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Published: September 17th 2006
Where NOT to stay and book Halong bay trips!
Sorry to start this entry in a negative way... But first just a quick note to any backpackers planning on visiting Hanoi and staying in the old qaurter... I can highly recommend that you DON"T stay in Darling Backpackers guesthouse... The rooms are in desperate need of a good clean, they attempt to rip you off with any visa requirements, lose and destroy your laundry. They also organise a rip off tour to Halong bay where you do not get what they advertise.
On the Halong bay tour you have to share your cabin with rats, who crap on your bed, you get to 'kayak' at 6am for fifteen minutes with an inflateable floating device and broken oar. then only to be dumped on a crapy island for the day. Of the 24 people in our group (even though there was supposed to be a maxium of 18) every one was unhappy and complained. One guy who said he was going to cancel his visa payment was told he would be killed in the next 24 hours!!
Don't get me wrong halong bay is a beautiful place with some
amazing views (see next entry) and caves but just beware of which tour group you go through, I hate to say this but perhaps its better to go with a company recommended by the lonely planet or fellow travellers.
We stayed in the Old Quarter, its a virtual rabbit warren of narrow streets occupying that part of the city, full of stalls and locals selling fruit, veg and chickens on the street. Of the week we spent here we managed to get lost at some point each day, the maps provided by the lonely liar (lonely planet!) and the local hotels all differed from each other, only showing some of the roads making navigation somewhat of a challenge! Fortunately while we were lost there were ample opportunties to sample the local beer hoi (fresh beer) which at less than 7p a glass (Tom you would love it) is one of the cheapest pints in the world and with no adatives or preservatives leaves you hang over free!
For the first time in Asia we are finding the locals particularly unfriendly, I'm guessing that they wrongly assume we are American. We quickly learned not to bother asking
for directions as they seem to enjoy sending us all over the town.
Unlike the south and middle of Vietnam the food is pretty bad here, after eating some dodgy food including grilled dog, my stomach was in desperate need of some 'normal' food. Despite seeing chickens all over the place it seems unless you want the feet its impossible to actually eat one.... so we decided to hunt down a KFC, and we found one but we left dissapointed when we were informed they had no chicken!! ARRGHHH I'm sure the bloody Vietnamese are keeping all of the decent pieces of chicken to themselves!!
Ho Chi Min Mausoleum
We couldn't leave Hanoi without paying a visit to one of Hanoi's most famous citizens (albeit a dead, stuffed but fresh from his embalmers ) - Ho Chi Minh. Uncle Ho, as he is affectionately called, lives in a massive mausoleum complex that occupies a hefty proportion of northern Hanoi. The mausoleum was mildly interesting (more later) but the real entertainment was the circus surrounding the visit itself. Seeing Uncle Ho involves a lot of procedure and ceremony.
After an airport style check in, camera's and phones
were confiscated before walking through a metal detecter, xrays and a receiving a pat down! You're then made to march along a red carpet, outdoors, to the mausoleum itself. Soldiers in white uniform guard the path, equipped with rifles and - eek - bayonets. Woe betide he or she who should cut a corner and step off the carpet. Disrespect towards Uncle Ho will not be tolerated ! As we entered the mausoleum, all chattering was quickly suppressed by the guards and we walked single file in silence. Hands were not allowed in pockets and your arms must be by your side at all times! You will respect Uncle Ho !
Well, the body was a bit of an anticlimax...Little old bearded Uncle Ho was simply lying there in his big Ho-quarium (ho, ho, ho...), covered up to his chest with a black sheet, as if sleeping. I'm sure I wasn't the only one there who was trying to suppress a fit of the giggles ! It was freezing, probably because Ho's Russian embalmers putting a "store below 10oC" care label on him when he was delivered...His coffin was guarded at all 4 corners by a machine gun toting
soldiers. It was quite eerie, not very impressive and ever so faintly ridiculous. We were all in and out in 20 seconds, ready to exchange my token to get my camera back. There followed a look at Uncle Ho's huge house (An improvement to his previous abode in Hue!) , Uncle Ho's collection of classic cars (viva la Communisme !), his office and so on...
My favourite bit was the miniature shopping mall at the end, where you could buy Ho T-shirts, Ho tea-cakes, Ho pencils and any Ho-related paraphernalia you can think of. The stalls were overrun with tourists (few of them Westerners !), gathering up armfuls of rubbish in a capitalistic shopping frenzy. It was quite hilarious - it struck me as so ironic that the irony of it may itself have been ironic...(does that make sense ?)
The whole hoo-hah was made even more absurd when later I read that good old Uncle Ho explicitly stated that he wished to be cremated without ceremony ! Uncle Ho would surely be turning in his grave, if only he could do so without the guards watching...
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