What: Hai Phong Opera House forecourt and adjacent park
Where: Hai Phong, Norther Vietnam
Who: The locals
Sometimes, to really get the feel for a place, its nice to take a break from the information overload that sightseeing can cause and just hang out and do what the locals do. On recent trip to Vietnam, as part of a group tour, we did just that and it was a highlight of those days spent in Northern Vietnam.
Hai Phong, Vietnams third largest city and second most important industrial city is located on the northern coast, about 2 hours drive from the capital Ha Noi. Being an industrial city, it is not well known for tourism other than as the starting point for ferries to Cat Ba Island and Cat Ba National park and, a little further afield, Ha Long Bay. After a visit to a pagoda or two we stopped for a look at Hai Phongs Opera House. Built during the French Colonial period, with a huge picture of Ho Chi Minh adorning the facade, it is a lovely architectural building. The Opera House is not only a popular photo stop for the few tourists that visit the city, but also a very popular spot for the Hai Phongites(?), Hai Phongese(?), okay, the locals, to hang out, relax and enjoy their leisure activities.
All manner of leisure activities were taking place while we were there. Young adults in their favourite football (Soccer) team colours practicing their skills, inviting us for a kick of the ball. Teenagers practicing their best dance and hip hop moves, to no music, in front of their peers. Kids in their school uniforms, bikes thrown to the side, playing hacky sack or simply blowing bubbles for other kids to catch to squeals of delight!
Some parents had brought their littlies out for rides on their bikes or for a cooling ice cream in the warm afternoon. There was even one little girl who stood posing and insisted we all take several pictures of her, she is destined to be in front of the camera in one way of another we all concluded. The highlight, however, was a group of cheery ladies, lightly exercising.
The ladies, from middle aged to the elderly, were taking part in their daily exercise regime, similar to Tai Chi, small, non invasive, non strenuous exercises that maintain their mobility and dexterity. Neither of us spoke each others language, except simple greetings of ‘Hello’ from them and ‘Xin Chao’ from myself were uttered, yet, with a few hand gestures, smiles and nods, I found myself taking part.
Sure, there was raucous laughter from this tallish westerner in a conga-line of shorter exercising ladies, but I was joining in with what the locals do – and hey, I’m no good at football!
So there we were, hanging out with the locals in Hai Phong, Vietnam. It was an experience no tour company could organise because it was real and impromptu. The teens and young adults, cruising on their mopeds, playing sport or showing off to their peers, the parents strolling amongst the ice cream and balloon vendors with their little ones and myself exercising with the ladies of Hai Phong. It all happened, not on the tourist trail, but outside the Opera House, under the watchful eye of Winnie the Pooh and Uncle Ho. So, Have you ever found yourself just hanging with the locals when travelling?