Welcome back to the hussle and bustle! This place is bonkers! Staying in the Old Quarter, and must say it is a pretty surreal place. Sitting right in the middle of the capital, and along the banks of the Red River, it is again like stepping back in time. The Old Quarter is one big shop, a place to eat, a place to drink bia hoi, a place for mobile shoulder markets, a place to barge into everyone around you, and a family home down narrow alleys - all rolled into one. And it is a real rabbit warren to get around, and to top it off, the motorbike invasion is in full swing here, and with small streets, that means only one thing, watch out pedestrians! What makes it worse, is that motorbikes get parked all down what there is of the footpath, and the rest of footpath is taken up by the encroaching traditional shop, so pedestrian then walks out on to road to get down street, earning the almighty wrath of oncoming motorcyclists! Its a lot of fun!! Especially as not only is it the hottest part of summer here, but the humidity is really intensive. Needless to say, after a few days here, Nancy and I are already craving the countryside again. And poor Nancy has been ill the past two days with a heavy cold (or flu), not sure which, but it has not been pleasant for her at all. Poor little thing.
But it has not rained here, which it usually does at this time of year, a lot, so that is one good thing, although the rain might break some of the humidity. And although it is seriously uncomfortable being out at night in this kind of weather, we at least have an air-con hotel room, which is an absolute necessity.
And we have had some pretty good times here, a couple of great nights out at restaurants, and one particularly good lunch. And the sights, there have been some pretty good highlights here as well:
We went to see the mausoleum of "Uncle Ho" as Ho Chi Minh is affectionately known here. Seeing a dead body, especially one that has been that way for 37 years, is not usually top of the list of things to see, but it is a big thing here in Vietnam. Not so much for tourists, but for the Vietnamese themselves. He is the big cookie in Vietnamese nationalism and independence, and it is shown by the extremely long queues waiting to see his body. The queue moved pretty quickly, and the whole operation is run smoothly by guards in very shiny white uniforms. In this area, we also saw the Presidential Palace, One Pillar Pagoda, and the old traditional stilt home where Ho lived an apparently pretty simple life. The whole area around here is very different to the Old Quarter, and has wide boulevards, and old colonial buildings (which are now usually embassies).
And another highlight was the Temple of Literature, Vietnam's first university established 1,000 years ago. Now it is a nice tourist retreat from the hectic city with some beautiful temple buildings set in peaceful gardens. There are 82 large slabs of stone (called Stelae) in the grounds, which recorded the doctorates from the old university - all sat on large stone tortoises. Tortoises are sacred here, and there are a number of myths/facts about them still hanging out in the lakes of Hanoi city.
And hats off to the Vietnamese for the way they have very tastefully renovated/produced museums over the last five years. After the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, there is the Ho Chi Minh Museum here in Hanoi, which ties in the links between recent Vietnamese history and the life of Ho Chi Minh himself, using lots of excellent modern art. This is situated near to his mausoleum. And there is the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, which although it is very propogandistic ie, it shows the really shocking stuff that the French got up to here, but then says that American pilot prisoners during the last war were treated well, it has been very well restored, and also has again some great modern art to commemorate the Vietnamese prisoners who were held here. By the way, this museum has some great photos of a certain Senator John McCain being rescued from a lake right in the middle of Hanoi, after his plane was shot down in 1967. He spent the next six years here in what the Americans nicknamed "Hanoi Hilton"! And if anyone had complaints about the way US pilots might have been treated, they should see the photos of how much of Hanoi was razed to the ground during their bombing raids.
We also took another cyclo ride here, and they are much more comfy here - built for two! But we have decided that cyclo drivers are bandits. They have to work pretty hard, but it is very difficult to get a reasonable price out of them. It is much cheaper to go by taxi or even on the back of a moto to get around town.
On the Sunday night, we went to see the very special Water Puppet Show in the Municipal Theatre by the lake. This was a lot of fun, and is something very traditional to Vietnamese arts over the last millenia. It was formed by rural folk in the north for entertainment in the wet season and in flooded rice fields. Some of the puppets and puppetry are amazing to watch. Because the puppets are suspended in water, you can not see what the puppeteer is up to. There is also a lot of splashing around using dragon, fish, bird, fox puppets etc. And good to get a dose of the traditional live music being played in time to the puppets. Not just for kids, but still particularly great to watch the faces of the Vietnamese kids as the shows are acted out. They beam and dance along with the puppets!
Oh, and of course two sporting highlights here, got to see from the comfort of our room, the ABs beat Australia - thanks Australian Broadcasting (good on ya!) and the world cup final.
Anyway, I digress, in the end enjoyed the atmosphere of Hanoi, but now really looking forward to getting to Halong Bay tomorrow. Hoping that it is as beautiful as its equivalent here on land (Tam Coc), and then getting up to the cooler temperatures of the northern Vietnam, before entering China!