The Secret Six in South East Asia! - Episode Five - 'It's the "Hanoi Sunway" as opposed to the "Hilton"'

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Asia » Vietnam » Red River Delta
November 21st 2018
Published: November 25th 2018
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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

It is supposed to resemble a Lotus Flower apparently.
The temperature in the north of Vietnam, is often cooler than it is further south, but you wouldn't have known that from the heat here today! Hot and steamy and absolutely 'ideal' for a full day tour of the city, ha ha! At least the aircon on the coach is pretty good, so we were able to get occasional bouts of cooling relief! Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely not complaining about the weather, but it is a bit energy sapping as the day goes on and the FitBit steps mount up!

Our full day in the city today includes, visits to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, the Museum of Ethnology (yet another 'museum' just for Mandy!), the Temple of Literature and the famous Vietnamese Water Puppet theatre. Now dear readers, some of you may be thinking 'whoopie do! this sounds like a barrel of laughs!' and, if the truth be known, that thought did cross my mind also! But whilst this definitely wasn't 'laugh a minute' stuff it was, nevertheless, a fascinating and enjoyable day.

But, first things first, we had an unusual 'lie in' this morning and didn't have to be ready in reception until 8.30!! What joy!
The Mausoleum GuardThe Mausoleum GuardThe Mausoleum Guard

In his crisp white uniform.
There was, however, a little bit of discontent among our band of 'happy campers', with one or two unhappy with the size of their rooms and condition of their beds! For our part, no problem. Yes the rooms are a bit more compact, but no more than you would expect for a city centre hotel and our bed and bedding was totally fine; I slept like a log, but then you could probably lay me on a log and I'd still 'sleep like a log'! Anyway, Phong had to do a bit of reassurance of the troops, before we were on our way to the tomb of Ho Chi Minh.

Uncle Ho (as he was affectionately known by most Vietnamese), was clearly a very humble man and I mean properly humble and definitely not a snivelling and toadyingly humble creep, like that 'orrible Uriah Heep, in Dickens' 'The Old Curiosity Shop' ('I am ever so 'umble sir')! No, Ho Chi Minh seemed to be a very principled man, who cared passionately about both his country and his people throughout his life. He stayed true to his modest roots, eschewing the trappings of power by refusing to live in the
The Presidential PalaceThe Presidential PalaceThe Presidential Palace

Uncle Ho thought this was too ostentatious to live in.
Presidential Palace (staying in a very modest stilt house in the Palace grounds instead), rarely using the luxury cars provided to him (except for official functions) and preferring to walk instead and always maintaining a common bond with the people. The fact that over 3 million of his countryman died (during the American War alone), in the pursuit of his dream of one united Vietnam, free from foreign rule, does seem to clash somewhat with his philosophy, but there is little doubt that the people still, very much, revere the man and his memory today.

Uncle Ho was born in 1890 as Nguyen Tat Thanh in a modest mountain village and became influenced by and a believer in Communism, after leaving Vietnam in 1911 to travel the world. He returned to Vietnam in 1941, founded the Communist Party there, taking the name Ho Chi Minh ('Bringer of Enlightenment') and in 1945, despite the country still being under French rule, he was declared President of Vietnam whilst the French were still busy elsewhere with World War Two! In 1946, the French came back to Indochina and Ho went into hiding in the Central Mountains, to direct the war against France,
Ho Chi Minh’s OfficeHo Chi Minh’s OfficeHo Chi Minh’s Office

A modest working office in the grounds of the Palace.
who were eventually ousted from Vietnam in 1954. However, the country was split into two, with Ho ruling the North under communist Ideals and a separate president ruling the South with a close allegiance to the West. Ho's desire to unify the country into one Vietnam resulted in the war between North and South (Vietnamese against Vietnamese), with the US (worried about the Domino Effect of other countries in the region falling to Communism, should the North prevail) siding with the South during the 1960s.

Ho Chi Minh didn't live to see his dream of one unified Vietnam fulfilled, dying in 1969, by which time the ruling clique of the Party Politburo (influenced and supported no doubt by the Soviet Union and China) had probably sidelined Ho to a significant extent, perhaps acting more 'in his name' as opposed to 'at his direction'. This is possibly emphasised to some extent by Ho's apparent wish to be cremated and for his ashes to be buried in three separate spots in the North, Centre and South of the country, reflecting his love of all of Vietnam. However, for one reason or another, his wish was ignored and his body is preserved
Ho Chi Minh’s HouseHo Chi Minh’s HouseHo Chi Minh’s House

Looking across a lake at Ho’s house for 3 years until he moved to a stilt house.
and on show in the magnificent mausoleum we were off to see this morning.

The Mausoleum is a grey stone structure (incidentally built from rock quarried from the Marble Mountains, our first stop after leaving Hue), and whilst not especially attractive, it is definitely a dominant memorial to the memory of the man. The building is a place of pilgrimage for most Vietnamese, at least once a year, and entry is strictly controlled by armed guards, in crisp white uniforms. We had to queue, two by two, in a lengthy line to enter the Mausoleum and cameras are definitely forbidden and sunglasses had to be removed as a mark of respect - fortunately, I didn't get asked to remove my transition lens glasses, otherwise I wouldn't have been to see the former leader, or anything else for that matter! Once inside, we filed silently by the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh laying inside a glass case, with four guards stationed at each corner. Very respectful and reverential.

