Published: June 25th 2012June 17th 2012
Just as we were taking the decision to leave Vietnam, a good friend moved to Hanoi. Isn't that just typical! Still, we couldn't move on without seeing her so we arranged with work to have a Friday afternoon off and fly with VietJet Air
from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi.
We were surprised to learn that it takes 2 hours - in that time we can get to Kuala Lumpur! Our regular taxi driver picked us up at 2.30 and we were at the airport by 4 in plenty of time for the 5.20 flight. We landed at 7.20, bang on time, and our friend Kaithe was waiting for us in arrivals. It was the first time we had met her husband, Ted, and very soon the four of us were in a taxi into the city. By 8.30 we were in a restaurant and having dinner. What struck us most was the LACK of traffic compared to Saigon. It took half the time to cover the same distance we normally do.
Dinner was wonderful and we were surprised to learn that we were in a cheapish restaurant in the backpacker district of Hanoi. Quite a step up from
the Pham Ngu Lao district we frequent in Saigon. The hotel was pretty good too. We had booked into the Alisa
to be close enough to where Kaithe and Ted live without being too far from the main attractions of the capital. The rooms were very spacious and the staff were very friendly. Ok, so the room rate didn't include breakfast but we found a nice cheap cafe just down the road. There were plenty to choose from.
The next morning Kaithe and Ted met us in a taxi and we headed off to visit Uncle Ho. Nguyễn Sinh Cung was born in 1890 and, according to Wikipedia
, he took the name Ho Chi Minh around 1940. The website also says he may have been a pastry chef in Crouch End, London, during the first World War, so I'm willing to take their information lightly!! Affectionately known as "Uncle Ho" he was the driving force behind independence from France and a unified Vietnam. When he died in 1969, he wanted to be cremated, but such was his stature that the ruling communists decided to have his body embalmed and preserved like other communist leaders in a mausoleum for everyone
The biggest surprise for us was the queue to go to see him. It must have been a couple of miles long. Half way along we had to leave our bags but they wouldn't take responsibility for electronic eqiuipment. A little further along there was a kiosk for valuables to be collected after your visit. Trish even got told off for wearing sunglasses in the queue - how irreverant!!! After an hour of waiting and gently creeping towards the tomb, we spent about 30 seconds walking around his glass coffin, an eerie sight, and were swiftly ushered out the other side. Photography is not allowed and the penalties must be great because I haven't even been able to find one online! It took forever to get my camera back afterwards and then we had to walk all the way back via the roads to collect our bags as they wouldn't allow us through the gardens like the Vietnamese visitors.
A taxi then took us into Hanoi's Old Quarter where we had lunch in the Kangaroo Cafe. From there we tried to visit the Cathedral but it was closed! Instead we headed to one of Hanoi's lakes
where we sat in the shade and drank Vietnamese coffee. The lakes in Hanoi are one of the features that we find makes the city far more attractive than Saigon.
After a welcome snooze we regrouped in the evening and finally found our way into the Cathedral. Catholicism is alive and well in Vietnam and it was standing room only at the back with the congregation spilling out onto the street. We didn't outstay our welcome and before long we were dining (and drinking) handsomely in the Gecko Cafe
which is more of a posh nosh place than a cafe!
On the Sunday morning we visited the Military Museum but that's for the next blog! You'll just have to wait!!
There are more photos below