Our travel plans got scuppered again by the Vietnamese Independence Day and instead of the train or bus we thought we would catch, we ended up in a private car travelling the 2 hours to Hanoi.
We had heard lots of great things about Hanoi from friends and family who had been so we were looking forward to exploring the old quarter and drinking cheap beer and eating delicious food while watching the world go by around us on scooters. We made the mistake of also wanting to see a few sights in 90% humidity. Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum to complete our check list of seeing dead communist leaders’ embalmed bodies. Unfortunately we took a wrong turn and ended up in his museum which was one of the most useless museums I have been in. It was kind of like an artist’s impression of things throughout his life so for example we found ourselves in a superman like cave with the description – the following images depict the headquarters of the revolution where all plans were made, Ho Chi Minh’s brain. It was very weird and bizarre and not one I would recommend.
This meant we missed the actual viewing of his body as they had shut for the day. So our tick list is one short. We then trudged to the river and through the botanical gardens which gave us a brief respite from the heat though the gardens were not fantastic. We decided to catch a cab to the Literacy museum which was the first University in Vietnam and dedicated to Confucius and his teachings. There were some nice Chinese inspired buildings here but again we were not awestruck. Next stop was the Hanoi Hilton which was a jail used by the French to imprison the Vietnamese and then after independence it was used by Vietnam to hold US fighter pilots shot down in the war.
We jumped in a taxi to get there and soon realised the taxi metre was running too quickly. Now I am no con artist but if I was, I would speed it up just enough to make some money but not so the customer really could tell. This guy’s meter was running at about 5 times the speed. We laughed at him about half way there and told him we were not paying that so he stopped and told us this was where the jail was pointing at the Thai embassy. We asked him how much he actually wanted us to pay the extortionate amount on the meter. This ensured a sweaty angry Tim to lean through the passenger seat and yell at the man he was a con artist and he didn’t deserve any money. Needless to say he accepted a lower fair fare and took off.
We struck gold with air conditioning in the prison and were happy to take our time through the museum. The displays were all about how horrible the French were and how resilient the Vietnamese were which I am sure we’re all probably true. However we were not so sure of the accuracy of the supposed high standard of treatment for the US prisoners of war. But according to the photos and descriptions they had a jolly time in jail playing billiards and basketball.
It was lunch by this stage so after a delicious Bun Cha which is BBQ pork with vermicelli noodles and Asian greens we headed home just in the nick of time before a storm hit.
This lowered the humidity somewhat and we headed back out in the afternoon for a nice leisurely stroll around the old quarter stopping here and there for ice cold beer while watching the life flow by on the street. One of the more peculiar spectacles are the fires that are lit on the street where they burn fake money and judging by the smell plastic. We are pretty sure is a sacrifice to the gods but don’t know significance of the fake money other than maybe to bring good fortune? Or is it to show that money is meaningless on the road to enlightenment? It’s a mystery. S
One of the many bizarre and completely uninformative displays at the museum.
Changing of the guard at the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh.
One of the many statelike buildings dotted around the city.
We have been constantly amazed by the architecture and the streets scenes around Vietnam and Hanoi is certainly no exception.
Sat on a narrow balcony enjoying a cooling beer while watching the craziness unfold on the crossroads below.
Our view was slightly obscured by the electricity cables sling across the road but we very much enjoyed watching the traffic below us.
To escape the hustle and bustle we went for a lovely walk around the lake nearby. It was lovely to see so many others enjoying the same thing too. It’s wonderful seeing public spaces being utilised.
Clams and lemongrass with a bit of chilli!
From where we were sat we could see ladies pounding squid with mallets before cooking them on some coals.
The result was this shredded shrimp which was a perfect snack, very tasty and chewy and delicious with a chilli sauce.
Night number two was more street food but this time we had some fried pigeon, again on tiny plastic tables and chairs and again delicious!
There was a fantastic buzz about Hanoi especially as it was the holiday weekend!