The Hanoi experience

By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III

Tucked in a tiny street that snakes its way to a lake, our boutique hotel is among the many spa centers-cum-hotels in a pocket of the neighborhood called Old Quarter.

Ha Noi means “between lakes.” And indeed, a few steps from our hotel is the Hoàn Kiēm Lake where, although the water is a bit murky, it is still refreshing as it is engulfed by a park that serves as a centerpiece of the town. Residents would stroll, run, or do some calisthenics there during the day; while tourists would have some beer on its restaurants and bars at night.

This part of Hanoi is popular for its old architecture. Vestiges of the rich history when dynasties ruled Vietnam until the French took over are most visible in Old Quarter.   A hole-in-the-wall coffee shop teems with tourists because on this old dilapidated 4 or 5 story building, not only is the popular “egg-coffee” being served, but also because thousands of post-it notes line its walls as its customers are encouraged to immortalize their visit with their own hand-written note stuck to the walls.

Four hours of bus ride away from Old Quarter towards the northeastern side of Vietnam is the UNESCO World Heritage Site and very popular Ha Long Bay. Its mountains were formed out of limestone and during our cruise, the tour guide who calls himself “Bruce Panda,” explained that King Kong, the movie, was filmed on this picturesque spot.

Bruce Panda also taught us some lessons on freedom- “Vietnam-style.” He said that while communism is not known for freedoms, yet, in Vietnam, according to Bruce, in jest, when they see “green,” they go; they see “orange,” they go; and even when they see “red,” they still go. So he asked his question again: who has more freedom?

This trip to Vietnam around the second week of March was a reunion among us cousins from my maternal side. Bankrolled by our aunt who is single and is just some years older than me, the simple rule we adhere to as cousins is we hold our reunion without spouses or partners joining us so we can bond as if we were still kids.

Speaking of family, we learned as a family while we were in Hanoi, that Vietnam has no religion. Instead, what they believe in is that one must pray to his/her family members who have gone ahead so that in the afterlife, they will fetch and guide you.

If there is one thing that impressed me about Hanoi, it is its authenticity. The people there are true to themselves: no pretenses. They may not speak English fluently but they do try especially in the pocket area where we were staying that is mostly visited by Western tourists. The structures are unassuming; they have remained as they were. There is that certain charm when a culture has been preserved.

And the coffee. Of course. Vietnamese coffee to me is one of the best in the world. Vietnam is one country which knows how to maximize the use of its raw materials. Bamboo is one of them. And bamboo, little did I know, is one good raw material for cloth-based products like shirts and pants. It is no surprise then that popular brands around the world are made in Vietnam.

The one-week Vietnam experience has made me realize that perhaps our way of living that is patterned from westernized style is not the only way to live. That the modern-way of thinking and living are not always the best way to go.

And most important, that our family will always lead the way, in life, or death.

                (The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates– a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor, MCLE lecturer, bar reviewer and a book author. His website is


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