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Published: November 20th 2007
Around Hanoi-Hoan Kiem Lake
Just a couple of blocks south of my hotel in the old quarter of Hanoi is Hoan Kiem Lake. Hanoi has a lot of lakes. Hoan Kiem is one of the more popular ones. If you get up early enough, you can do some good people watching there and get some good exercise. It all starts about four or five in the morning. A whole lot of Vietnamese and quite a few foreigners begin their morning exercise. You see fan dancing, weight lifting, sword routines, massages, individual T’ai chi, jogging and games like badminton with racquet or by foot.
I try to do two laps of walking around the lake. That is about two miles. It takes a special incentive to get me to exercise and this place has it. It is beautiful, all the activities take your mind of how much you are working, the weather is perfect and the air is best in Hanoi at this time.
Of course everything in Vietnam has a history and/or legend behind it. In this case it is a legend of Emperor Ly Thai To(Le Loi) which Heaven had sent a magical sword which he used
to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. One day after the war he stumbled upon a giant golden tortoise swimming on the surface of the water. The creature grabbed the sword and disappeared into the depths of the lake. Since that time the lake has been known as Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword) because the tortoise restored the sword to the divine owners.
Tortoises do live in the lake. In Ngoc Son Temple is the preserved remains of one that weighs 250kg and is 2.1 meters long. That is 551 pounds and almost 7 feet long.
Ngoc Son temple sits on and island near the northern end and the Thap Rua (Tortoise Tower) on the southern end on a small islet.
After my morning exercise I head for coffee shop Café Năng for my daily dose of caffeine. Here mostly men sit around on small stools and drink their daily dose of strong Vietnamese coffee. My favorite is cà phè sưa dà, which is very strong coffee, poured on sweeten condensed milk on ice. It is the last thing I really need but I am hooked. It isn’t cheap. In Bà Năng’s coffee shop
it cost 7000 dong, about 45 cents. In other more fancy places it goes for 15000 dong or more. If the first floor is too busy you can climb the stairs to the third floor and have a better view of Hang Be Street. Bà Năng has a great little business. She usually has two girls Hàng and Linh helping her run the place. It is always busy.
On the wall upstairs is a family photo of Bà Năng and her family. I don’t know if she is the sole bread winner or not, but if she is, she supports a large family out of that little shop.
Down stairs is a calendar which for the month of November shows a beautiful air view of the old French Customs House in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). That is the place Ho Chi Minh left French Indochina in 1911 as a kitchen helper on a French Freighter. An odyssey that took him to France, Great Briton, United States, Russia, other places and he returned in 1945 to lead the revolution.
I entered Vietnam for the first time in February 1967 through the same place he left. Today, the
old French custom House is a museum to honor Ho Chi Minh.
A few doors down from my hotel is the eastern end of Pho (Street) Gia Ngư is an open market run mostly by women. If I can, one of these days I am going to follow the trip a carrot takes to get to this market. I see women coming to it with produce on bicycles, Gáng’s(that pole with two baskets) and motorbikes. The produce looks as fresh as can be.
I watched one lady who was a Bán Hàng Rong (Seller on the street) sitting there all day selling her produce. Then, she packed up her gear which took some time and lifted this heavy load and this was heavy looking with out the produce she brought in, and limps off down the street. These are strong women.
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