As we were exiting the building down a flight of stairs, Steve almost took a tumble but managed to save himself. But then, one of our group (Christine, who was
The Stilt HouseThe Stilt HouseThe Stilt House

The modest stilt house, which HCM had built in the grounds of the Palace.
travelling alone) did have a fall and hurt herself, although fortunately, she was more shook up than injured, except for catching her thumb and bruising her knee and ribs as she fell. Hopefully, this is only bruised, as opposed to anything worse. (Nurse Lily did help Christine out with how to put on a sling and pain relief over the next few days and as I type this, she appears to be slowly on the mend.)

Outside of the Mausoleum, the area opens up into a large square, surrounded by the parliament building and other government structures. Incidentally, parliament is an interesting concept here, because this is a one party state and other political parties are, apparently, illegal with the ruling Politburo of 18 members, making all decisions. Having said that, I suppose we've only to look at the shambles in the UK at the moment (with both main political parties, tearing themselves apart), to realise that even in a one party state, you still need a parliament building to argue/debate with each other!

Snaps taken, it was then back on the coach for the short drive to the Museum of Ethnology, another impressive building dedicated to the 54 different ethnic cultures which make up Vietnam. The biggest single grouping is the Viet people, comprising 86% of the country; 'Nam' means 'South of China' and 'Vietnam' translates as the 'Viet people from South of China' The other 53 ethnic groups are much smaller and, between them, account for the other 14% of the population. The museum is in two parts, with the interior focussing on the history of each group and the outside being an area devoted to the different housing types of each group. We definitely enjoyed the latter more and spent a good part of the hour allocated to us here, amongst the houses.

Next stop was lunch and whilst it was more of the same (i.e. a set menu), the food was excellent, with a total of 9 different plates, including a green papaya salad, an intensely flavoured vegetable soup, king prawns in a lovely breaded batter, some sort of fish, small cubes of stir fried pork, mixed vegetables in a delicious sauce, beef cooked in a bamboo container, sticky rice and flambéed pineapple to finish. It was fabulous and stacks of it, the perfect meal to set you up for sightseeing in the afternoon! By the way, I am now officially sick of 'sticky rice'! Even some noodles would be a nice change.

Our first stop this afternoon was the Temple of Literature, the oldest and reputedly, one of the finest buildings in Hanoi. Established in 1070 and founded in honour of Chinese philosopher Confucius, the building was a centre of education and learning for over 700 years. These days, it is a museum and temple and magnificent it is too. The complex is rectangular in shape, with the original 'school' and student accommodation at the rear, reached by a series of five interconnecting courtyards. Each courtyard is accessed by three gates, a large central gate for the Emperor and a smaller one either side for the common folk. In the third courtyard is a large pond called the Well of Heavenly Clarity, with two flags at the rear; one being the Vietnamese flag of a red background and yellow star and the other being a five coloured flag, with the colours representing the five key elements of Vietnamese Buddhism, namely water, iron, earth, wood and fire. In the last courtyard, there happened to be a photographic exhibition on display and in
The Museum of Ethnology houses - 3The Museum of Ethnology houses - 3The Museum of Ethnology houses - 3

A stilt house.....and a half!!
the limited time we had available, Mandy and I opted to look at these, rather than the inside of the old school building - why bother with several hundred years of architecture, when you can look at some instant snaps, I say!! In actual fact there were some stunning photographs and I took a picture of a few of our personal favourites, which are attached.

Our final stop of the day was for a performance at the Water Puppet Theatre in the centre of town. This place is world renowned (apparently) and the show is set on a stage of water, with bamboo screens at the back, behind which hide the puppeteers. The puppets themselves are controlled by long sticks and wires from behind, rather than from above and there is no doubting that it is very clever; it's just not my cup of tea, I'm afraid. The show lasted an hour and quite a few of our group were showing the effect of the last few days, by nodding included!!

On the way back to the hotel, the six of us decided that we didn't really want a full set meal again tonight after the excellent
The Temple of Literature - 1The Temple of Literature - 1The Temple of Literature - 1

The grand entrance gate.
lunch, so we decided to opt out and instead went to find a bar/restaurant where we could have a light snack and a couple of drinks. We had to walk a fair way to find somewhere suitable and an even longer way back, as we managed to miss our turning because we were chatting too much and ignoring the map. Fortunately, a nice young Vietnamese chap understood our dilemma and used good old Google Maps to point us in the right direction - we'd just gone a couple of blocks too far.

Hanoi is definitely different to Ho Chi Minh City, with the impact of the communist regime, far more obvious in the north than further south. Having said that, the one thing that is no different whatsoever, is the traffic, which is just as crazy here as it has been everywhere else! Tomorrow we go off to Halong Bay for our overnight cruise amongst the iconic limestone promontories, something we are all really looking forward to.

A couple of quiz questions today.

Firstly, the title of this blog refers to the 'Hanoi Hilton'. Do you know why the location of the Hanoi Hilton helped avoid the centre of Hanoi being bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam War?

The other question concerns language. There are 29 letters in the Vietnamese language, but there are four letters in the English alphabet which do not exist in Vietnamese. What are they?

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


The Temple of Literature - 3The Temple of Literature - 3
The Temple of Literature - 3

The a Well of Heavenly Clarity, with the two flags.
The Temple of Literature - 4The Temple of Literature - 4
The Temple of Literature - 4

The colourful temple.....
The Temple of Literature - 5The Temple of Literature - 5
The Temple of Literature - 5

......yet more colour.
Pictures at an Exhibition - 2Pictures at an Exhibition - 2
Pictures at an Exhibition - 2

Can't remember the name of this one I'm afraid.

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