Xin Chao (hello)
It has been a long day being on an organized full day private tour. Ve (rhymes with be) was our guide for the day. Our first stop was a buddhist Temple, but it was also the First University. They had beautiful gardens and a heap of turtles (concrete) that were in honour of the top students (the King set the questions for the exam). Next stop was the Ethnology Museum which paid tribute to the many Ethnic tribes in Vietnam. Their artifacts, costumes and customs were on display. Also recreated houses and tombs. One of the tombs was decorated with symbols of fertility. You will get the drift by looking closely at the photo below! We spend tomorrow night in one of the Ethnic villages tomorrow night south of Hanoi. Hopefully not the one with their open display of fertility.
Ve, our guide, was very knowledgable and happy to rattle off all this. Our next visit was to a family store/factory where their speciality was Lacquer art work. The process was impressive, especially the art work which ranged from painting, mother of pearl pictures to egg shell pictures. The art was so detailed, definitely requiring skill, patience and good eye sight. The finished products were stunning. Of course the selling pitch came next. We resisted.
The eating tour of Vietnam continued after that. We were taken to restaurant out in the suburbs called True Viet. There were no other restaurants about so stuck with this one. It looked good, prices were a bit higher than we would have liked, but when the food came out, we were stunned. Not only was the food presented in a spectacular way, it all tasted great. A real highlight. Given a small glass of rice wine to try. Just as well it was a small one because it tasted like rocket fuel!
Off to Hanoi Hilton (prison named by US airmen captured during the war). This place was set up by the French during their control of Vietnam. Vietnamese political prisoners as well as others were kept here in appalling conditions until their departure from Vietnam in 1954. Even the guillotine was used till the French left. The jail operated as such until the mid 90's.
Vietnam has been occupied by various countries over the years (French, Chinese, Japanese) coming and going at various times. They must enjoy the peace and stability that they have now, although the next invasion has already started (tourists).
A visit to the Presidential residence and Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. The guards in white uniforms guard the Mausoleum for 2 hour stints without moving, a bit like the guards at Buckingham Palace We weren't able to go into the Mausoleum as Uncle Ho (as he is affectionately known) is under restoration from September to November. The gardens around the residences are very pretty. The story goes that he didn't want to live in the massive Presidential Residence by himself (very oppulent for a leader of Communism) so he lived a more humble life in adjoining residences with other Govt. Officials near by. This included a beautiful wooden house.
A quick stop at the One Pillar Pagoda, but by this stage we were pretty worn out so we skipped the visit to the Embroidery shop and the Chicken egg coffee shop!
Had a drink at The Polite Pub (not really polite as there were smokers, very common as smokers can smoke just about anywhere). Fortunately hotel rooms have been smoke free.
We up to the roof top City View Cafe, great view over the lake and city, but not inspiring for dinner. The Little Hanoi cafe was a recommended one so we went there. Nice.
The next two nights we will be in rural areas to the south of Hanoi (Mai Chau and Cuc Phong National Park). Unlikely to have wifi so see you Sunday night (Monday before you read the next one).
Happy birthday to Sue H for tomorrow and Lauren M for Saturday.