Last day in Hanoi was dedicated to the the Old Quarter, named also the “36 street quarter”, the old area of the city that housed the old time guilds of the city, 36 guilds in total that gave it its name. I forfeited the breakfast in the hotel and I went to a restaurant for a breakfast of fruits and a delicious shake of a mix of fruits, something that I don’t know if it can be so good in any country from the North. After that I started to walk the quarter. Each street that carries the name Hang, that means in Vietnamese “merchandise”, was the place where in the past that particular item was sold: there are streets for rope, clothes, shoes, religious items, silversmith, jewelers, blacksmiths, funerary stones, etc.
I started the tour at the Hoang Kiem lake that sits in the middle of the city and it has on in its middle an island on which is located a temple dedicated to a national hero, this being very “in” in Vietnam, the same like in China. There are many temples dedicated to kings, generals, scholars and heroes. From that temple I started to walk the guild streets that now-a-days do not sell anymore always only that merchandise but for sure it exists a concentration. I followed a tour that is recommended in the book and I reached interesting places, and several temples and pagodas located inside the quarter. The streets are charming being shaded by trees in the entire Hanoi, but unfortunately the spring mist that started in the morning became more and more annoying and was becoming a real drizzle. I kept walking, arriving at one of the old city gates and following the street on which there were selling funerary items, I got to the mysterious place where they sell the fake money, stashes of copied hundred dollar bills that they burn as offering in temples in the main kang, oven. These and many others are part of the offering for the dead part of the famous Confucian tradition of worshiping the ancestors, the core activity during the Tet festival of the Lunar New Year. From there I went for a little longer walk to get on the famous bridge over the Red River that was the main target for the American aviation during the war. It is the major artery that connects Hanoi to outside at it was bombed 8 times but repaired easily by the Vietnamese. On the bridge was a group of “short haired” Americans that were on a tour to various sites related to to the American War. They looked like Marines and their guide was talking only about sorties and how many bombs can destroy an objective. He had also the same hairdo! The bridge is impressive, apparently was built by a student of Eiffel. Currently is still a main road, being in the center of the city and is crossed by train and motorbikes. It was getting late , almost 10:00am and I had to be back at the hotel at 12:00 the latest, when the taxi for the airport was coming, so I hit directly to see Uncle Ho laying down. The drizzle from the morning became rain and I did not have anything with me for cover, even a cap, but there were 21C so was no big deal. I thought that it was easy to see Uncle Ho, but the line was impressive even in the on and off rain. I checked the luggage, because you are not allowed to enter the tomb with any kind of cameras or cellphones and I proceeded to stay in line, sometime around 30 minutes. I was able to make it because the tomb is open only 5 days a week between 8-11, and I did it right before 11:00am. I got drenched in the rain and inside was AC but the view is very short trying to accommodate so many people that came in trips to see Ho. It is better done that the tomb of Mao in Beijing because you walk around the crypt. Ho was quite a character and no matter what bad things he may have done, he will remain in history like a great figure for Vietnam. Seeing the amazing cult for ancestors the Vietnamese have, especially the ones who made a difference inn the history of the country, you realize that Ho achieved both the independence and the unification of the entire country. So any missteps, and even disasters of the communist experiment, will be easily forgotten by anybody balancing these great achievements. And all were corrected now when the country is moving ahead to a market economy of the most capitalistic nature. From Uncle Ho’s tomb, that ended symbolically my visit in Vietnam, I went thorough the unceasing drizzle to the hotel but before I stopped to a store, in the way, where I bought something the other day to get a receipt. At the hotel, I packed and repack because the whole issue about this flight was that I must have 20 kg. So I took a lot of stuff on me together with all the books and I crammed as best as I could all the stuff in one bag hoping for the best. Besides, I had another package that I bought in Dalat. I paid the hotel and took some receipts from them, chat a little with some Aussies, originally from Vietnam whom I met the day before before I left to Tam-Coc and I got in the cab that was waiting in front of the hotel. The airport is far and it took him an hour to get there but the check-in went smoothly and it turned out that my luggage barely did it, being somewhere around 19kg.
After quite a wait I got in the bus that brought us to a plane that looked tiny near a Boeing 777 but it did not look so tiny latter on. It was a propeller plane, the first time I flew one of these guys, ATR 72 made in France and did pretty good in the 1:15 hour flight to Luang Prabang, the old capital of Laos. The plane had 70 seats but I guess that there were maybe 20 people in it. We landed in Luang Prabang at 4:00pm right in front of the airport building and we got out and enter the airport and I got a 15 days landing visa on the airport. For the picture they scanned the passport… I did not catch in time because if I entered on the Romanian passport would have been cheaper…..The formalities were a breeze comparing with Vietnam and I found myself outside together with 4 French people with whom I shared a taxi-van for $1 each and we got into the city right away parking in front of a guest house. Right away you realize that finally you arrived in SE Asia. Vietnam it may be located geographically in SE Asia but culture wise is more in China, the 1000 years of occupation and the new economy of the country changing aggressively their culture. The tranquility of SE Asia does not exists there, everything is a rush and a humongous cacophony of sounds and noise that make people completely immune. In Vietnam absolutely everybody who has a horn is using it fully and the entire pedestrian, animal and motor traffic does not hear it anymore, because is more than a second nature, it became the background noise, so you can press the horn behind somebody and the person does not even flinch. We were surprised that the minibus that took us to Luang Prabang does not continuously press the horn and make a big fuss! I tried one guest house where the rooms were charming but they had only for one night so I left my luggage there and after a quick search I found a similar one, with AC and beautifully shiny floors, in all houses you have to leave the shoes at the entrance. I repacked my luggage and I went in town that is small and charming, similar with Sukhotai or Chiang Mai, the Lao people being named in history Thai that creates a big controversy nowadays. The culture is similar with Thailand and does not have any relation with Vietnam. I ate in a very nice Lao restaurant TamTam Bamboo, a dish of fish, chatting with Gunther, a German from Stuttgart who works for Lufthansa and here I am at the Internet Cafe to make a phone call (in Romania nobody answered again!!!!) at home.