You could tell that the woman was smiling. Though the mask covered her face, the knowing lines surrounded her eyes. She beckoned us forward as we walked in parallel with her footsteps across Le Duan, one of Hanoi’s busiest motorways.
This simple act of kindness stays with you. We never spoke, but we too smiled back as she disappeared into the crowd.
I want to imagine the thoughts she had afterwards, at these red-faced tourists who were wandering to the outskirts of the city.
We woke up early to the whir of the air conditioner, a welcome sound in Hanoi, and hopping down to breakfast we made plans for the day.
“Bach Mai? I think that’s too far to walk!”, the shop assistant mused as we bought limes on Le Duan.
To us brave soldiers, 4km didn’t sound like quite the trek but as the sun beamed down we began to understand why it felt like a marathon.
The Irish weather has nothing on Vietnam and as the temperature soared past 37 degrees Celsius, I quickly turned into a pile of mush.
An hour later, we arrived.
Bach Mai Hospital is a multi-field medical facility, built in 1911, during French colonial rule. In the second Indochina War in 1972, a string of American bombs that were intended for the nearby Bach Mai Airfield, struck the hospital instead, killing staff. A memorial to these staff can be seen in the courtyard.
I was born in Bach Mai on the Fourth of July, 1991. We’ve been back three times since.
After being a bit bold and getting a taxi back to the hotel, we soon heading on a walking tour of the exterior parts of the city with Buffalo Tours.
Did you know that houses in Hanoi cost on average $50,000 per square metre? Imagine that in Dong! No wonder they utilise every inch of space.
With just four of us on the tour, our guide, Thanh was feeling the sweltering heat as well (and you know that it’s pretty intense when your Hanoian guide is sweating his heart out too!)
Throughout the day we took shower after shower and each was a blessing.
“200 is too expensive”
“How much you pay?”
“Madam no! 180”
“No, no. 100 and I’ll take them tomorrow”
The first price is pretty much always the starting price here in Hanoi, with Vietnamese sellers hell bent on a good haggle.
It’s good fun when you get into it and many Vietnamese are pretty good-natured about their bargaining. But you’ve got to be pretty savvy about what the average should be for a product (For example, a two-litre bottle of water should cost just 10,000 dong or less which is about 40cents).
To top things off, like hunter-gatherers we went in search of food.
Dinner tonight was a meal of Bun Cha (pork patties), noodles, herbs, drinks and Nem (the Hanoi version of the crispy spring roll).
A walk around the lake eased our bellies and we fell into bed.
Hanoi, I love you.