Final days in Hanoi

I shared the night train from Sa Pa to Hanoi with an English guy. While talking we discovered that last November he had been to the caves and the same hotel where I was headed. He told me it had been his best experience during his month in Vietnam. Sounded really good to me!

We only stayed the two of us for the first minute of the train ride. Once the train moved our compartment door opened and five people stood in the door. Not for long though because the grandmother and the oldest soon were sitting already on my bunk before I could say hello. The mother with the youngest on her arm and the middle one next to her kept standing but asked in halting English if we could move up so that the she and kids could stay on the lower bunks.

Of course we acquiesced in the move, what else was there to do? Once on the upper bed though I noticed that the AC was so cold that I got a brain freeze just from lying underneath it. I had to move my pillow from the window to the door with the result that I now had the light in my eyes. But it was at least less cold in my face. The mother apparently felt cold too and got the conductor to fix the problem. This was done by taping some paper over the AC outlet. The conductor though must have also done something else because within 10 minutes the compartment had sauna temperatures.

We removed the paper from the AC again but with no success, the heat wave continued. The little one didn’t like it either and started crying which she did continually during the short night. The AC finally decided to work again about 30 minutes before our arrival in Hanoi. Then it was again on frost modus.

The night from hell ended at 4:30 in the morning with our arrival. I couldn’t have been happier than when I saw the face of the bell boy who had also accompanied me to the train station. He put me in a taxi and I was back in no time at the Golden Sun Suites Hotel, installed in a room that had been vacated sometimes during the night and fast asleep.

I missed breakfast that morning but this was also managed in grace by the hotel. I left the room with all my luggage after 10am and the staff got me some coffee and fruits while I waited for my room to be ready.

While sitting in the extended breakfast area/lobby I met Dudley again, a South African I had seen and talked to shortly before going up to Sa Pa. He basically followed in my footsteps and was going there this evening.

We started talking about good places to see in Vietnam (I find this is the easiest way to decide on where to go. Talk to other travelers if you are as lazy as me and don’t want to read the guide book). He had a couple of suggestions, later even brought his notebook down, showed me the pictures and provided me with contacts. So when my room was ready we had agreed on a dinner date before his departure to Sa Pa.

I spent most of my day in my room and just loved it. With the AC on low it was cool but not cold while outside the heat and humidity made tourists look like puddles of sweat. I worked on the blog and restored some pictures on posts from Nepal (I had a lot of trouble with the blog on my trip so far) and while there are still pictures missing on some posts from China, I am getting there. I also uploaded a couple of new posts, all in all a very productive though lazy day.

Around 5pm I eventually left the hotel; it’s really bad if one doesn’t get outside at all, and strolled around a bit. I was unsure if I wanted to buy something; I had been eyeing some loose pants but in the end I decided against it. I really had enough stuff with me already, there was no point in adding more.

Shortly after 6pm I met Dudley and we settled on the highest building around the lake to have a great view with the dinner. I chose Bo Luc Lac, a dish I knew from Vienna. What came then had nothing to do with the dish I knew and also nothing with the original (at least according to Google). Again I had landed in a tourist trap around the lake. At least it tasted good, that was already more than at the last place.

  

For the next morning I had booked a city tour, again very lazy of me since the afternoon program was around the Hoàn Kiém Lake and the Literature Temple. Both things I have seen. But the morning was at the other end of the city, at the West lake and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. As it turned out it was a brilliant idea after all since I met some Indian guys who had great tips for Saigon and Cambodia.

We started at the West Lake with the Tran Quoc Pagoda. In front of the entrance you could buy small turtles to let them free in the lake.

  

After a short visit to the temple inside and a closer look upon the pagoda we left for the Ho Chi Minh Complex. Not only can you visit the mausoleum but also, his house on stilts, his cars, the One Pillar Pagoda and the president’s palace. All for the price of one ticket and a line up for only 45 minutes. Inside the mausoleum there was no lingering allowed, one had to be quiet and respectful and just move along. No pictures were allowed of the great man.


