I miss my VIP Room…my blanket was too thin for last night as some of the others kept the windows open. Needed layers to get through the night. Thankfully breakfast picked me up somewhat. Nothing fancy, just toast, rice, noodles and fried egg along with some fruit. But no cockroaches so already surpassing the last hostel I ate breakfast.
The weather was pretty miserable sadly. It had never been particularly nice in Hanoi but today had definite signs of rain. Unfortunately I discovered this after I’d dressed and left the hotel, so was dressed for far warmer weather than I was getting. Just hoped it would stay threatening and not actually show up.
The first stop was the Tran Quoc Pagoda and connected Buddhist Temple. This is one of the few places in Vietnam where cremation takes place – buddhists from the temple are placed in the pagoda’s surrounding Tran Quoc rather than being buried – very rare in Vietnam as generally the dead are buried here.
After this, we headed to what is considered the holiest place in Vietnam. The Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. Much like the Mao Mausoleum, couldn’t bring water or a camera into the building, so had to leave them on the bus. This was the coffin that China used as inspiration for Mao’s tomb, but think Vietnam did it better, and they’ve got the lighting on the right settings too – Ho Chi Minh has a far more lifelike appearance.
As it was in walking distance, we then went to see the One Pillar Pagoda, built to resemble a lotus flower. Originally built in 1049 (and then rebuilt after the First Indochina War destroyed the original), it was built to honour the boddhisattva Avalokiteshvara (and yes I had to look that up to figure out how to spell it), who the Emperor Ly Thai Tong met in a dream. Sitting on a lotus flower, she handed the then childless Emperor a baby boy. Afterwards, he married and was given a son, and thus built this temple in gratitude. Hard to say how much of that is true, but it is listed in court records as the reason for its creation. Nowadays its considered a temple for childless couples to come and pray for children.
Once we’d had our fill of the pagoda, it was another handicraft shop, and it was here I actually learned more about them. Many people in Vietnam are still suffering from the poison gas attacks performed by the Americans in the war, and many are still being born with disabilities resulting from it. As such there are many shops similar to this one that employs those affected to help them make a living. The embroideries were very beautiful, though too expensive for my budget.
Our last stop before lunch was the Ethnology Museum, supposedly one of the best museums in Vietnam. It shows the history and culture of all the different ethnic groups currently living in Vietnam. The Viets make up over 80% of the population, but there’s about 80 groups entirely living in the country. The museum has displays and information on the different forms of funeral, weddings, clothing and daily life of many of these different groups.
Outside, they have an outdoor exhibit too, with replica (and in some cases original) buildings that different ethnic groups would build. Its very fascinating to see how so many people who live in the same country can have so different ways of living – the houses were pretty incredible to explore.Lunch was included in this tour, and we were taken to a restaurant called ‘The Blue Butterfly’ for a set menu. Vietnamese definitely like the concept of multiple meals and sharing plates – our table got as much rice as we wanted, battered fish, tofu in a spicy sauce, chicken with lemongrass, stir fried vegetables and bananas to finish. People keep giving me bananas here – get a sinking suspicion I’ll have to actually eat one before I leave.
Once we were finished, we drove to the Temple of Literature, the first university to be built in Vietnam. It was built by the Emperor Ly Nhan Tong in 1070 in order to help control the country through Confucisim. As such the grounds has several temples, one dedicated to the Chinese Philosopher.It was here that young men could study in order to become ‘mandarins’ – men in service of the Emperor. Whenever there was an exam, a new Doctors Stelea was carved: a large slabs on the back of a stone turtle that show when an exam was peformed, who took it, and who passed. 82 exams were held during this university’s career, but sadly many of these stelea were destroyed in the war, and the Temple only has a few left.
Our final stop was a place I’d been in the area of many times. The Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake. The Temple loosely translates into ‘The Temple of the Jade Mountain’ and was built in dedication to Confucism and Taoism.The lake has a legend of its own too. Hoan Kiem, the ‘Lake of the Returned Sword’ is named after an event that supposedly happened in the 1400’s when Emperor Le Loi took control of Vietnam. Much like King Arthur and Excalibur, Le Loi owned a magical short sword called ‘Heaven’s Will’ given to him by a local turtle god. This sword was supposedly used in the war to free Vietnam from Chinese occupation. When the war was over, and he had been declared King, he was out boating on this lake when a turtle rose from the water and grabbed the sword before returning to the depths. Emperor Le Loi decided that the turtle god had come to reclaim his sword, and renamed the lake after this incident. To this day many people believe the sword is somewhere in this lake – and soft shell turtles (extremely rare and endangered) still live (or at least lived, how many are there now is up for debate) in the lake.
I got back, my first point of call was my room to swap my skirt for some much warmer jeans. However, when I got back I was in for a surprise – my bed was occupied.
Turns out the girl had booked in and been brought to the dorms – and told my bed was one of the few free. I hadn’t left anything on it so she’d taken it. Wasn’t a big issue though, so just hopped onto the top bunk (which had a much warmer blanket too).
I had to go out and get more money from the ATM as my on hand finances were draining (and its very hard to get a significant amount out in Vietnam considering 1,000,000 dong is just under 30 pounds) and I was determined to find a bakery. I’d spotted half a dozen on the bus, and since I hadn’t had good bread in nearly a month, I wanted french baguettes and fancy cake. Picked a direction at random and started searching.Had success with finding the bakery first, then it was a cake of hunting down an ATM. The big problem is that certain cards in Asia have 6 digits and wont take 4 digit cards, so my first attempt ended in failure. Second one succeeded and I backtracked for 2 slices of very awesome looking cake. Did a little more wandering, then heading back to eat my spoils.
Of course, eating nothing but cake didn’t exactly please my stomach, and within a few hours it was expressing its dislike most heinously. So dug out the map and hunted down the nearby Tong Duy Tan, aka, Cuisine Street.
This is a road that is filled with nothing but bars and small restaurants. Its also known for being pretty cheap. I aimlessly wandered trying to figure out where to go when I got approached by one holding out an English menu. With reasonable prices.
Had beef noodle soup (Pho) which is a fairly popular meal in Vietnam. Mine however wasn’t fantastic. The beef and noodles were good, but the broth was very bland. That said I still finished the bowl, and for the price is was very worth it (only about 1.50 – which is what I was expecting to pay in Vietnam and finally AM).
Tomorrows my last day, and I’m a little puzzled as to what I should do. I hit all the major sights today (starting to think that was a mistake) and I don’t leave until 23:00 at night. I end up writing most of the evening, which was an even bigger mistake, because everyone else in the room went to bed 2 hours earlier and I had to try and get ready in the pitch dark, naturally making a hideous amount of noise since I was trying to be quiet. Typical.