Exploring the City and Water Puppet Theater
Hanoi Travel Blog› entry 17 of 24 › view all entries
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.
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.
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) .
We lunched at a chain restaurant Pho 24 - our shady guide tried to tell us it was a special famous pho place.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.