Day 6 Ha Noi City Tour 30th March 2004
An early rise today as we were planned on the torganised tour of Ha Noi City. Lap and the minibus driver arrived soon after breakfast, and Jean and Fred joined us again for the day. Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. There were lots of soldiers and numerous long queues of people standing 2 by 2 all ready to file past Ho Chi Minh in his last resting place. People ranged from young school kids on what seemed school excursions, all the way through to older folk. No cameras or mobile phones were allowed, and the security was quite strict. We thought that Fred had been hauled off by the guards, but he decided at the last second not to go through. It was very quiet and solemn inside as we all walked around and past the glass casket to see Ho Chi Minh on display against his last wishes.
Outside the crypt, we waited for Lap to catch up with us and then we visited the stilt cottage where Ho Chi Minh lived. We also saw the 108 lawn which represented all of the countries living in harmony side by side together. There were many beautiful gardens all with magnificent bonsais.
We also walked across the bridge over the lake near HCM Cottage. Ho Chi Moinh had trained the fish in the lake to come for feeding when he clapped his hands, so of course everybody was clapping their hands to get the fish to show. We certainly saw the fish, which were all quite large and very fat!.
We had a quick look around the beautiful One-Pillar Pagoda. This was very popular, with many people giving their thanks to Buddha at the top of the steep stairs.
Next stop was HCM Museum - we had a quick look around inside. It was very modern, and again there was a lot of symbolism. We bought some nice pasteries to keep us going till lunch, and then walked back through the landscaped gardens and bonsais in pots to the minibus which took us to the Army Museum.
Of course there was a lot of propaganda on show here, though I'm sure just as much as the Americans had produced. I left the place with a feeling of remorse and sorrow for what these beautiful people who I was sharing this lovely country with had so recently endured.
Needing a bit of an uplift, we then walked through the peaceful garden settings of the Temple of Literature. There were a lot of people selling pasteries and donuts on sticks as well as books and other souviners for the tourists at the gate. One lady selling the donuts was asking what was obviously quite a high price, as the locals around made sure we knew what the more realistic price was.
The Temple of Literature dated from 1070 or so, and consisted of beautiful temples divided into sections, all with grand gardens decorated with bonsais and ponds. Lap helped Liam out with lighting a prayer stick, and then back outside there was a huge drum which Lap encouraged Liam to hit. A bit of fun, but it wasn't totally appreciated by the guards with Liam geting told off; nicely of course! The architecture of the pagodas was magnificent and you could feel the history of the place. The stella with the names of all the monks who had trained at the temple lined both sides of the gardens, fashioned with the heads of turtles at the base of the carved stones.
We went for lunch at a fantastic restaurant; it was a school for underprivileged children where they were taught them skills in hospitality. The food was most simply superb, and the service and attention to detail was faultless. It was like eating like royalty, and it was lovely to sit out on the balcony in the back streets of the city in the warm afternoon.
We had done so much today, but the day was only half over! After lunch we went to the Ha Noi Hilton. Well, that's the name given to the prison; another piece of dark history.
Our afternoon was spent at the Ethnology Museum. We had an exciting trip there with the kids who had tried unsuccessfully to sell Fred a book outside the Ha Noi Hilton following us all the way across town on the back of a motorbike to continue the sell outside the Ethnology Musuem. Fred couldn't resist their perserverence! The Ethnology Museum was very interesting, and gave us a taste of the various cultures from the different regions of Vietnam, specifically up in the highlands around Sapa which we couldn't visit on this trip. The grounds around the museum were quite extensive, and consisted of representations of the various houses that the different clans lived in.
We were dropped off back at the hotel, but we wanted to explore around the lake and Ha Noi a little more so we caught a cyclo from the rank near the roundabout. I tried in vain to haggle the price down to a reasonable level, but too many tourists before me had set the expectations I guess.
We regretably just arrived at the temple on the lake at closing time, so couldnt visit inside to see the famed turtle of the returned sword. We instead walked around the lake area, talking with young children practising their English in attempts to get small coins, as well as watching a soccer match on the streets of Ha Noi. We enjoyed a lovely cappuccino by the side of Hoan Kien Lake, and popped into the Kangaroo Café (where they gave us some aptly printed T-Shirts) before we caught a taxi back to the hotel.