To celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday, we took a trip to Hanoi. None of us had been to the Vietnamese city, but if it was going to be like other Asian cities, I knew I was in for a treat. Though not always particularly historical, I find that Asian cities are always hilarious in their quirks and oddities. Hanoi did not disappoint!
First things first: how to get there. Hanoi is easier to get to than a lot of Asian cities on my list, with Cebu Pacific flying there directly from Manila to several days a week.
Meracus Hotel 1 was home for most of our stay. At first glance it seems a little gaudy — and simultaneously, ironically, expensive — with its extravagant marble facade. But it later proved to be homier, more tasteful, and more affordable upon closer look. Located in the touristic Old Quarter — specifically the shoe district — it was extremely convenient for shopping and eating out.
Our group had an odd number of members, so we were hoping that one room at Meracus could be triple-shared. Don’t get your hopes up: the rooms are cozy, but tiny. Two people would snuggle up in it nicely, but with large luggage would find it difficult to move around.
Ha Long Bay Overnight Cruise
One of the other nights was spent on an overnight cruise along Ha Long Bay, on an Alisa Cruise ship. which was a far more pleasant experience than I expected. I generally do terribly on boats, despite my love for the sea. But Ha Long was lovely and calm. The sky was clear and blue, the sun was out, and I spent most of the time laid out in my bathing suit on the roof deck.
Like in Meracus, I managed to score my own bedroom on the cruise ship, yet again. And this room is swanky, with its king-sized bed, marble bathroom countertops, bathtub, and a solo balcony. I would lie if I said I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to walk around naked everywhere, knowing full well that in the pitch black night, there are no eyes that an see me from the outside. So liberating!
What was even more special was catching the sunrise right from between my sheets.
Hanoi Oddities: The Obsession with Pre-nup Photo Shoots
I know Filipinos are really into it, but the Vietnamese have taken the [wedding] cake as far as pre-nup photo shoots, it seems. I’ve never seen a culture so sure about marriage. On a regular Sunday, you can find a couple doing a pre-nup shoot within no less than 20 steps of each other, all over the city.
What was remarkable about this particular couple is that besides holding their pre-nup shoot at the posh side of town (it seemed that the volume of couples was higher around the river or the park), here they are, holding a puppy. So cute, so little. So picture-perfect. So aspirational.
Though their life decisions may be real, the puppy is not. upon closer inspection, you can see that the puppy is as stiff as a tree trunk, and is about as alive as my shoe. A doll it is not, but stuffed it certainly is. It’s a taxidermy puppy!
Are they saving up for the real thing?
Is it a faithfully departed pet?
A visual peg for the future?
Does this represent the life that they are about to embark on – perfect to the naked eye, but dead, dull, and kept up by appearances on the inside?
How reflective of reality, or how much of a fantasy, must your pre-nup, your wedding, and your whole marriage be? Is it still you, if it isn’t you?
What does your prenup shoot say about you?
So many pressing questions. Either way, I hope their love is more real than the dog is!
Viet Nam and Religion
I didn’t learn about Hanoi as much as I would have liked to, time constraints being the culprit. Unlike when I went to Cambodia and Laos, and left feeling a strong affinity for the country and its people. The difference being, I did take a lot of time, and had some literature to accompany my trip. I’m told that Ho Chi Minh City is the more historically-charged city between the two. I doubt that; I think I could have learned more through Hanoi if I’d had the chance to really read the city.
My biggest take-away though is that Hanoi has a very interesting approach to religion that I haven’t seen before, at least anywhere else in Asia. When asked about religion, a Vietnamese will say that while they follow Buddhist practices, they do not particularly consider themselves Buddhists – a surprising detachment, likely attributed to the Reds. Specifically, Russia, rather than China. Very Kantian, very self-aware. It’s interesting to see a culture place a very clear distinction between “being” and “doing.”
And it is reflected in the city: In comparison to its temple-obsessed neighbors, Vietnam’s “lack” of religion – at least in the physical sense” is very obvious. There’s a few pagodas here, and one church there – that’s it! The manifestation in the city is very obvious, and coming from a religious country myself, refreshing.