Sunday, February 1, 2015

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Hello Hanoi!

In 2014, Hanoi was ranked eighth among the top ten rising destinations in the world by the travel website TripAdvisor, due to its architectural beauty, both ancient and modern. In the hearts of foreigners, Hanoi is really a destination worth visiting and a place to live because the life and people here always contain many interesting and attractive things to see and do.

A day-tour to the thousand-year-old capital

At 8am on Saturday, I followed Ha Minh Lam, a tourist guide of Viet Media Travel, to the Art Boutique Hotel to lead a group of foreign tourists to see Hanoi.

We started our tour after enjoying Pho (beef noodles) at Thin Restaurant on Lo Duc Street and a cup of tea to warm us up. During our 30 minute breakfast we talked with the foreign tourists who told us about their experiences during their visit to Vietnam.

Gavin Anderson (26 years old) said: “I have been in Vietnam for two days and have visited Ha Long Bay and Trang An. On my last day here, I want to see Hanoi to learn more about the culture, country and people of this thousand-year-old city.”

The first place we visited was the President Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum Area. When our car stopped, the tourists quickly got off and walked to the mausoleum. They visited the President’s house-on-stilts and pond, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. During their visit they learned much and took a lot of photographs.

Leaving the mausoleum, we visited Van Mieu - Quoc Tu Giam, Hoa Lo Prison, Hoan Kiem Lake, Tran Quoc Pagoda and the Museum of Ethnology. Although we were quite tired due to moving continuously, all of us talked happily and felt pleased and excited about our trip.

Tourists visit the President Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Foreign tourists enjoy a dragon dance on a Hanoi street. Photo: Thanh Giang/VNP
Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam is a must-visit destination in Hanoi for foreign tourists. Photo: Thanh Giang/VNP
Discovering the cultural and architectural space in Tran Quoc Pagoda. Photo: Tat Son/VNP
Long Bien Bridge has existed for three centuries in Hanoi. Photo: Thanh Giang/VNP

Visitors enjoy touring Hanoi by cyclo (three-wheeled cycle). Photo: Thanh Giang/VNP

Foreign tourists learn about the silversmiths on Hang Bac Street
in Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. Photo: Thong Thien/VNP

Ta Hien is now considered a “western” street in Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. Photo: Trinh Van Bo/VNP

A foreigner tries to carry the twin baskets of a street vendor on Ma May Street
in Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. Photo: Trinh Van Bo/VNP

Foreigners discover street food in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Photo: Trinh Van Bo/VNP

Foreigners enjoy draught beer on a street in the Old Quarter. Photo: Trinh Van Bo/VNP

Foreigners are excited to participate in a national music performance
held on a street in the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. Photo: Thanh Giang/VNP

     According to the General Statistics Office, in the first 6 months of 2014, the number of foreign visitors to Hanoi reached 1,073,000 people, an increase of 25.8% over the same period in 2013.
In the afternoon, Sam, an American tourist said: “I read the information over the Internet and was really curious about the space and the lives of the people living in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, so I wanted to visit this area.”

We led Sam, William and Monica who came from the United States, Brazil and Chile to visit the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Immediately, the busy lifestyle in the Old Quarter and the ancient houses on the long, small lanes with the sidewalk shops selling typical food of Hanoi, such as Bun cha (grilled pork with noodle), Pho (noodles) and beer attracted these foreign tourists who visited Hanoi for the first time.

After nearly two hours of walking, we stopped at a small shop to enjoy popular street food, like Bun cha, fermented pork rolls and vermicelli with crab. After dinner we went to Ta Hien, Luong Ngoc Quyen and Dinh Liet Streets, commonly known as “the crossroads of beer” or “international crossroads”, where a lot of foreign tourists often come to drink beer.

According to the owner of the Hai Loan beer shop, foreign tourists like to gather here because the beer is cheap and the space of the old streets is nice. With a cool glass of beer priced at only 10,000 dong or two glasses for 1 USD, visitors can sit at the shop to chat and watch the busy streets until late at night.

At the shop we met Terasa Romero, a beautiful girl from Spain. Terasa quickly joined us and said that she had been in Hanoi for a few days and found that Hanoi was very beautiful and interesting. Terasa said she liked to walk in the Old Quarter and stand at the crowded intersection to watch the artists playing folk music, or chat with friends from different places at the sidewalk cafés and beer shops.

