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Exploring the City and Water Puppet Theater

Hanoi Travel Blog

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Tran Quoc (Vietname's oldest Pagoda) on West Lake.

I had a really great night's sleep but still woke up at 5am - started blogging while A slept.  (Forgot to mention our hotel room has a computer with free online access - how awesome is that?  The hotel also has a wonderful complimentary breakfast where you can choose from:  omelettes, pho, french toast, pancakes, fruit, etc. and a wide selection of juices and coffees and teas - pretty delicious and it starts at 6am, which is perfect for early risers like me!  Plus good water pressure in shower - yeah!)

My happy love affair with the hotel was a bit marred this morning however ... We had booked the city tour through the hotel and they had said to be in the lobby at 8am.  We waited until 8:30am and based on their panicked glances and phone calls, we figured out they forgot to book us and was desperately trying to find a guide to take us on a city tour.

I think the old monks are buried here.
  They refused to admit this and claimed the light drizzle was causing traffic delays.  Ultimately they did manage to find us a backup guide but he wasn't very good - he essentially gave us a guidebook version of the tour with little insight.  I may as well have carried my frommer's guide and hired a taxi.  But it was still interesting to see the main sights in the city, as follows:

West Lake and Tran Quoc - Vietnam's oldest pagoda (an active Buddhist pagoda) on the largest lake in Hanoi.  There was a crowd of followers in the pagoda listening to an old monk give a sermon (?) regarding how to reach enlightenment.  Nice, but unless you are very interested in such things, you can probably skip this.

A french woman offered to take this picture of us.
  The lake is quite lovely - apparently a popular spot for Vietnamese lovers.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum - Because it was Sunday, the lines were terribly long but I'm glad we did it.   Our guide explained that on weekends, many Vietnamese people come to pay their respects, some from further regions, as a pilgrimage of sorts.  You can't bring any cameras or cell phones in the mausoleum, and you have to cover your shoulders and knees.  I was glad to learn that Ho Chi Minh never wanted to be embalmed and displayed, but his successors wanted to ensure that the people never forgot him.  From what I've learned of the man thus far (i.e., an intellectual but simple man), I think he would be horrified to be deified in this manner.  His mausoleum is an imposing, gray structure - apparently designed by the Russians (like for Lenin) .

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
.. you slowly go through security, get into line and in single file enter the mausoleum (which is quite cold), and walk around a glass case displaying Ho Chi Minh.  It was weird - he seemed so pale, like a wax figure....  When you leave you can take pictures of th mausoleum from the grassy field.  From there we strolled through the Presidential Palace.  The palace was originally the fromer general governor's palace while under French control - when Ho Chi Minh successfully led the uprising against the French, he was supposed to move in, but felt it was too grand so he lived in a nearby house for about 4 years.  Another house - the house-on-stilts was built across the pond, where he lived and worked until his death.  You can still see the furnishings preserved in time - and he seemed to be a very simple, sparse person.
Check out the crowds behind us.
  The house-on-stilts is quite interesting and zen-like ... I didn't see a bathroom or kitchen so I have no idea what he did ... the pond was filled with huge koi and other fish - they kept coming up to the surface ... very odd but cool.  From there, we walked to the Ho Chi Minh Museum - which displayed pictures and artifacts from Ho Chi Minh's life as well as general imagery and art depicting Vietnamese life.  While interesting to see, it was so filled with propaganda that at times I just felt like I needed a mental break.  I was relieved to go to see the One-Pillar Pagoda - allegedly the only one in Vietnam (if not the world) - built for the goddess of mercy (Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara).  Very picturesque.

We lunched at a chain restaurant Pho 24 - our shady guide tried to tell us it was a special famous pho place.

Another shot, for good measure.
  That's like saying McDonald's is unique and special in the U.S.  We bursted his bubble when we said we saw then all over Saigon and Hanoi.  It was clearly the fast food, touristy version of pho.  It's not bad but not great.  A and I tried the chicken pho - ok, especially since we were both showing signs of a cold given the sudden shift in weather (it's a bit rainy in Hanoi).  I also tried the guava drink - very refreshing, not sweet like the artificial guava juice available in the states, but fresh and unsweetened.

