Full disclosure – it felt weird to land in Hanoi. The news reports of my childhood were full of the Vietnam War, the bombing raids on Hanoi, the napalm, and some of the photos were impossible to ever forget.
But that was then. Now Hanoi is a beautiful city, full of life and colour. Oddly, this gives me hope that one day my children or grandchildren will get to enjoy Damascus, gracious and elegant once again – not bombed to bits. But, I digress.
We were met at the airport by a Uniworld representative. Hieu is young, handsome, energetic and completely fluent in English, although given to repeating ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, madam’. He wondered if we needed the ‘Happy Room’ before we left – the most charming term for the toilet I’ve ever heard. As we drove into town he pointed out large infrastructure projects – a new terminal at the airport, a major bridge over the Red River – the largest river in North Vietnam – and a new highway. All financed at 0% by the Japanese in exchange for first dibs on the contracts. All are being built against a backdrop of rice paddies dotted with lumbering bullocks.
Virtually everyone in Hanoi owns their own piece of property on which they build a house (or they own their apartment). These can be sold (to other Vietnamese), rented, or passed down. The exception is the farmers who only retain their land if they are actively farming it. They can pass it down but not sell it except to the government can force a sale if it needs the land for an infrastructure project.
This is the first time we have done anything involving a boat – we are not the least bit interested in massive cruise ships of 3,500 passengers, but a river boat cruise seemed okay. We figure if worse comes to worse we can swim to shore! We don’t actually get on a boat until the second half of the tour though. Stay tuned.