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Published: April 21st 2018
We have an evening flight back to HCMC so can squeeze in a whistlestop tour of Hanoi. We take a taxi to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. The driver takes a circuitous route; a large loop round the city followed by a full circuit of the mausoleum. Even with this detour, the fare comes to less than £2.
The mausoleum is closed on Fridays, but you can still visit the complex. I hoped this would make it less crowded but it’s heaving, particularly with school groups, who all smile and wave as they pass.
The complex includes the presidential palace, the house on stilts, where Ho Chi Minh preferred to live, his collection of official vehicles, a museum and One Pillar Pagoda (a pagoda built on a single pillar on a lake).
The gardens where Ho Chi Minh used to relax and meditate are now lined with stalls where you can buy tourist tat and Coca Cola. I’m sure if he knew this, he’d be turning in his grave. Except he doesn’t have a grave, he’s been embalmed and put in a Perspex box for thousands of tourists to gawk at every day except Friday.
Our next stop
is the Museum of Military History. This, too is closed but you are allowed to visit the grounds. These contain a huge number of old American aircraft and tanks captured during the war. There’s also a great collection of communist sculptures. The centre piece is a steampunk style collection of engines and aircraft bits with a downed French plane at its core.
From here you can climb the Hanoi Flag Tower, symbol of the city. It’s three levels high and offers a great view from the top.
We stop at a coffee shop, where the old man orders drinks and is given a gadget which will buzz when his coffee is ready. He is not convinced by this witchcraft and eyes it carefully. He is worried he won’t notice it buzz and he will never know when his coffee is ready.
Our last stop is the Temple of Literature; an 11th century Confucian temple. After the serenity of the temple, comes the chaos of the return to the hotel. We decide to take a taxi; it’s only a mile but all the road crossing is too much. The meter on the taxi spins round incredibly fast. We
realise we are being robbed, discuss getting out, then decide that we will ask the hotel to intervene when we reach it. However, the driver stops at a one way street near the hotel and says we must get out here and walk the rest of the way. The journey, which cost us d50,000 on the way out, costs d287,000 on the way back. A huge argument ensues, I’m all for calling the police but in the end the old man settles on a payment of d100,000 and we depart unscathed. We have been scammed, but at least we have had the full Hanoi experience.
We return to the airport, where our flight is an hour late and reach HCMC by 9 pm. Foolishly, we think this means that ‘rush hour’ will be over and the 6 mile drive to our hotel won’t take long. But it’s Friday night and everyone is on their way out. I find it surprising that a communist country has virtually no public transport – everyone goes everywhere by motorbike. Tonight, many of the ladies are glammed up and riding side saddle. 45 minutes later we have made it. We don’t have any dong
left so settle for drinking the mini bar dry and going to bed.
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