Hanoi is a thousand years old. Over 40 years ago, more than twenty thousand tons of explosives were dropped on Hanoi over Christmas, killing at least a thousand Vietnamese.
In 1954, the Geneva Conference produced the Geneva Accords, a set of documents that temporarily separated Vietnam: the Việt Minh was to govern the north while the south was to be under the rule of Emperor Bảo Đại. Hostilities continued and numerous attempts were made to reunite north and south. Eventually, the Vietnam War or the American War in Vietnam broke out. It was only in 1975 when the Viet Cong of North Vietnam finally achieved reunification.
Today, the destruction this city experienced in the 70s is confined mostly to museums. Many of those manning hotels and guiding tours were not yet born or were too young when the war ended. But this does not prevent them from taking pride in their country and their culture.
Some tourists may have had negative experiences in Hanoi. My two visits to Hanoi were both so pleasant, I know I want to go back. So many changes have taken place in less than two years. On our first visit, shops selling coffee beans, their signature instant coffee in packets and unique coffee makers could only be found in one of the streets of the Old Quarter. Now, those little shops have turned up in many areas!
The Old Quarter is a fascinating place. Each street has its own specialty. Not very far is the Hoàn Kiếm Lake which is at the center of Hanoi. Near the center is the Turtle Tower while on the northern shore of lake is Jade Island where the Temple of the Jade Mountain stands. The Huc Bridge connects the island to Dinh Tien Hoang street.
Life in Hanoi as I saw it in the few days we spent there is like life in most cities. But so unique are the Vietnamese coffee, pho and banh mi served on low tables and chairs along the sidewalks. The flavors, friendliness and the kind of service we got from the young hotel staff was truly memorable. The hotel manager himself, a young man named Lala always asked whether we had what we needed.
From the day we arrived, Lala, Frank, Windy, Ruby, Kevin and Anna tirelessly looked after our needs. The hotel was full and when my brother-in-law was given an ordinary room and not the superior room he had reserved online, he was assured that if he so chose, they will give him back the cash equivalent of the price difference!
Every time we would ask for directions, they’d whip out a map and show us how to find the place we were looking for. I was also surprised to see one or the other wait at the tables during breakfast. They were most helpful when they brought us to the train coach we were assigned to and gave us directions on how to get our tickets for the trip back to Hanoi. What was most touching was how one of them, Frank, accommodated my other brother-in-law (who had checked in at a different hotel) on his motorbike even if he was no longer on duty!
I am awed by the way Hanoi stood up to a giant and struggled to be where it is today. Tourism is important to them and they know that their history and culture are what people come for, so they value the structures that survived the bombings, they know how to take care of guests and make them feel comfortable without being submissive nor too deferential.
Others may have had negative experiences in Hanoi, but not me. In fact, this was my second visit, and I think I will go back for a third, maybe more. I really believe there is much to learn from the Vietnamese experience, their will and resolve to be free.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.