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Published: January 10th 2008
Hanoi Old Quarter
a great place to get lost
Oh how wonderful it felt to be back in Vietnam!
I first came to Vietnam in December 2006 with my travel buddy Jeff and I fell in love with the country from the moment I stepped off the airplane. Never before had I been to a country with some much chaotic energy. After talking to other travelers, it seems that Vietnam is a country you love, or love to hate. Yes, its dirty, people are trying to rip you off on every corner, there is a good chance you are going to get robbed, you could get food poisoning, and tourism hasn't been done too well in the country. On the other hand, its intense with motos zipping past you in all directions about to kill you when you cross the street, mouthwatering pho on every street corner, men sitting on plastic chairs drinking bia hoi, women carrying fresh vegetables and fruits in baskets over their shoulders wearing large-brimmed straw hats, and people who are just as fascinated by you as you are by them. It makes me smile to even write about life in Vietnam. Just visiting the south wasn't enough time in the country. I needed to go
Uncle Ho Mausoleum
Look Ma, I was there!
back for more. After 12 incredible days in Malaysia (quick I know) I flew up to Hanoi. As the airport shuttle pulled into the heart of city, Vietnamese culture came alive. I was quickly reminded how much I loved this country. Granted, Hanoi had a lot to live up to. Our experience in Saigon was flawless. Let's see if the north could compare to the south.
In typical Vietnamese fashion, the airport shuttle dropped us off in the wrong place saying that Hanoi Backpackers was just around the corner. It seemed easy enough so I teamed up with a British girl named Sara to find the hostel. It was 9pm....I hate arriving in cities at night. It's always a bit more dangerous and I always feel so much more lost. I guess we ended up taking a wrong turn because it wasn't just around the corner. Somehow managed to get there. Of course, whenever we asked for directions the person would always tell us to not go to our hostel, but instead follow them to a better one around the corner, where they would get a commission. This hostel was recommended to me by quite a few people. When
Uncle Ho's House
I wouldn't mind living here. It was beautiful!
we got there no one spoke English, the power was out in our part of the hostel... so far outlook not so good! After rummaging through my backpack I found my trusty headlamp and managed to situate myself in my current home. As I fell asleep I couldn't help but smile, I was so excited to be back in Vietnam!
I had a lazy morning trying to catch up on some much needed sleep. The hostel started to look up- they had warm clean showers! After breakfast I headed out to see the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, ie "dead Uncle Ho." Honestly, the idea of seeing a dead guy didn't interest me too much, but it's the thing
to see when in Hanoi. I went out to the street and hopped on a moto. Just like I was taught in Saigon, stand on the left and throw your right leg over. Before I could hold on tightly he sped down the chaotic street. The wind was blowing in my face and we weaving in and out of traffic avoiding other motos, bicycles, ladies carrying baskets, other tourists dodging motos, and occasionally cars. There is no better way to
travel in Vietnam. It felt amazing. I don't even know why they have traffic lights because it seemed as if more motos went on the red lights than the green ones. The architecture of Hanoi was much more old-fashioned French than in HCMC. The yellow buildings and smaller streets were beyond charming. The buildings were a nice backdrop for the chaotic streets. There were always moments that I thought I was going to die and we encountered traffic jams, but overall it somehow works out and runs smoothly.
At the mausoleum, I walked a lot. There were tons of checkpoints and places to drop off my belongings- no photos were allowed and I had to have my shoulders and legs covered. It was kind of like a line at Disneyland. They make you think that you are getting close but you really have a long way to go. After what seemed like miles while I started to sweat profusely in the hot and humid weather, i arrived at the tomb. It was heavily guarded and tons of Vietnamese people were just as eager to see Uncle Ho as I was. There were no surprises...he was dead as dead can
be. He even had a blue tint to his face. The fact that he was embalmed is quite ironic because Uncle Ho wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread over Vietnam. Once you are dead, I guess your opinion doesn't matter as much. After about 30 seconds of walking around the body, I was ushered out. I thought, "that was it?" But actually no. On top of dead Uncle Ho you can view his house and grounds surrounding the Mausoleum. His house was beautiful French architecture and a pleasure to wander around. Instead of taking a moto back to the hostel, I thought I would walk about, hoping to get lost along the way. I was still in search of the cheap and delectable Vietnamese sandwiches that Jeff and I lived off of in the south.
