4.3.1: Hanoi

Day 176: Bangkok to Hanoi

The Air Asia flight was fine and when I arrived in Hanoi I got a minibus into town. I paid a bit extra so that it would take me straight to my hotel as it would have probably taken me ages to find it otherwise. It dropped me off outside the Hanoi Guesthouse on Bat Su. It was the right name and on the right street but it was the wrong Hanoi Guesthouse. Luckily the guy realized the mistake and directed me to the right one at 14 Bat Su. I came in and the guy said he had overbooked but he could put me in a hotel down the road that was more expensive but I could have it for the same price. The room was very nice and had a PC in it which was great however, someone had left a durian under the bed, which would have been a problem for most people but it didn’t really bother me at all. I went out to get some dinner and most places were closed even though it was only 22:30. I eventually found an open café and had Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) and a Hanoi beer.

Day 177: Hanoi

This morning I went back to the Hanoi Guesthouse and checked in properly. I then went for a walk around the Old Town. It reminded me a little of Kathmandu with small, narrow streets that are very busy and full of life. It is intense and vibrant and every few seconds you are asked if you want a ride somewhere on a motorbike. I went to try and withdraw US dollars on credit card but the banks wouldn’t do it. In the end I got all the money that I’ll need for my stay in Vietnam at an ATM. I took out six million dong (about £250) which came out in huge blocks of notes. My money belt was full and was quite uncomfortable to wear.

177.1. Shops in the old town district of Hanoi.

I took a walk around Huan Kiem Lake and visited Ngoc Son Temple on an island on the lake. I then went to the puppet theatre ticket office to get a ticket for the water puppet show. They were sold out for today and only had one show tomorrow at 9:00 as it was a Sunday. I decided to leave and come back tomorrow to get a ticket for Monday.

177.2. Huan Kiem Lake.

Day 178: Hanoi

This morning I went to visit a Confucian temple called The Temple of Literature. It was considered the first university in Hanoi and has 82 stone called stelae on which are carved the names of the doctorates from the university. Each of the stelae is placed on the statue of a turtle, which is one of the four sacred creatures in Vietnamese culture along with the dragon, phoenix and unicorn.

178.1. The Confucian Temple of Literature.

I then went to visit Hoa Lo Prison, which was originally built by the French but was later used to hold American POWs who nicknamed it the Hanoi Hilton. It documented on how terrible the conditions were for the many brave comrades held here by the French and how wonderfully well treated the Americans were. It also had the jump suit of the recent presidential candidate John McCain, who was held here during the war. After visiting the prison I walked back into town and bought tickets for the puppet show tomorrow. I then went for lunch and afterwards I went for a Vietnamese coffee that was incredibly strong and I was buzzing for the rest of the day.

178.2. The guillotine and the jumpsuit of John McCain at Hoa Lo Prison.

Day 179: Hanoi to Night Train

I was planning to visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum but I had forgotten that it wasn’t open on Monday’s until I was reminded by Linh who runs the Guesthouse. Instead I went to a park and walked around Bay Mau Lake. At one point I met a group of students who were sitting in the park celebrating Women’s Day. They invited me to join them and they shared their sandwiches and rice wine which is drunk from a large communal container with long straws.

179.1. Women’s Day celebration in the park near Bay Mau Lake.

In the afternoon I went to watch the water puppet show, which was very enjoyable. The puppets float on a pool of murky water at the front of the theatre and are controlled using long sticks held by the puppeteers from behind a screen. The whole thing is accompanied by traditional Vietnamese music played by a band just above the stage. The performance contains several scenes from Vietnamese folklore such as the return of the sword to the golden turtle and the impressive dance of the fairies which has about eight fairy puppets expertly synchronized. There was also a scene for a four sacred creatures.

179.2. Scenes from the water puppet show; the return of the sword to the golden turtle and the dance of the fairies.

After the performance I went for dinner before heading back to the guesthouse and collecting my bags. I got on the motorbike of one of the guys offering rides and headed out to the station. I got on the train and shared with three Vietnamese women who were very friendly and shared their food with me.

179.3. A colourful temple ceremony and a typical Hanoi street scene.