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Published: November 11th 2007
Hanoi is famous for the water puppet show. I think these puppets are abit sinester...
At some stupidly early hour on the 22nd October, with only the dogs in the street awake, we wearily carried our luggage to the end of the street in Pattaya to get some sort of vehicle to the bus station. We need to catch the 6am bus to Bangkok airport for our flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. Unfortunatly, there was noone on the road, at all. So we stood there in the dark, looking at the empty road, and the dogs barked at us, and we stood there some more. After a while, a lone motorcycle taxi driver drove past and stopped. He gestured for us to get on. Me, Kris, two large rucksacs and two small ones. I have seen 7 people travel on a motorbike taxi before, and carrying three live pigs on the back, but through my farang eyes this didnt look like a safe option. Particuarly since the bus station is a good 5 km away. We pursuaded him to get his friend with another bike, and then set off on the rather scary journey to the bus station. We caught it in time, arrived at the airport very early, and after several hours sitting on
Narrow streets in the Old Quarter
the view from the balcony in one of our guesthouses
our bags, boarded our plane to Hanoi, Vietnam, our 6th country on the trip.
In Hanoi, the bus driver from the airport told us the hotel we wanted to go to was full and took us to some other random hotel, from which he no doubt got commission. It didnt matter, for $10 we got en suite, hot shower, air con and cable. Plus free breakfast and internet. The only problem we had with the place was the hard sell on tours. Before we had even dropped our bags in our room they were trying to sell us tours to Halong Bay and Sapa. And they continued to do it for our whole stay, which just made us book elsewhere. We dont like the hard sell much. When we returned to Hanoi after visiting Halong Bay and then Sapa we moved hotels.
The Old Quarter
We stayed in two different hotels in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Its a complex system of narrow streets with tall buildings either side, and balconies overlooking the road. Traditionally each street sold a specific thing, and you can still see that today. For example, Hang Ga street sells silk,
Shops selling herbs
you can't appreciate the smell from the photo
every shop in the street sells silk clothes, scarves and anything else made of silk you can imagine. Another street sells wood carvings, on another they do iron work, another makes rope, another baskets. In a more modern twist, on one there are rows of shops selling sweets, all next to each other, the same with cuddly toys. In amongst these shops are guesthouses and cafes. We found a lovely street Hang Haung, which had lots of street side cafes, it almost looked french. I guess since Vietnam used to be ruled by the French that thats not so surprising.
The Old Quarter is really fasinating and lovely to walk around but hectic
. There are so many motorbikes in the streets, all coming at you from every direction! The only way to cross the road is to do it slowly and hope that the bikes will go around you. And when the people get to their destination on the bikes, they have to park them. Because this is the old city, there are no car/bike parks, instead they are all parked on the pavement. The cafes even have valets to park the motorbikes. But this also means that
there is no room to walk on the pavement so you have to walk on the road, with the bikes. There are also stalls on the pavements selling baguettes or fruit or drinks, and roaming sellers selling books and pineapples and bananas and lighters. So while you are trying to avoid getting run over by the bikes, people are jumping out trying to sell you something. If you don't want to walk around the city, there are men offering you motorbike taxi rides all around, or rides on cyclos. Cyclos are bicyles with a big basket on the front that carry people around the city. It looks like a combination between a bike and a pram. Very popular with tourists.
Hoan Kien Lake and its golden tortoises
By the Old Quarter is a really beautiful lake. In the middle of the lake there are two islands. One island holds a temple, the other the 'tortoise tower'. There are some interesting legends about the lake. A very famous Vietnamese general, , used a magical sword to drive away the Chinese invaders in the century. When he was walking by the lake, a giant golden tortoise came out of
the lake and took the sword underwater, apparantly taking it back to heaven. Rumour has it that there are really giant tortoises in the lake, they are just very shy so not seen very often. In the temple on the lake there are photos of tortoise sightings, ala loch ness monster, and a specimen that was found in the lake (apparently). It is pretty big, although not golden. We sat beside the lake for quite a while, but didnt see any signs of any tortoises. Mind you, at one point while we were sat there the bloke next to us took a pee in the lake, so maybe that put the tortoises off. Or maybe that is why they are golden.
