Day 21: Hanoi, Vietnam Part 1

by - May 18, 2011

I actually slept better on the train than in my previous hostel.  Having been the only westerner on the entire platform for my journey from Saigon to Danang, there seemed to be mostly tourists going from Hue to Hanoi.  I ended up sharing my carriage with a Swiss couple and an unfortunate local who had to overhear us talking without understanding a word we were saying.  This train was a little bit more rustic that my previous one, but what it gained in squat toilets it lost in number of cockroaches, so it isn’t all bad.  Using a squat toilet on a Vietnamese train is a true life experience.  I spent much of the journey trying to plan for the impending Trans Siberian tour that begins in less than a month and the Swiss couple were pretty interested in this and it was nice to have somebody in the carriage to talk to.

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
We arrived in Hanoi at 5.20am and I decided to walk to my hotel as the traffic was SLIGHTLY quieter than usual.  There were lots of people out and about though and as I made it to the lake (Hanoi has a pretty lake that makes the city look a bit like a grubby version of Geneva) I found that it was a focal point for people doing their morning yoga routines.  This was a surprisingly peaceful scene and I found myself taking an instant attraction towards Hanoi, where my initial reaction to Saigon had been sheer terror.  I found my hotel, which came as a recommendation from the people I had met in Saigon, and thankfully they let me have a free breakfast and let me into my room early.  I booked my cruise to Ha Long Bay, which starts tomorrow, then retreated to my room to spend a fair few hours watching TV and sleeping.

Ngoc Son temple
At 2 o'clock I decided to go for an explore, but this turned into a bit of a farce.  Convinced, as I sleepily found my hotel this morning, that I was on the west side of the street, I turned right out of my hostel to head south to the lake and the old quarter.  Unfortunately it turned out that I was on the EAST side of the street and as I walked I ended up in suburban Hanoi, where in all honesty there isn’t a lot going on.  I could write a bit on how it was interesting to see ‘the other side of the city’, but I literally saw nothing worth writing about.  All I achieved was to completely waste an hour.  I went back to the hotel with my tail between my legs, turned my map the other way around, and then tried again.  This time I made it to the lake, where I visited the Ngoc Son temple, which sits in the middle of it.  Apparently there are giant turtles still living in the lake, but they are rarely seen.  To prove their existence the preserved body of one of the turtles that was found in the 1970s has been kept in the temple (meaning that I have seen considerably more giant turtles on this trip than I did working on an actual giant turtle sanctuary in Costa Rica, with a turtle score of 1-0).

Hanoi Opera House
I did a lap around the lake before entering the old French quarter.  The buildings here were stunning, but there wasn’t a whole lot going on besides a lot of traffic, as it was home to most of the museums which had begun to shut as I arrived.  I wasn’t too bothered - to give you an indication of my itinerary from here on in, I am spending the next three days at Ha Long Bay, before returning for another night in Hanoi and flying out to Laos the next day.  This gives me another day in Hanoi later on where I can go and visit the other sights, such as the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh.  I had a curry for dinner - I have been put off Vietnamese food by having a near constant supply of it, before trying to find some swimming trunks for swimming at Ha Long (I left mine in England, as I do EVERY holiday). This turned out to be quite a challenge due to the Asian love of speedos, but an hour or so later I managed to find something that looked vaguely dignified.  I won’t be able to have internet for the next few nights, so I will update things here when I return to Hanoi!

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