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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together


VIETNAM | Tuesday, 29 April 2008 | Views [1285]

Sat 26th Apr - My visa runs out on 28th april, so first thing I have to do is get it extended. There is a slight problem in that next week there is a public holiday on May 1st and we are now at the weekend when the immigration office is closed and it runs out on tuesday. The easiest option was to get the agent at the hotel to sort it out for me. To get a 1 month Visa extension cost me 608,000Ð (normal 4 days processing) + 160,000Ð to get it through faster.

That sorted, off to make something of the day. First though was breakfast at the well known 'Kangaroo café' close to Hoan Kiem lake. An aussie run place with good portions and folders to read through for travel advice and tours.

Not far to the Ngoc Son temple (2000Ð entry), which is in centre of  the lake and is dedicated to the scholar Van Xuong, the general Trang Hung Dao, and La To, the patron saint of physicians. In the sunshine, the water of the lake appeared green. A nice contrast to the colourful red bridge that crosses to the island. Circumnavigated the lake, watching people doing Tai Chi exercises, then off towards the Temple of literature. It is much bigger than expected, so decided to have lunch first at the Koto restaurant on Van Mieu. Koto stands for 'Know one, Teach one' and is a non-profit making project to provide career training and guidance to former street kids, who cook and serve the food. A wonderful place with superb service from some lovely young people.

The temple of literature is across the road (5,000Ð) and is definitely worth a visit. With a history back to 1070 when it was founded by Emperor Ly Than Tong and dedicated to confucious as Vietnam's first university. Its intention was to educate the sons of mandarins. Scholars who passed the standard examination could progress to the 'Royal' exam, with questions that would be set and answers judged by the emperor himself. The architecture of the many buildings is beauiful, after having been restored in 1920 and 1956.

Next stop was the famous Hoa Lo prison museum, more famously known as the 'Hanoi Hilton' (5,000Ð). Its nickname came from the US POWs captured during the Vietnam war who were supposed to have received incredibly good treatment. According to the photos on show, they seem to have had a lot of comforts provided. It was actually built by the french in 1896 and housed over 2000 inmates although it was only designed to hold 450! A fair proportion of the original prison was levelled to make way for the enormous Hanoi Towers hotel next door. The restored remaining section has an interesting 'Maison Centrale' over the prison style entrance gate.

Dinner on the street with a nice bowl of nutritious Pho, then of to the Hanoi Opera house to see if we could get tickets for tonights concert. Unfortunately, they were fully booked, but managed to get tickets for tomorrow night. A nice walk back through the old quarter and the night market along Hang Dao.

Sun 27th Apr - A chillin and catching up day today. One of the places I want to go is closed and so will leave that area until tuesday morning.

The old town is a wonderful hustle and bustle of life. Back in the early days of the city, the streets were divided up into 36 Guilds and each street is dedicated to a specific one. There are now over 50 streets with names that begin with Hang, which means 'Merchandise' and Pho means street....you want silk, then go to Pho Hang Gai...you want string instruments then go to Pho Hang Chan Cam.

Whilst on walkabout you come across many great experiences. Down one tiny dead end alleyway near Tin and basket streets, we heard a young lad playing classical piano to the most awesome standard. Very unexpected. Very old people with so much character every few steps. Lovely people everywhere. One thing you have to be careful of here is the traffic. Motos and cyclos are in vast numbers and crossing the road is like in Ho Chi Minh City.... Chin up, be confident, look the oncoming traffic in the eye and walk slowly...they will flow around you. Hesitate and it all goes haywire, so try not to stop.

Off to the Hanoi Opera house in the evening. Conductor Tetsuji Honna has world famous acclaim. The first half was performed by the incredibly talented guitar soloist, Muraji Kaori from Japan, who peformed a few well known pieces such as  Joaquin Rodrigo's 'Guitar concerto de Aranjuez' and 'Cavatina' amonst others. The second half was a rather long session of Mahler's symphony No.6. Very good alround entertainment.

Mon 28th Apr - Today my visa runs out but hopefully I will get it back tomorrow afternoon. Late breakfast and off to explore the bottom end of town where there are some more lakes and pleasant park areas.

In the afternoon off to the Municipal water puppet theatre (40,000Ð). Having seen a show in Ho Cho Minh City, interesting to compare with this one, supposed to be the original. Water puppetry originated in the north of Vietnam over 1000 years ago. Originally, the rice farmers performed shows in flooded paddy fields using puppets made from fig trees. Characters were modelled after the farmers themselves and their animals plus some mythical creatures. As with the show in HCMC, a and provides the narration and musical accompaniment on ancient style instruments, such as the Sao flute, Dan Bao single-stringed zither and Trong com drum. Great fun as there were plenty of children in the audience whose faces were as entertaining as the show.

Off for a meal at the R&R tavern which is only a few minutes walk. Unfortunately, live music is only on fridays and saturdays.

A wonderful end to the evening when I was able to talk to my kids and mum over skype. First time in a while that i've managed a good enough connection. Went to bed a very happy man.

Tue 29th Apr - Off to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex. Have to be there early as they close the main mausoleum at 10:30. On approach you see enormous queues and think you are going to either miss getting in or waiting ages. In reality it is pretty smooth and quick moving. Cameras and mobiles have to be left at security and reclaimed at the exit. The rest of your baggage and yourself go through scanners. The queue is a covered walkway that is constantly moving along a red floor. The mausoleum is a grand and austere building protected by many white uniformed armed guards. Up the entrance steps and into the cool of the building, constantly moving. Ho Chi Mihn's body lies within a big glass sarcophagus with four guards surrounding it. He looked bigger than I imagined. Very peaceful expression on his face....a great man who dedicated his life to the liberation of his people. Much loved and respected here. The ground in front of the building is a wide open space with well tended grass lawns and rows of vietnamese flags.

Adjacent to the mausoleum is the presidential palace where official receptions are held (not open to the public) and Uncle Ho' stilt house, where he lived from 1958 to 1969. A very simple construction with a lovely communal dining area underneath, it reflects Ho's simple lifestyle. He was a man of the people and kept his life simple too.

Another highlight followed with the awesome Ho Chi Minh Museum. The building on approach is a huge marble structure. Inside, you enter up a set of stairs to the main hall, where a manificent sculpture of Ho Chi Minh greets you. Surrounding the main hall is a fantastic circular gallery of modern displays of both and interpretive art. The use of 3-dimensional style is superb and a great treat, even for non-art overs. The museum closes for lunch between 11:30 and 2pm.

Through the lovely gardens to the One pillar pagoda. Built by the emperor Ly Thai Tong and designed to resemble a lotus flower. The french when they exited Hanoi in 1954, destroyed the original, so a new one was built in the same location.

Lunch at a superb trendy Phô restaurant back in the old quarter before chillin and catching up on stuff ahead of moving on tomorrow.

Hanoi has been an interesting city to visit. A good combination of new and old, Closed alleys and open spaces, good restaurants and good cheap street food, plenty of sights to see, all put together with a decent helping of chaos and infectious smiles from the lovely people on the street.

Wed 29th Apr - Heading west today towards Mai  Chau, so have to get to the new bus station on the west of the city at Mý Dinh.


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