The cheapest beer in the world??
It was in the Old Quarter that we found what may or may not be the cheapest beer ever. Well, its the cheapest beer we have ever drank. All around Vietnam they sell beer hoi, which is fresh, draft beer. Stalls set up on street corners with a few plastic chairs and tables and dispense beer from kegs. There is a place in Hanoi known as beer hoi junction,
Our first beer Hoi
a bargain at 6 pence a glass!
because, well its a junction with about 8-10 of these stalls on it. And the beer there was 2000 dong a glass, which is 6 pence (or 5 baht if you are doing this calculation in Thai money). What a bargain. So we spent a few evenings sat on tiny plastic chairs that you usually see in nursery schools, quaffing half pint glasses of beer hoi. At 6 pence a glass its rude not to.
While we were in Hanoi we managed to catch up with some of our mates from the TEFL course. Naomi, Erica, Kirsten and Sophia had been traveling in Laos and Vietnam since we finished teaching, and we had the aim of meeting up somewhere in Northern Vietnam. Amazingly, considering our collective powers of organisation, we managed to catch them one night before they caught the overnight train to Hue. We caught up over some beers and agreed to attempt another meeting before we fly back from Hanoi to Bangkok.....Kirsten was sticking around so we met her the next day for a hearty days sightseeing!
Vietnamese history, Confucionism and all things Ho Chi Minh
While we were in
Hanoi we explored some of the many museums. The history museum was your usual collection of religious artifacts from various periods in history, chronicaling the various invasions of Vietnam. Vietnam seems to have a history of being taken over, its been controlled by the Chinese many times, the Kymer (Cambodians), the French not to mention different factions within the country. It spent most of the 20th century at war with someone. The exhibits were interesting, but there was no explanation of the history and alot of it was in Vietnamese. It was a beautiful building though. The army museum was also abit confusing and assumed a level of knowledge of Vietnamese history that we didn't have. However, what we picked up was that they have been at war alot, and not often of their own choosing. The army museum had photos and exhibits from the various wars, and an outside area with lots of planes and helicoptors and weaponry from the war with America. The museum was full of propaganda, with labels explaining how many of the enemy the various weapons had killed. One of our favourites was the label on a helmet covered in holes. It said "proof of
The presidential palace
you couldn't get any closer...
the French failure". But then, whose to say that our own museums arn't mainly propaganda, and after what the country has been through they probably needed some positive thinking and belief in themselves.
We visited the Temple of Literature, which was the first University in Vietnam, established in 1076!. It also houses a temple to Confucious. The University functioned for 700 years and produced over 2,300 doctors. Within the grounds, they have carved the names of lauretes of the University into large tablets of stone which are mounted onto the backs of large turtles. Its a beautiful temple and has lovely grounds, quiet and peaceful (noone is trying to run you over with a motorbike for a start).
Finally we went to the Ho Chi Minh complex to see some of the houses the communist leader of Vietnam lived in during his time in power. We saw his morseleum, where you can often view his embalmed body - although he wasn't in when we visited. We then paid to go and see his houses. In the complex it said you could see his stilt house, another house he lived in, and the presidential palace and grounds. Sounded nice
and we thought we might learn something about the man himself. But whilst the grounds were pretty, you couldnt actually go anywhere. You could look at the stilt house and the other house from the outside, but when we tried to go nearer, thinking there might be stuff to see inside, a guard chased us away. Then we followed a sign to another part of the garden, and a guard chased us away. Then we walked towards the presidential palace, thinking that if we couldn't go inside maybe we could look at it. No, we got chased away. They seem to be charging for tickets, but you arn't actually allowed to look at anything. Rather weird. I wouldn't recommend it.
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