Tesara said: “The warmth and friendliness of Hanoians make me feel really welcome in this country. Tomorrow I will visit the family of my relative. They have lived in Hanoi for 10 years.”

Late at night, we parted. The next day, Sam, William and Monica returned home, and I was invited by Tesara to visit her relative.

I have chosen Hanoi as my second homeland

The next afternoon, Tesara and I went to visit her relative in the West Lake area. Along the path surrounding West Lake we saw many foreigners jogging, cycling and shopping. In recent years, more and more villas and houses for foreigners have been built because the number of overseas Vietnamese and foreigners living and working in Hanoi is on the rise.

We wandered for a while and finally found the house. A Spanish man looking like an artist welcomed us at the door with a smile and the greeting “Hello!” in Vietnamese. I quickly realized he is Cortizas Diego Del Valle, a famous fashion designer and a “westerner” who is very interested in Vietnamese silk. He is a familiar figure at the fashion events in Vietnam.

Entering Diego’s house, we felt as if we were in the house of a Vietnamese artist due to the way he decorated the house with lanterns hanging from the ceiling and an altar arranged in accordance with Vietnamese spiritual customs. Around the house there are Ao dai (Vietnamese traditional long dress) and photos of Hanoi, taken by Diego, attached with familiar proverbs of Vietnam written in both English and Vietnamese.

All furniture and decorations, especially the altar, inside Diego’s house
are embodied with Vietnamese culture. Photo: Thanh Giang/VNP

Diego and his children. Photo: Thanh Giang/VNP

The house is a familiar gathering site of the couple and their friends. Photo: Thanh Giang/VNP

Diego and his wife often spend time talking with their customers
to learn more about Vietnamese fashion. Photo: Thanh Giang/VNP

Diego participates in a Vietnamese fashion show at Van Mieu, Hanoi. Photo: Thanh Giang/VNP

Diego happily told us about the attachment of him and his wife to Hanoi. In 2004, when he and his wife, Laura Pardo Fontan visited his brother who was working in Hanoi, they loved Hanoi and decided to stay in the city and they created the fashion brand Chula.

In the initial days of their life in Hanoi, the difference of life and language made them very interested in learning new things with the help of their Vietnamese neighbours. Most wonderfully, their three children were born in Hanoi. They can speak Vietnamese and live and learn together with Vietnamese friends.

Diego’s family has lived in Hanoi for 10 years and they think they are Vietnamese with the habit of eating Vietnamese food every day and working with Vietnamese friends. In particular, they are very interested in welcoming Tet (Vietnamese New Year’s Festival) in the fairly cold and drizzly weather, visiting their neighbours to wish them a happy new year and learning about Vietnamese traditional customs for Tet, such as going to buy peach blossoms and kumquat trees for decoration and enjoying traditional dishes such as Banh chung (square glutinous rice cake) and steamed Gac (momordica cochinchinensis) glutinous rice.

The Chula house of his family has become a place of cultural exchange between Vietnamese and foreign people, where the photos, music and fashion exhibitions are organized. All of these make them feel more comfortable in Hanoi and they have been increasingly attached to their second home.

That day, at Diego’s house, we were lucky to attend the birthday party of his wife. It was a cozy birthday party with friends of the host, who are not only Spanish but also Japanese, British, Italian and Vietnamese.

All of us shared stories about our work and life, which made us feel that a multi-cultural life existed in the Chula house. Diego and his wife said that Hanoi had become their second home where they have so many wonderful memories.

Foreign visitors take part in the event of “Smile for a Friendly Vietnam”
held by Hanoi Laughter Yoga Club at the Ly Thai To Monument. Photo: Cong Dat/VNP

Foreign tourists do morning exercises with Hanoians. Photo: Cong Dat/VNP

Foreigners living arround West Lake often come to Quang Ba Communal House
to do yoga in the morning thanks to its fresh and quiet atmosphere. Photo: Tat Son/VNP

Like their parents, foreign children are quick to get acquainted with the lifestyle in Hanoi. Photo: Trinh Van Bo/VNP
Story: Ngan Ha - Photos: VNP

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