After lunch we strolled through the Temple of Literature and National University - an institution built to teach the doctrines of Confucius and the site of the first national university in Vietnam.  Very Chinese design.

The Vietnam flag.
  Lots of turtle statutes, representing longevity.

Afterwards we drove to Hoan Kiem Lake - the center and heart of Vietnam - quite pretty.  In the center of the lake is the Tortoise Pagoda (to worship the tortoise who provided the emperor Le Thai To with a magical sword to defeat invaders; and on the north side is the Ngoc Son Pagoda, reachable by the Bridge of the Rising Sun.  A and I actually saw this yesterday already since it's pretty close to our hotel, which is nicely situated in the old district. 

The tour was over at this point (2 hours early, mind you, and remember it started late, so we felt a little cheated - but no point in getting upset).  A wanted to check out Hoa Lo Prison - the guide for some inexplicable reason lied to us that it was closed.

Presidential Palace.
  Good thing A checked with our receptionist when we got back to the hotel.  (stupid guide)  We had planned to freshen up and then head out to the prison - but the moment my head hit the pillow, I totally passed out for an hour.  A was so sweet and just waited.  I woke up a bit groggy ... we hopped into a taxi and got to the prison (for about 20,000 VDN).  This was built by the French to imprison and torture political prisoners, and then later used by the Vietnamese to house prisoners of war (the most famous being John McCain).  It was a bit creepy and sad going through and seeing the atrocities documented through pictures and letters.  However what I found most sad were the pictures of the US soldiers celebrating Christmas Eve in prison, preparing Christmas dinner and drawing Christmas pictures (surprisingly cheery artwork by prisoners) .
View of where Ho Chi Minh lived before his house on stilts was built.
..

From there A and I were in better spirits (she really wanted to see the John McCain stuff) and headed back to the Hoan Kiem Lake by foot.  It was a pretty nice walk - I guess there was slightly less traffic on Sunday.  Serendipitously we walked by Fanny's Ice Cream which is featured in many guide books.  It's an ice cream parlor that has a view of the lake - a bit run down but serviceable (bathroom was ok) ...  A and I weren't hungry but we were determined to have ice cream (and besides, I needed a caffeine boost).  She ordered passionfruit sorbet (very flavorful and nice) and I had a creation of caramel ice cream, covered in the lightest whipped cream, drizzled with caramel and a hint of meringue (yum!) ... I really liked it, esp the wafers that came along with the treat.

Ho Chi Minh's car.
  Nice break!

After the nice treat, we walked to Hang Gai Street where a lot of tailor shops were located.  A needed some items altered so we did some price comparisons.  We ended up buying a few more gifts for friends, and I randomly bought another dress which needs to be altered.  (I'm picking up my tailored items tomorrow - hope they come out ok!  Prices are cheaper than U.S. but not dirt cheap anymore as claimed in most guide books.)

It was a bit early for dinner but we are like senior citizens, so we decided to dine at a local restaurant - Nguyen Sinh Restaurant Francais -  a hole in the wall that was known for its pate sandwiches and other simple french influenced fare.  A and I shared:  a ham and pate sandwich; a beefsteak (totally delicious and flavorful); a plate of french fries (perfect with the steak); and sauteed veggies (nicely flavored).

House on stilts.
  We were very pleased.  The service was ok, not great, but they did have a couple english menus and it was pretty cheap.  Only about $12 (including 2 beverages).   The steak was quite phenomenal - perfectly flavored and tender.  I was still thinking about it the next morning.  yum!

We did discover today that if we walked with our umbrella like a cane, the motorcyclists did try to avoid us more.  (In Bali, J used a cane to keep the monkeys at bay.)  I'm beginning to sense a pattern here...