After my encounter with Uncle Ho I wandered down the main streets and stumbled upon the Army Museum. I have been to quite a few military-oriented museums, and quite honestly could care less about seeing guns and ammunition. In addition, it was closed for lunch. Instead of venturing into the museum I decided to mosey outside of it strolling between old
Almost an Accident!
a near miss! You see these ALL DAY.
airplanes and tanks- way cooler and bigger than the stuff inside! After my brief military lesson I hopped a moto to the Temple of Literature. This temple was erected in 1070, and was dedicated to worship Confucius. In 1076 a school was built to teach the doctrines of Confucius and his disciples. Unfortunately most of the school was destroyed during the French War. All that remains are 4 huge courtyards and a temple in the back. I admit, I have seen a lot of temples over the past 2 years so the Temple of Literature didn't do too much for me. After the temples of Angkor and Kyoto, others are just child's play in comparison. Still, it's ponds, statues, gardens, and large temple were great to wander around for a while. No matter which country I am in, I seem to have a sign that reads "talk to me" posted across my head. A large Vietnamese family "adopted" me during my tour of the Temple of Literature. They loved taking photos of me, speaking English, walking next to me, and had me help light incense to go on the temple alter. That never happened to me at Angkor! It definitely
The hats do exist!
not just a stereotype
made it a memorable experience. After the temple I was famished. Still no sandwiches. I settle for the kebab version. It was good, but just not the same.
Since I had been to Vietnam before, there were certain things I knew I wanted to get done upon arriving: hem my jeans (50 cents), get a haircut ($15), and indulge in a pedicure ($10). I was able to get all three done within a block of my hostel! A pretty sweet and cheap deal. The haircut was phenomenal and I received the best head massage of my life. My hair was straightened for the first time in 2 weeks, and lasted for a mere 30 minutes before it went curly due to the humidity. My good friend Lisa was supposed to come with me on this adventure. When we were planning and talking about our trip, we said that we would get pedicures to make ourselves feel human every 2 weeks. She ended up staying a third year in Japan, and now solo, I decided to uphold our travel luxury.
Back at Hanoi Backpackers I met up with Sara, happily surprised because we had both booked the same Halong
Bay tour without planning on it. Sweet deal! We wandered to the roof for hostel happy hour and barbecue. This hostel was getting better and better. The owners, Mic and Max, are two Australian guys who decided to open up a backpacker hostel with an aussie flair, hence the copious amounts of alcohol (if one of them is in a good mood they will just give you beer for free), and the signature barbecue. After our delicious burgers and beer a crew of us headed to "bia hoi corner" to sit on the street and drink cheap bia hoi. Now I was really home. As much fun as I was having, it still wasn't the same as Go Chiang 33 in Saigon with Jeff and our CSing boys. Maybe if there was a pet monkey it would have made up for it. Still, the beer was flowing like water, it was 20 cents a glass, plastic chairs galore, the mama-san bossing us around....and FINALLY....my Vietnamese sandwiches. I should have known better! Of course they would be where the drunk people are! Even though I wasn't hungry I still indulged in a huge French roll stuffed with various meats, veggies, hot
Flag tour at the Army Museum
sauces, and topped off with a fried egg. In my opinion people come for the pho, and stay for the sandwiches. That's how you know you are becoming a local :-). Life doesn't get much better, and Hanoi got my final seal of approval. Its official, now I could live here.
Next up....Halong Bay.........
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