Saturday, February 23, 2013


20 February

On our return from Ha Long Bay we had a full day of sightseeing in Hanoi, and managed to pack quite a lot in. The tour must go on despite the fact that it was raining – actually the first rain we have had. Hanoi has 7 million people and 4 million motorbikes. The only road rule in Hanoi is that there are no road rules. Crossing the road can be dangerous, especially as they drive on the opposite side of the road, mainly, and traffic lights are for ignoring if there happens to be a break in the traffic. David and I have both been nearly skittled at least once. Our guide says the best way to cross is to move slowly and don’t change direction sharply. The bikes will go around you if they can predict your actions. One of our group posted an excellent snippet on Facebook: Confucius say you haven’t lived until you have braved the traffic in Hanoi.
A street vendor negotiates her way with ease through the Hanoi traffic 

A not unusual sight in Indo China. I am still constantly amazed at what can be carried on a motorbike.

After negotiating traffic and street vendors we spent the morning at the Ethnology Museum followed by the Temple of Knowledge, a centre to honour Confucius and his teachings and other notable teachers from the past. There are stone plaques listing the names of several ancient PhD recipients, and temples at which the devout pray among the tourists. The gardens are beautiful with lots of very old bonsai and many intricate examples of topiary.
Confucius venerated at the Temple of Literature

Pagodas at the Temple of Literature

A very old and gnarled bonsai at the Temple of Literature

The Ethnology Museum has some excellent outdoor displays of traditional houses and other buildings from a variety of ethnic groups around the country. Vietnam has 54 minority ethnic groups.
The Nha Rong ethnic group of central Vietnam. The tall house is for single men

The long house is for women and couples. Notice the well polished protuberances on the right hand steps for men to use.

The next venue was a soup restaurant for lunch – Pho 24, where we all had enormous bowls of soup with our own choice of herbs and sauces to tailor the flavours to our palate.

After lunch we had a quick tour around the old French quarter, a very congested area selling all kinds of things. Most of the trip was on foot but it was a bit challenging negotiating our way among the bikes parked on the footpath and the street vendors on uneven footpaths in the rain. Our guide managed to secure spaces for all of us on electric carts seating about 10 people, so we zoomed about in relative comfort, watching the driver push her way through  on our behalf.
Produce displayed on the footpath next to the owner's motorbike

We watched while the shopowner peeled a pineapple in a spiral removing all traces of the skin. It only took a few minutes. Pineapples are often sold that way.

Footpath florist shop. Vietnamese are very fond of flowers and at the moment lots of buildings have large pots of chrysanthemums in bloom at the doorway.

Our electric shuttlebus

Next stop was a Taoist temple on an island in the centre of a lake in Central Hanoi. The temple was full of people and incense and donations of money everywhere. Rather than Buddhas there were animals and flowers and even a statue of a horse. The bridge across to the temple was decorated with the distinctive royal style flags. There a a legend associated with the lake – something to do with turtles I think, but Vietnam is full of legends mainly associated with kings and princesses and dragons and many other animals. The legends section of my brain contains a hotchpotch of ingredients but no decent recipe to use them.
The gateway to the temple on the island

The bridge to ther island. Fortunately all the other tourists had just cleared the bridge and I was able to get a clear shot.

Inside the Taoist temple. Flowers, cumquat trees and statues of birds. The ying and yang symbols are over the front door of the temple.
 Our final stop for the day was the Ho Chi Minh complex which is set in beautiful gardens and contains his mausoleum, the Presidential Palace – a magnificent yellow building, the house he resided in- Number 54, and another house on stilts which he liked to work from. According to our guide and other literature about him, he liked to live very simply and was, and still is, beloved by the people of Vietnam. The queue to visit his tomb has very long queues on the days it is open to the public.
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum.

The his was used by the French administration prior to independence in 1945.

House 54 where Ho Chi Minh lived when he was leader of the country

To end our time in Hanoi we had dinner at a very classy restaurant called Wild Rice. Getting there was a bit of an event. The women went by taxi, following a different route to the one we expected to go, so we were naturally concerned. The men decided to walk in the dark, in the rain, with no map and no phone and we thought they may never arrive. We were very surprised to see them as the door plaque wasn’t easy to see. A group of 4 others went to an Italian restaurant and spent 3.75 million Dong (about $A125) Wine is very expensive in Vietnam so we have been mainly drinking beer or fruit juice. I think I’ve had less than 5 alcoholic drinks in the whole trip. Should be a cheap drunk by the time I get home.
Dinner at Wild Rice. They even changed my meal for me when I inadvertently ordered fresh spring rolls instead instead of cooked ones.

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