I've finally arrived in Hanoi. I don't know what anyone else knows about it, but all I'd ever heard conjured up visions of American POWs and a city practically flattened by bombing during the war. Actually, Hanoi is a very European city, having been the capital of French Indochina. Within an hour of arriving I wandered down one street and ended in a plaza with a giant French cathedral at one end. I could've been in Marseilles or Nice were it not for the zipping motorbikes and conical hats. They also have baguettes here, I've bought three to savor during my flight back.
One thing that I definitely notice between here and the south is that the military fashion is still in. Olive drab is very popular, and you see almost all the men wearing the green hard helmets. The people are also a little bit cooler towards foreigners, and fewer people speak English. Another thing I noticed is that nobody here wants to haggle for anything, and if you don't like their (relatively) high prices, you can just fuck right off. A 1.5 liter bottle of water costs 4,000 VND (roughly 25 cents) in Saigon. In Hanoi, you're lucky to find one for 6,000. It's only about 12 cents difference, but it is a 50% increase. Maybe I'm just being stingy.
I didn't feel like doing much sightseeing, so I've been buying last-minute souvenirs and searching for the Thai/Indian fisherman's pants that are so popular with the backpacking crowds. I finally found a place, but the can only make 2 pairs for me. I've also spent my afternoons savoring the coffee seated next to the lake, watching the world pass by.
On the hellish overnight train from Hue, I met a girl going with her mom to visit her college-age sister. She gave me her phone number and told me to call her when I arrived in Hanoi. The three of us plus her sister's friend went to a village outside Hanoi to see how traditional ceramics were made, and I got to enjoy a motorbike ride in the finally cooler air. It'd been sweltering up until late last night when a tremendous storm blew in. I could hear the rain and thunder from deep inside the building. It finally quit right as we left town and it's been cooler ever since, though still rather humid.
Anyway, I'm off to pick up my pants and then head to the airport. I hate having to leave here at 6, my flight isn't until 11:30pm, but that's the last $2 minibus and I don't want to pay 5 times that to get a taxi, not for a couple hours sitting around the hotel instead of the airport. Funny to think in less than 24 hours I'll be back in Japan, which will feel like home compared to here. To tell the truth, I'm ready to go back to a safe place where you don't have to guard your wallet and the vendors don't charge you 400% the local price. It just costs that much for everyone.