In which I vist the capital, new.

December 6, 2023

Now off to Hanoi!

Over the weekend I enjoyed some free time. Shabbat (and part of Sunday) was spent walking around Hanoi, which though a few degrees cooler than Ho Chi Minh, was still plenty sweaty.

The two areas of Hanoi that appeal most to tourists are the Old Quarter, and the French Quarter.

The Old Quarter is characterized by narrow streets, a lot of shops, and people sitting on very short stools eating beside street food vendors. Unusually for a climate so hot, many shops were selling wintery christmas decorations. Shops also sold heavy coats, presumably to capitalize on tourism. Unlike in Ho Chi Minh, not as many of the goods were clear counterfeits.

The tourist tax in Hanoi is very real. An egg Banh Mi purchased from a vendor by a local in Vietnamese was less than one dollar (10,000 VND). The same Banh Mi to a tourist, $3 (or 45,000 VND)—still a bargain! The Old Quarter is now thoroughly touristed, with many vendors advertising in english, restaurants serving food of questionable national origin, and massage parlours clearly catering to visitors.

At this point in the trip, I was now finally on my own for a little, which meant a chance to practice some language skills. Starting with xin chào (hello), which is an overly formal form but manageable as a start, along with cảm ơn (thank you). As I would learn later from Nhung–a local colleague who helped organize the trip–vietnamese people typically add a subject to sentences that varies by the nature of the relationship between the speaker and the addressee. One of my points of pride during the trip was gaining some competence in this system. So soon “xin chào” became “chào em”, where em here denotes that the addressee is younger than myself, as was common for many of the hospitality staff with whom I was speaking.

Using the correct terms of address on the street meant I was privy to plenty of smiles, attempts to speak a little more vietnamese, and in the rare case, a cheaper price. It was also lots of fun! I would continue learning more vietnamese as the trip went on.

The French Quarter is characterized by wide boulevards, French colonial architecture, upscale eateries, and a beautiful lake around which people walk. I spent an evening wandering the boulevard and offering to take photos of people in return for learning a little more vietnamese.

While on the boulevard, I also experienced a moment of mild celebrity. I stopped to watch a game of jump-rope where young locals would do their best as two guys spun a rope faster and faster. After a minute or two, a young man (see below) next to me spoke up and asked “are you Dr. Shaanan Cohney?”. I was floored! The student had seen my videos online and had recognized me. It was a very cool moment.

I walked around a little more and learned another key phrase: “Kem” (ice-cream) and “Kem Xôi” (stick rice with ice-cream). I highly suggest the latter, it’s delicious! Stores selling ice-cream were everywhere and there were a plethora of varieties to try.

Among the tourist sites and sights I caught:

  • The North Korean Embassy (complete with photos of Kim Jong Un)
  • The military museum
  • Public parks full of gamblers playing cards and other games
  • A square in the French Quarter where a troupe of vision impaired children were excellently performing Christmas music
  • Public exercises

You can see a few of them for yourself too in my Hanoi highlight reel below.

© 2012-2024 Shaanan Cohney