrative as intended.
Lotte Tower, City Scape
Afraid of heights? Then be sure to avoid this mega structure. Towering up 272m high it certainly over reaches all in its shadow. Venture up for a classy meal and a few drinks on the roofs sky bar while you watch the sunset over the city’s horizon. Just be ready to pay for the privilege. Also don’t forget to check out the observation deck just two floors below. Again with a 360 degree view, all within a glass housing, including the notorious glass sky walk. Perfect for those thrill seekers and vertigo hunters. Have a sneak peak in the following video.