November 20th, 2015 / posted by paularath
We watched this owman struggle with this load through terrifying traffic.

We watched this woman struggle with this overload through terrifying traffic.

Although Hanoi was bombed over and over again throughout the Vietnam War, the Old Quarter was never hit. What a treasure! The narrow, winding streets still serve in their original capacities: Silk Road, Jewelry Road, Shoe Road and so on.

Today, Hanoi is a city of stark contrasts. Here’s just one small example:

Hanoi Prada

How about this for a culture clash?               Photo by Jerry Mayfield.

The first thing you notice on the way into town from Hanoi’s gleaming ultramodern new airport is the traffic. I’ve been through scary traffic in places all over the world, but Hanoi is the scariest. There just don’t seem to be any traffic lanes or rules followed.

Being a pedestrian in Hanoi is nerve-wracking at best and terrifying at worst. The best advice we were given was: Just step out into the road and walk at a predictable pace. Do not stop and do not speed up suddenly. The 5 million motor scooters will find their way around you if they can anticipate your movements.

A typical Hanoi "parking lot."

A typical Hanoi “parking lot.” Not many can afford cars. For example, a Toyota Corolla costs $49,000 in Hanoi. Photo by Jerry Mayfield.


One of the most satisfying things about our five days in Hanoi was my success in having an ao dai made. The ao dai is the national dress of the women in Vietnam and they really do wear it all the time.

College grads wear ao dai to celebrate their success.

College grads wear ao dai to celebrate their success.

I have wanted an ao dai since my first visit to Vietnam in 1970. They are lovely and graceful and flattering and I thought an ao dai would be wearable in Honolulu for special occasions. I asked the women concierges in the Sofitel Metropole Legend Hotel where I should go and they sent me to Ngan An, a little shop that makes nothing but ao dai and was within walking distance of the hotel.

The women who measured me and made my ao dai.

The women who measured me and made my ao dai. Photo by Jerry Mayfield.

It was clearly not a tourist shop – no English whatsoever was spoken. But we managed to communicate with gestures and measurements and sketches and I now have a gorgeous royal blue silk ao with white silk charmeuse pants. It’s simply perfect! If you’re ever going to Hanoi and want an ao dai made, let me know, as I kept all the information so you can find Ngan An.

Inside the hotel's bomb shelter.

Inside the hotel’s bomb shelter. Photo by Jerry Mayfield.

The Hotel Metropole Hanoi offers a free tour of its bomb shelter, which is a fascinating glimpse into the past. Jane Fonda, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez a re just a few of the Americans who stayed in the hotel in the ’60s and ’70s.

Our guide was, to say the least, over-enthusiastic and a young Swedish diplomat based in Hanoi who was on our tour said that his spiel was undoubtedly either scripted by the government or approved by the government.

Of course every visitor must visit the “Hanoi Hilton,” the renowned prison where Americans such as John McCain were held for years on end.

Tableau in the Hanoi Hilton.

Tableau in the Hanoi Hilton. Photo by Jerry Mayfield.

The talk of torture, starvation and be-headings is all focused on the atrocities committed against the Vietnamese by the French. Interesting, huh?


Designs by Diego Chula.

Designs by Diego Chula.

We saw some really nice art galleries and some good European design made in Hanoi. In particular, I liked the work of the Chula family, who are originally from Spain.

On a Cyclo in  the Old Quarter.

On a Cyclo in the Old Quarter. Photo by Jerry Mayfield.

Our group took a Cyclo tour through the Old Quarter one evening. Although it feels weird to have a person pushing you, it is a way of life in Vietnam and no one thinks anything of it. Jerry got some amazing video of our ride!

Much of life and commerce happens on the sidewalks and streets of Hanoi. Little coffee shops and restaurants sprout up in a matter of minutes with a few plastic stools and a little stove. Vendors arrive with their coolie-style baskets laden with all manner of goods.

Hanoi Old woman selling fruit

Photo by Jerry Mayfield.

The barber, Hanoi style.

The barber, Hanoi style. He wanted to get his hands on Jerry’s gorgeous hair!      Photo by Jerry Mayfield.

Hanoi Street Scene

It’s amazing how many women carry their entire business around with them on their back. Vietnamese women are so strong! Photo by Jerry Mayfield

Hanoi Wiring

We saw situations like this all over Hanoi. How do they not get their wires crossed? Photo by Jerry Mayfield.

We really loved the Hotel Metropole Hanoi and highly recommend it. The service was absolutely superb! It is part of the Sofitel Group of hotels.

– Paula Rath



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Emi Azeka
November 21st, 2015 at 8:06 am

Aloha Paula,
You’ve done it again! So much more than fashion. THe photos of Hanoi were so fascinating and touching. As I am bedridden often and waiting to find a neurosurgeon on Oahu, my computer is my link to the world. So I especially enjoy photos and impressions in your travels. Jerry’s photos are so insightful.
Many mahalos,

November 24th, 2015 at 8:44 pm

Aloha Emi,
I am so sorry to hear you are bedridden.
FYI, I had a truly fantastic neurosurgeon when I broke my neck. His name is Dr. Mark Gerber and he is at Straub. I was very lucky to have him as my surgeon as he is one of the best in the nation.
Take care.

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