Our guide let us line up alone but waited for us after the mausoleum. The rest of the complex was done in group modus again.

I missed the president’s palace while I was talking to the Indians but at the garage we caught up with the group. The cars in his garage were all gifts from communist countries I think.

 Moving further into the complex we passed the house on stilts and the pagoda.

Next stop after the Ho Chi Minh complex was a 20 minutes halt at a handicapped workshop right across the street. It really annoyed me that we went there, it was the same as at the tour to Ha Long Bay. After 10 minutes I was bored and asked to be taken to the bus. I rather wanted to sit down there and read my book. Almost all other passengers followed my lead and eventually we left earlier. (Maybe I should start a revolution?)

After this unscheduled stop we went to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups and a lot of them were introduced here. The museum had also a large outdoor facility where the different housing structures could be visited.

                

Then it was already time for lunch which we had somewhere in the old quarter and was again not great. After the meal I said goodbye to my group, lots of valuable information in hand. I spent the rest of my last day wandering around in the sweltering heat, hopping in between in cool cafes for a refreshment stop.

My train south left shortly after 8pm and sometime in the early morning I would arrive at Dong Hoi. I was praying for a quiet night and no kids in my compartment. Yours, Pollybert

The Temple of Literature

Everyone knows I love to read. So what better excursion than going to the Temple of Literature. But before I went there I had other things to do.

On my last day in China which I spent in Guangzhou I walked most of my time around in shopping malls. First a small one, and then a bigger one. Even though I tried my hardest to withstand all these offerings, in the end I gave in and bought some small things. Of course small things add up too and I had another bag in hand when I arrived at the airport.

So on this lovely Monday morning I walked first to the post office which I had noticed on my round about the lake.

As I said I only had small stuff but these few things added up to three kilograms. So now they are on the way to my office and will hopefully await my return.

I had looked up online what else there was to do in Hanoi since the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum was closed on Mondays. And on this list for day number 2 I saw that there was a visit to a restaurant to eat some fish. Since I had a lovely fish on the food tour I was ready to try this one. Of course it was still super hot in Hanoi but since I couldn’t change the weather, I would just work with it.

At the restaurant I met a French woman traveling for business who had gotten a recommendation for this place from a friend of her’s who had lived in Hanoi for a couple of years. So I was at the right place.

After lunch I was finally ready to see the Temple of Literature. It was only a 25 minutes walk but of course in the heat it felt more like hours. The temple was not only a temple but was also the oldest university in Vietnam established in 1076. It had steles right next to the entrance to remind the horse men to get off them.

    On these turtle steles the names of the persons successful at the royal exam were inscribed and are therefore very important documents.

      It was a really lovely building with five different courtyards. But there were no books on display which I would have preferred to see. On the other hand books in this heat and humidity don’t survive very long. I walked back in the heat to the hotel but made a small stop on the way to have a sugar cane juice and later a freshly made watermelon juice. So tasty!
Just by watching the women on the motor scooters I got hot flash. They really don’t want to get tanned here.

For dinner I met the Austrian guy again since it was my last night in Hanoi. The next day I would leave to Ha Long Bay. We stayed near the lake area and eventually settled on a restaurant right next to the lake. Th view was great but dinner was not so good and really expensive.

          

We said goodbye early since I wanted to do some shopping, but another torrential rainfall changed my plans. I had started moving in the direction of the hotel once it started but when the rain began in earnest I stayed the rest of it underneath a small roof. I was waiting for quite while. Yours, Pollybert

Around the Hoàn Kiém lake in Hanoi

I arrived in Hanoi with an hour delay at 0:30 on May 30th. My month in China was over and now a new chapter would start.

I had splurged for the hotel in Hanoi on account of a recommendation I got from a friend. The Golden Sun Suites Hotel would be my home for the next four nights. What a good idea that I had also ordered a pickup service. In no time was I in my room and ready to go to sleep except for the music at first and later cocks crowing. What a weird combination. The next morning I heard that one of the neighbors raises chickens on his roof.

