Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Back to Hanoi for the Weekend and Visiting "All Things Ho Chi" with a Little Communism on the Side!

Awaking from our (late) night in the hotel on Cat Ba Island, the remaining time on our cruise had run short, so we were immediately shuttled back to the harbor at Halong Bay and put back on buses bound for Hanoi. Since we felt like we hadn't enough time to see Hanoi before we left for our cruise, we wanted to spend some time traveling around the city and seeing the numerous Ho Chi Minh memorials/sights/museums. Plus, it was a great chance to get our bodies good and tired for a night traveling on a sleeper bus to Hue the following day (what an experience . . . ).

Once back in Hanoi, we found a reasonably priced hotel in the center of town via the place we made a currency exchange. We got ourselves showered and ready for dinner, and since it was a Friday night, we wanted to go for a walk to see what the scene was like in Hanoi. Before we could do that, however, we needed to sort out our sleeping arrangements in the hotel room.

Originally, we had reserved a room for the three of us (obviously requiring three beds or two beds with one bed big enough for two). What we reserved was not what we got because when we got up to our room after being dropped off, we found a room with two single beds and no more rooms available . . .

. . . this little situation gives me a chance to explain something else I've noticed during our travels and accommodations in Viet Nam: There seems to always be four or five things promised about a trip, tour, hotel, or even a meal, but when it finally arrives, we typically get 3/4 or 4/5 of the promised features--be it a missing plate at dinner, no WiFi, stopping for a meal on a 14 hour bus ride to not stop at all. We were soon explained by a hotel receptionist in Hoi An that "Maybe discount but not qualitEE!" Well put.

Anyway, once we sorted out our sleeping arrangements in order for three grown guys to sleep somewhat comfortably (since they never delivered another bed, we pulled apart one bed with Ruben on the mattress and me on the box spring), we headed for the big lake in downtown Hanoi that was near our hotel--a recommendation from our friendly hotel concierge who was called in once we arrived to help the hotel manager with the English-Vietnamese translation and the sleeping situation.

As we walked around the lake for quite a while among hundreds of other Vietnamese people out doing the same thing, we stumbled upon a gated pagoda out on the lake and decided it was a great place for a few pictures of the lake with lights glowing and arranged much like the ones from the cave in Halong Bay.

After getting the attention of at least 50 Vietnamese people during our attempts to get a mid-air karate move picture, we decided it was time to keep moving and seek out a place to grab a drink where we could get a good view of downtown Hanoi. From the lake, we saw that there were, in fact, such places above hotels around the lake, so we found the entrance and went right up! The views of the lake, the pagoda, and the rest of Hanoi provided nice views as we sipped our over-priced cocktails.

We stayed for a few drinks but were more interested in going back to our hotel and catching up on our blogs, Skyping with our family, and watching the Lakers-Celtics NBA playoff game. So we headed back for the night and talked about going to the Ho Chi Minh tomb, his museum, and other attractions the next day before getting on our sleeper bus for Hue.

. . .

Waking up Saturday morning in Hanoi after a night's sleep on a box-spring under an air conditioner that had been set on a timer that would turn off every 20 minutes and wasn't able to be turned off probably wasn't the most pleasant morning yet, but I had an okay night's sleep between the resets Elliott kept doing in order get the air conditioner back on. Reading that sentence reminds me of the no-good-horrible-very-bad-day book because it was a lot like that.

Poor sleep that night really didn't matter much because we had a big day planned ahead of us, and we wanted to get a bit tired for our sleeper bus bound for Hue later that evening. With somewhat of a sluggish start, we got ourselves a cab and headed to see all things Ho Chi (Minh). It was a great chance to get back into the groove of being tourists and trying to figure out what things were when we approached them. I think it's important to point out that despite having access to a Lonely Planet guidebook, we didn't use it much at all. Instead, we would read about the city we just left on a bus and discover all of the things we didn't do or eat. Whatever! It was fun to stumble our way through Hanoi that day, and here are some of the pictorial highlights of what we saw:

At the start of our day, we had some tasty breakfast and I was able to capture some footage of the typical sights during a morning in Hanoi. I say typical because motorbikes are everywhere, but this particular morning, I saw something very Vietnam: a motorbike with a load on the back that seems quite impossible to manage. Truth be told, it is completely common to put next to anything on the back of a motorbike!

He made it look easy, but it was just styrofoam containers . . .

After that interesting start, we made our way via taxi to the Ho Chi Minh memorial plaza and started the long walk from one end to the other--passing the presidential palace, the place where Ho Chi Minh is embalmed (we missed going through this because we slept in), the One Pillar Pagoda, and finally, the Ho Chi Minh Memorial Museum. Here are some of the highlights:

Some of the items and displays were clearly marked (like his shoes and his bike), but others (like the above pyramid or the sculpture) were just so obscure. We would walk up to some of them and just have no idea what its ties to Uncle Ho were or why they were in the museum. Oh well, it was such a neat memorial museum with LOADS of artifacts and writings and gifts. Just incredible and only ONE DOLLAR!

Since we still had a few hours left before we needed to be back at our hotel to catch the sleeper bus to Hue, we kept walking and found a statue of Lenin across the street from a war museum.

Being at the war museum gave me a rather conflicting and troubling feeling--especially once we made it towards the back and saw wreckage from US planes and tanks. It was pretty gnarly to say the least, but some of the things inside provided a good depiction of certain instances of the Vietnam War and the French occupation as well as other wars in Viet Nam's history.

After getting our fill of museums, memorials, statues, and pagodas, we figured it was time to get back and find some dinner before boarding our the sleeper bus (one hellacious ride) to Hue. As we walked back, we found some Obama paraphernalia, but I am not quite sure the translation on it is very complementary--maybe someone could help (Juan?).

If only the sign was as clear as the menu for our dinner that night, it would be much easier to read what it said!

After eating a very filling "bit tet" (baquette sandwich--thanks for the heads up Rachie!), we were finally on our bus and headed for a 14 hour ride through the night to arrive in Hue around 8am the next morning. It was an experience to put it nicely, and in reality, it wasn't the worst sleeper bus experience we would have in Viet Nam!

Next up on The Dandygram: Barely a Day in Hue, Leaving Elliott Behind, and New Friends from Argentina!

1 comment:

  1. Karate kicks photos--priceless. You are writing such a fine travelogue, son. The city and museum photos were cool, too. xox Mom