At night we went to see the Water Puppet Show - I thought it was going to be one of those hokey touristy things that you just have to do but was pleasantly surprised that it was a rather well put-together show.  The folk music performed was upbeat and lively.

Downstairs of house on stilts.
  The puppets were quite endearing - I was mistaken in thinking that the puppeteers were under water - they are actually controlling the puppets with long sticks behind the theater facade.  There was one scene that depicted the legend of the restored sword on Hoan Kiem Lake - i.e., the emperor returning the magical sword to the turtle.  Very cute.  It really gave me a sense of the spirit of the countryfolk that originated these puppet shows and music - a very optimistic love and respect of nature and its magical ways.  Usually I don't like these folk shows but I would recommend checking this out - it's only 45 minutes and about $3 - $4.

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Tran Quoc (Vietnames oldest Pagod…
Tran Quoc (Vietname's oldest Pago…
I think the old monks are buried h…
I think the old monks are buried …
A french woman offered to take thi…
A french woman offered to take th…
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Check out the crowds behind us.
Check out the crowds behind us.
Another shot, for good measure.
Another shot, for good measure.
The Vietnam flag.
The Vietnam flag.
Presidential Palace.
Presidential Palace.
View of where Ho Chi Minh lived be…
View of where Ho Chi Minh lived b…
Ho Chi Minhs car.
Ho Chi Minh's car.
House on stilts.
House on stilts.
Downstairs of house on stilts.
Downstairs of house on stilts.
These koi kept coming to the surfa…
These koi kept coming to the surf…
Ho Chi Minh Museum.
Ho Chi Minh Museum.
Lots of koi and goldfish.
Lots of koi and goldfish.
My artsy shot of the One Pillar Pa…
My artsy shot of the One Pillar P…
One Pillar Pagoda.
One Pillar Pagoda.
A with the pretty flowers.
A with the pretty flowers.
One pillar-pagoda.
One pillar-pagoda.
Temple of Literature.
Temple of Literature.
Temple of Literature.
Temple of Literature.
Temple of Literature.
Temple of Literature.
One of the numerous turtle statues…
One of the numerous turtle statue…
Temple of Literature.
Temple of Literature.
Temple of Literature.
Temple of Literature.
View from Temple of Literature.
View from Temple of Literature.
Not sure what these are ...
Not sure what these are ...
Huge tree at the Temple of Literat…
Huge tree at the Temple of Litera…
Hoan Kiem Lake at Ngoc Son pagoda.
Hoan Kiem Lake at Ngoc Son pagoda.
At Ngoc Son pagoda.
At Ngoc Son pagoda.
In front of tiger at Hoan Kiem Lak…
In front of tiger at Hoan Kiem La…
At the Hoa Lo (Hanoi Hilton) Priso…
At the Hoa Lo (Hanoi Hilton) Pris…
Not sure why I look so happy visit…
Not sure why I look so happy visi…
Part of the sewer where Vietnamese…
Part of the sewer where Vietnames…
Wall art depicting the torture at …
Wall art depicting the torture at…
Going down a creepy cell block.
Going down a creepy cell block.
A posing in front of a photo of Jo…
A posing in front of a photo of J…
Prison number tags.
Prison number tags.
A posing with John McCains flight…
A posing with John McCain's fligh…
Picture of John McCain as a POW - …
Picture of John McCain as a POW -…
Enjoying ice cream at Fannys.
Enjoying ice cream at Fanny's.
Another local market.
Another local market.
Our dinner place - Nguyen Sinh Res…
Our dinner place - Nguyen Sinh Re…
Ham & Pate sandwich - i was huuuun…
Ham & Pate sandwich - i was huuuu…
Mmmmm... our steak and fries.
Mmmmm... our steak and fries.
Water Puppet theater - dragon danc…
Water Puppet theater - dragon dan…
Water Puppet theater ... the king …
Water Puppet theater ... the king…
Water Puppet Theater - returning t…
Water Puppet Theater - returning …
The puppeteers.
The puppeteers.
Hanoi
photo by: mario26