Had a terrible night's sleep, partly due to the snoring and partly due to the rock hard incredibly thick pillow which put my head in an awkward position. Ended up giving up on the pillow entirely. Met up with the group at 7:30am and headed to KOTO (Know One Teach One), a not-for-profit project that provides career training and guidance to disadvantaged kids. It was set up in 1999, starting out as a humble sandwich shop, by Jimmy Phan, a Vietnamese-Australian who used to be an Intrepid tour guide and was born in HCMC. The training program lasts 2 years, and each year just half of the initial intake graduate; 50% men, 50% women. In 2008 the InterContinental took the entire graduating class on! There are graduates in Macao, Australia and Dubai.
The breakfast buffet was delicious. There were hash browns, baked beans, grilled tomato, toast, muffins, doughnuts, dragonfruit, watermelon etc etc etc - that was just what I ate! After breakfast we waddled to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex, an important place of pilgrimage for all Vietnamese. Ho Chi Minh lies preserved in an enormous marble edifice, made all the more disturbing because he wanted a simple cremation. He lies deep in the bowels of the building in a glass sarcophagus. His body goes to Russia for 2 months every year for maintenance. The whole experience is quite macabre and eerie. Guards are stationed in white military outfits every so often, carrying long bayonets. There are strict rules. You can't ever hold your hands clasped behind your back or put them in your pockets.
One Pillar Pagoda
After filing past Ho Chi Minh's body in the mausoleum we walked through to the Presidential Palace where the atmosphere was a lot more relaxed. It was constructed in 1906 as the Palace of the Governor General of Indochina and isn't open to the public. Next we went to the humble stilt house where Ho Chi Minh lived on and off from 1958-1969. It's next to a carp-filled pond. We went to One Pillar Pagoda then, a Hanoi landmark, built in 1049 by the Emperor Ly Thai Tong who ruled from 1028-1054. The pagoda is designed to resemble a lotus blossum, the symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow. Childless couples go there to pray for children. The Ho Chi Minh Museum was our final stop there. The museum was rather confusing as it employed an awful lot of not-obvious symobolism designed to signify such things as peace, progress, freedom etc.
Temple of Literature
I did find the section on Ho Chi Minh's life in photographs quite interesting though. It really seems like he was a most remarkable man. E, L + I decided to walk to the Temple of Literature then. It was founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong and is dedicated to Confucius, honouring Vietnam's finest scholars and men of literary accomplishment. The first university in Vietnam was established there in 1076, though originally entrance was only granted to those of noble birth. After 1442, anyone gifted was allowed in, and they came from all over Vietnam to study the principles of Confucianism, literature and poetry. In 1484 Emperor Le Thanh Tong ordered that stelae be erected to record the names, places of birth and achievements of exceptional scholars; 82 remain. Each one sits on a stone tortoise. The temple was very peaceful inside. There was a large pond in the centre; the Well of Heavenly Clarity. Sadly, it was quite oily and rubbish floated around the edge; rather ironic! At the very back is a pagoda with a big Confucius statue flanked by 4 of his disciples. Headed back to KOTO again after that for a much needed rest break. I ordered the beef foccacia and an iced chocolate for 130,000D. Both were delicious! Walked a few doors up to Craft Link then, a not-for-profit organisation selling traditional handicrafts, where I bought a lovely Hmong cushion cover. The others headed back to the Old Quarter then but I chose to visit the Fine Arts Museum for 20,000D. I was glad I did too as some of the exhibits were just exquisite. The basement was ceramics which wasn't overly interesting although there were some impressive pieces. The ground floor was shut for some reason. The first floor had some wonderful contemporary Vietnamese art - paintings on canvas and paper in particular. The top floor I found the most interesting. It had stunning examples of the traditional costumes worn and implements used by the various hilltribes. The embroidery was so intricate and delicate, and each outfit quite different from the next. The museum actually used to be the French Ministry of Information. I was very annoyed with myself to discover that I had actually completely missed an entire building! I planned to go back the following day but ran out of time. Walked back to the hotel afterwards, through the Old Quarter. At 7pm met up with group and took a taxi to Viet Cuisine restaurant for our final group dinner. I had the sauteed beef with black pepper, steamed rice, and a mango shake for 80,000D. It was just alright. No one enjoyed their food particularly much. Several of the orders came out wrong. We walked to Green Mango after that, for dessert. It had a great atmosphere, really mellow, with wonderfully comfy lounge chairs (with heavenly soft cushions) to sit on. I ordered the apple crumble for 90,000D. We all had a good chat and talked about the highlights (Hoi An, esp the cooking school) and lowlights (Royal Dinner in Hue, being held hostage in bucket boat off Nha Trang). We thanked for a GREAT tour, and gave her a tip. Back to the hotel afterwards.