Eventually I must have fallen asleep because at 9am I was up again and went down for breakfast. Reading through the guide book on what I had to see this day I went to the reception desk to ask for a map and was stopped by Eric the manager/travel agent of the hotel. In no time had I booked a trip to Halong Bay and Sapa. The moment I gave over my credit card I was not sure anymore if it was a smart deal. But too late.

Provided with a map from the hotel I made my way to the Hoàn Kiém Lake which was just around the corner of the hotel.

When I saw on the map that there was also a St. Joseph’s Cathedral (I think in Montreal it was the St. Joseph Oratorium or so) I made a little detour and walked there. The church closed during lunch hours and I made it in just before. IMG_3418

The church offered a welcome reprieve from the sweltering heat and humidity. It must have had around 40 degrees. But the reprieve was short lived since we were ushered out not 5 minutes after my entering.

From the church then I walked to the Hoàn Lò Prison which was started by the French.

The prison detailed the gruesome treatment of the Vietnamese by the French but also showed the almost summer camp like living conditions for the American prisoners. I took no pictures since it was very dark inside and the information came more from videos and information spread sheets. As usual I so much more preferred the book section of the museum and I wrote down a couple of titles to read up on this chapter of history.

From here I walked back to the lake and set down in a shaded cafe (with fans outside) for water and a plain yoghurt on ice with a shot of coffee on top. Delicious in the stifling heat.

Still keeping to the lake I walked around it until I came to the Ngoc Son Temple.

        

Here I walked slowly through the small temple area and savoured the view on the lake. It looked cool and refreshing which was probably only an illusion though.

I decided against lunch. There was really no point in eating anything in this heat and walked instead further into the old district. One more temple was on my list and in the vicinity, the Bach Ma Temple and then I was proud to say I had seen all the sights in the area. Best to get that done right away.

  

By then I was exhausted, soaked through with sweat and ready to call it a day. So I walked back to the hotel but once inside I got immediately refreshed by the cool air. Thus revived I signed up for the food tour the same evening. I had to eat something anyway, so why not try lots of new stuff?

We met at 6pm in the lobby and after a shower I felt like a new person. Which was short lived because once I left the hotel I was drenched in sweat again almost instantly (I later heard that temperatures hadn’t been that high since 45 years).

We started at a restaurant with AC (what a bliss) trying first a banana flower salad which was decorated with banana flower leaves.

Then some spring rolls and then we had to roll our own spring rolls with fish. The fish was roasted over fresh dill.

    

Next stop was a sugar cane juice stall.

Next we tried a Bánh Mì, a Vietnamese baguette filled with a freshly made omelette, cucumber and some other stuff.

  After that we tried something fried on the street (sorry no picture and I can’t remember what it was, so not remarkable), were shown the best Pho place in Hanoi (and there was a huge line up of local people), passed the church that I had seen this morning and had some lemon green tea right next to it.

From there we moved on to the next place where we saw how to make the rice paper. We tried it fresh when it is very soft, stuffed with ground pork and mushrooms. And to wash it down we had cold green tea (tasted bitter).

We were still not finished, after the rice paper crepes we ate green tea ice cream. It was so hot that I had to take bites instead of licking it otherwise it would just have melted away.

Then we crossed the main square in the old district which was really a crazy thing to do since the motor bikes and the cars never stop. They just drive around you. You have to step down from the sidewalk and just begin crossing the street. If you wait for a pause in the traffic this will never happen.  After a day you get used to it and just do like the locals.

     

Far from ending the tour we now tried a fruit salad on ice with tapioca and coconut milk. There was also avocado in the salad. Loved it!

 Passing a fruit vendor on the way

we moved on to our last stop to try Cafe Trung, coffee topped with an egg yolk mixture. Really tasty but also too sweet for me.

And this is how a happy me looks after an evening full of palate pleasers. Yours, Pollybert