Newspaper article Coffs Coast Advocate (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

Taking a Step of Faith in Hanoi

Newspaper article Coffs Coast Advocate (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

Taking a Step of Faith in Hanoi

Article excerpt

THERE it can be just about anything else - a motorbike repair shop, a hairdressing salon, a restaurant complete with outdoor kitchen amid jumbles of tables and small blue or red plastic stools, perhaps a haberdashery.

Or maybe even a badminton court for the more energetic.

In many cases it's occupied by the people who live in the adjoining houses or shops, and who simply prefer to spend most of their time out front where it's lighter and doubtless cooler - cooking, eating, washing up, playing cards, drinking tea or maybe something stronger, or just chatting with friends and passers-by.

It's this shambolic sense of organised chaos that in part helps make Hanoi one of the world's great cities.

Try crossing the street and you soon realise just how frenetic life here can be, yet at the same time the Vietnamese capital also has a wonderful charm and poise about it - somehow retaining a French ambience from colonial days that melds with the local flavours to create a heady cocktail immersing the visitor.

Not that the French influence was always - or even mostly - a benign thing in Vietnam. Visit Hanoi's centrally-located one-time Hoa Lo Prison, now a museum complete with original blood-thirsty guillotine, and you realise how fervently the French liked to impose their colonial rule.

One of the main local opponents to that rule was Ho Chi Minh, a man revered to this day in Vietnam, and no visit to Hanoi is complete without a visit to Ba Dinh Square, location of both the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the ultra-modernistic and very arty Ho Chi Minh Museum.

And if you are considering accommodation city-centre, the Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel (www.hilton.com) is right there in the heart of the city's chic, elegant French Quarter, where footpaths actually more often are footpaths, rather than marketplaces.

Here in this Quarter is where to shop for genuine designer labels, stroll the tree-lined boulevards, and enjoy eating very well for no more than $10-20 a head.

On "the other side of town," right next to the main railway station, is the popular and comfortable Hotel Mercure Hanoi La Gare (www. …

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