Published: August 9th 2012August 9th 2012
"It's by educating a child that we understand the sacrifices of parents"
If you're in Hanoi, and particularly if you're female, a visit to the Vietnamese Women's Museum is a must. You can easily spend a few hours here if you take the time to read all the stories and antidotes that explain the role of women in shaping the Vietnam that is today. I was stunned to learn about the lead some females took in the Vietnam War, however when I took the time to think about it, I also believe that if I ever found myself in the situation where I truly believed my home was being taken from me, then I too would fight for my land. There is also a brilliant short film on the women hawkers (that image of Vietnam that is known around the world - females carrying a pole in their shoulders with two baskers) and the sacrifices they are making by working long hours, for less than $25 AUD (£15) a month. These ladies spend three weeks away from their families, simply to try and earn enough to send their children to school. Upon leaving the museum I bought as much fruit
as the lady selling it had, in the hope that she could go home and put her feet up for one afternoon, and know that for that day at least, her children's education was safe. Hoan Kiem Lake is a small bit of peace and solitude in an otherwise busy and noisy city. Here you can escape from the humidity and heat, and take your time strolling around the banks of the lake, or explore the Temple of the Jade Mountain which lies on Jade Island towards the northern shore, and connected to the shore by the pituresque red wooden Huc Bridge, meaning Morning Sunlight Bridge. Although I haven't done it, the lake is said to be a photographer's dream if the morning light is just right, however to date I think I have seen only 30 minutes of when the clouds cleared to let a little blue sky through, so I think I will prefer sleep over an early rise. Today as I was strolling by the lake, a young girl (I forget her name, along the lines of Leesa) approached me and introduced herself a student learning English and could she talk with me for a few minutes.
Many may take that as an indication they might get robbed, but I took it at face value for what it was, sat on the side of the lake, and continued to talk with Leesa for 30 minutes. During this time I found out she was 19, worked as a waitress and studied, volunteered in the Hanoi orphanage, and went home only twice a year to see her parents who she loved very much. If you are looking to shop, Hanoi will be paradise for you. Similar to Bali or Thailand but without the locals chasing you down the street to buy, there are streets filled of anything your heart could desire. Wander out of the Old Quarter and you will find local life continuing as though the tourists are not there at all - streets of bike repair shops, streets of book stores, streets of textiles, and all of them litered with plastic chairs and tables, akin to the size in an Australian kindergarten, where the locals sit and enjoy their meals together. It is apparant everywhere you look in Hanoi that the Vietnamese love to eat. It seems that eating is a national past time, and I am
in awe of how slim everyone is as everyone seems to be eating consistently on the sidewalks or in their shops - normally either Pho or Banh Chung. There is, however, a wider chocie available if you choose to eat in a cafe or restaurants - however there are many places that simply have a menu of different Pho's and that's it. Two places I highly recommend for anyone coming to Hanoi: Quan An Ngon located at 18 Phan Boi Chau Street is a Vietnamese Food Lover's Paradise. You can't miss it - a huge outdoor restaurant with different food stations around the edges where they are cooking the different meals, rolling fresh spring rolls, and buzzing with locals and tourists alike. The rice paper rolls, papaya salad and fish with soy sauce are all mouthwatering delicious, and you can tell that the ingredients are fresh from the morning market. It's hot in here - so if you don't like the heat try and grab a table by one of the many fans that are set up or simply do what me and my Dutch friend who I met for the second night did - just enjoy a few ice
cold beers. My second reommendation only sells Pho - appropriately named Pho 10 it is located at 10 Ly Quoc Su. Very simply run and lacking in asthetic design, this place more than makes up for its bland interior with a Pho that warms your inside with its blend of rich broth and a good kick of chilli (the chilli is put on the side and you can add as much or as little as you like - but go on, eat like the local and put a good sprinkling in). The kitchen is at the front of the restaurant, a simple stove with a large pot of broth simmering. Again this place is very popular with the locals, and I was the only westener there. However don't worry, the menu is in English, the prices listed (very cheap - about £2.80 or $4.15) and a bit closer to accommodation in the Old Quarter than Quan An Ngon, perfect for tonight as the heavens opened and the rain came pouring down. With only one day left in Vietnam tomorrow I plan to spend it walking around the lake before having one last meal at Quan An Ngon. Then it's off to Laos, to start my month of teaching and relaxing in the UNESCO listed village of Luang Prabang.