Sunday, 17 February 2013

Ho Chi Minh's dead body and exploring Hanoi

17th Feb

Today we woke up early (8-8.30am) for breakfast as planned last night. We all thought no one would actually take it seriously but miraculously we all managed to get up one by one and make it down to breakie by 9am! Dan turned up in his shirt...and a shawl!! As someone last night had told him he’d need to keep his elbows covered to go visit Ho Chi Minh – haha and he believed it! He looked like an idiot in an English lads ‘pulling shirt’ and a shawl like one you’d wear in India (he’d done India too so I guess he’d got it from there!) The weather was warmer today, still pretty overcast and misty though, boo!

We weren’t sure where Tom was, as I thought I saw him leave his bed at 7.30am, never to return. However, upon a quick check back in the room before we left, Iris realised that it wasn’t him – Tom was still in bed! So he rushed to get ready to join us. The story went that, when they’d got in last night, someone else had stolen Tom’s bed!! So he had to sleep on the top bunk instead. When we were all ready we walked to the end of our street and hailed a taxi, all 5 of us in the one tiny car.

We arrived at Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and stood in the massive que to get in, luckily it was moving quite fast. We had to pass several check points and scanners like an airport, but for some reason my ‘small camera’ was allowed in, yet mobile phones and big cameras weren’t?! I was even being honest by handing it over to the bag keepers, and they just kept saying, no no you keep, small camera ok! Ok then, I will, shame I couldn’t still use it though, you’re not allowed to take ANY pictures anywhere unless off the premises of the mausoleum area...

I got talking to a really lovely Canadian woman while we were queuing, who was actually Indian, and she was travelling Vietnam and Cambodia on her own at 65! I think it’s so brave to do it at that age on your own. We were just behind the others halfway through the queing process (you have to walk miles to get to this thing!), and these two Vietnamese girls (we reckoned maybe 12yrs old) kept shoving in front of us, then stopping, giggling and looking at Tom and didn’t take us long to realise they were crushing on them!! Was so funny watching them giggle and jump up and down with excitement one minute, then if Dan or Tom turned around they’d stop, look away or simply run behind us and hide!

When we arrived at the entrance to the mausoleum building, there was a red carpet leading in, and you have to walk 2 at a time in a long line, utterly silent. It was quite regimental. There were loads of army men guarding the entrance in their crisp white uniforms and everyone else going in had dressed up in nice clothes, high heels, leather jackets etc to pay respect to Ho Chi Minh...and there’s us backpackers in our flip-flops, denim or harem trousers and generally looking pretty scruffy – woops!

There are loads of steps inside, leading up into the main building and then you rounded a corner...and there is a glass coffin, with carved wooden detail...and a madame toussards waxwork Ho Chi Minh. No really, it was the preserved Ho Chi Minh body which was kinda creepy and a bit strange and looked pretty good for his age. But after talking when we got out, we all came to the conclusion that it looked pretty much like a waxwork body and were wondering if it was actually real. The army men inside literally pushed you around, you had to keep walking, you weren’t allowed to stop or even slow down, or talk or make eye contact with anyone until you were outside again. It was all a bit weird to be honest!

Once we got out we realised we were right round the other side to where we needed to be to pick up Iris’s bag, so we proceeded on a mission to the entrance. Then decided as it was still early, instead of getting a taxi back, we’d see a bit of the city and walk back to our hostel which was in the old quarter. Luckily we had Dan the amazing map reader who managed to almost effortlessly guide us back to our hostel via a few sights along the way. Iris and I snapping pictures, holding up the rear.

We got back to the road the hostel was on and found another pretty popular street vendor cooking/selling more Ban Cha and Nem rolls (little meaty, thin spring rolls). And got chatting to a really nice local who advised he always ate here and to try the food. So as Tom hadn’t had breakfast me and him decided to sit down and sample the delights, whilst watching them cook the food. I had a nem roll whilst Tom had the Ban Cha which look loads better than the one we had yesterday. The nem roll was amazing, as all the food in Vietnam has been so far, it’s all so simple yet SO delicious!

Then went back for a few things and I went to the lady down the road who owned a tour shop, who Iris had booked her HaLong bay tour with to book myself on the same trip – for £20 a day we could have a 2 day and 1 night tour on a deluxe boat, 3 meals a day, transport there plus kayaking and cave visiting, though drink wasn’t included.  Plus the woman had come highly recommended by friends of her and Lorna’s! Without even asking the woman even put us in the same room together. Then we went off to explore the old city and lake a little more – stopping for lunch along the way at a little cafe round the corner, where we had crab meat soup with flat rice noodles, morning glory (bit like spinach), prawns and we added tons of ginger, chili’s and garlic vinegar to it which made it even more amazing!

We proceeded with our own little walking tour and basically just got lost in the city taking whichever roads or backstreets looked interesting, passing by lots of Vietnamese New Year (Tet they call it), offerings, little temples and cute old houses, tons of street food stalls and fish/veg stalls, and lots of interesting people to take photos of and admire or talk to (more like try to without much success). 

We also stopped off at a bubble tea store for a quick drink (for those unaware of the new Japanese cult, it’s sweet or milky tea loaded with whichever flavouring u wanted, with jelly or sweets in) before taking a trip to and a walk around the lake. We then went back to the hostel where we all met up and sat around for a little facebooking, photo uploading and chatting. Then we’d made plans to meet at 6.30pm for a trip to the night market before trying out the water puppets, which we’d heard from everyone was a waste of time, however when u hear from people that it’s not worth while and is completely boring – of course you have to see for yourself! We went to see if Dan wanted to come along but he was enjoying the happy hour up on the roof top and was playing a game of ‘Giant Shot Jenga’ and would meet us at the water puppet theatre later.

We got to the puppet theatre to book our tickets but the ticket office was shut and so instead of going all the way to the night market and having to cut our trip there short we decided to just sack it off and go Tuesday instead on our last night together. So we headed to the night market which we’d heard was was just 6 stalls! Lol We weren’t ssure whether it was because it was the end of Tet (Vietanmese New Year) or because it was a Sunday but there was definitely no night market happening tonight! So annoyed and hungry we decided to head back and find somewhere to eat. After  a mission of a walk we went back to the restaurant Iris and I had gone to earlier as it was so good, and this time tried out the beef noodles.

Then we headed back to the hostel, showered, Iris and I packed for our trip to Halong Bay tomorrow and we all just chilled in bed. But it wasn’t until around 10pm until we realised that Dan may have set out to the water puppet theatre and we hadn’t gone in the end. True to form in he walked...”where the hell were u guys?! I was walking round the lake for ages, drunk, trying to find the theatre. When I found it a show was coming out and I waited and waited, thinking you guys would probably be there and you weren’t. So I just came back and here u are – didn’t you go?!” lol woops, sorry Dan! So we just chatted and then went to bed ready for an early morning.

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