Hanging in Hanoi

17 Sep

For the first leg of our trip we spent three nights in Hanoi. After our first jet-lagged evening in the hostel, we were ready for some action on our first full day. After breakfast we took a free walking tour from the hostel. While I normally do not expect much from free tours, this one proved pretty informative and painted a really colorful picture of the city as we walked around different areas for about two hours. Our tour guide was the most precious Vietnamese twenty-something who loved to sing and nervously serenaded us with two songs during the tour: the classic Vietnam Ho Chi Minh song, which I unfortunately cannot get out of my head and a song about the lake…I think. We went to a temple within the city, Hoan Kiem lake, the building that Ho Chi Minh signed the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence and the Dong Xuan indoor market. The market was absolutely insane, with fabrics of every color filling the indoors, and a fish market outdoors. People choose what live fish they want and the man grabs it and hacks away, turning the fish into fresh filets. 

Later in the day we ventured to Ngoc Son, a stunning temple over a bridge in the middle of the lake. Afterwards we took a long, sweaty walk around the lake and encountered the most upscale mall that seemed extremely out of place in the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. A guard worked the main entrance and doormen stood at the entrance of each of the stores, all of which are strictly high end designers. Why they let our sweaty looking selves in I do not know but it was a welcomed escape from the heat as was the coconut taro ice cream pop I enjoyed after. We also got lost on the walk, resulting in a rather frightening trek through what seemed to be the metal area of the city, with people cutting metal in the middle of the sidewalk and selling pots and pans and industrial material. Thankfully, after asking multiple people, we found our way back to the lake just in time for the water puppet show we had bought tickets to.

The traditional water puppet shows in Hanoi last about 40 minutes and consist of all types of puppets, including humans, animals, plants and boats that appear on top of the water and are controlled by humans behind the curtains. The show is separated into multiple songs, each lasting a few short minutes. Themes include fishing, dragons dancing, trying to catch frogs, and mating phoenixes (yes, it is as strange as it sounds). The show itself is pretty silly and totally in Vietnamese, but it was a worthy cultural experience.

That night we partook in trivia at the hostel along with a few people who had been on our walking tour and headed out to a “pub crawl” run by the hostel, meaning we spent about two hours at one bar and never moved anywhere else. After deciding there was no way we were paying 60,000 for a Bud bottle, the only beer at this”pub”, we went outside with two other girls we met to sit and have 5,000 beers from the woman across from our hostel. At night here, locals come out with kegs of beer on the streets and sell the beer for 5,000 – just a few cents in USD – and put up little plastic chairs for people to hang out, totally killing the prices at regular bars which usually sell a beer for around 20-30,000. We sat in the little chairs that don’t fit my American ass, drank some beer and practiced English with the woman’s son. It was an excellent way to end the evening. 

The following day we decided to do the sights in the west of the city, which required cabbing after a terrible attempt at trying to walk. We saw the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum where you can apparently go to see Ho Chi Minh’s body during certain hours of the day when he is put on public display against his will. Prior to his death he had declared he wanted to be cremated and scattered throughout Vietnam but instead he now lives basically forever. While we did not get to see a dead body on this day, we did get to walk around the grounds of the palace, walk through the stilted home that good ol’ Ho lived in and view his collection of gifted cars. 

Later, we made our way over to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first national university and the imperial temple of Confucious. The massive grounds contained a number of pagodas and artifacts from the time the school was open. After some amazing street smoothies, we made a rookie tourist mistake and got in a poorly marked cab waiting on the street outside the temple. We made sure his meter was on, but Angela realized that it was jumping exponentially and read 260,000 only a quarter of the way back to the hostel when the price should have been around 50,000 for the whole way. I yelled at the man to pull over while he yelled that we owed him money. After he slowed the card down I threw open the door and jumped out, with Angela quickly following as he tried to grab her, yelling for his money. We made it out and ran across the street where we luckily found a police stand that pointed us in the right direction of our hostel. Safe to say we avoided another cab ride and walked home. Later that night we went on a well-deserved food tour, that I will detail in the following post, before leaving for Mai Chau the following morning. 


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