Paying a visit to Uncle Ho

Day 116, Sunday 29 April 2012, Hanoi

I was awake at 5.00, I am really am going to have to put some serious effort into staying up later in the evenings so I don’t wake so damn early. One of the issues I have with being on my own is I entertaining myself in the evenings. Though it sounds like I have been out drinking a lot, i don’t really do sitting in bars drinking on my own, I am way worse than that. I sit in my room drinking alone – well sort of, I have one or two while writing blog posts, not big nights of boozing. Once the blogging is done I kinda run out of enthusiasm, in fact – I usually run out about three quarters of the way through the post and I think that shows clearly in some of my entries. Maybe I should make them shorter !

The going to bed early is the start of a vicious cycle, early bed, early awake, early out doing things, early back for a rest, early out again, early dinner, early drink, back to bed…

Ha Long Bay tour tomorrow so should be with a group – fingers crossed there are some good folk on the tour, I am always in fear I will end up with a bunch of muppets, I should be able to vet their personalities before they are allowed on the bus !

Now – I have kinda got a plan, at least in my head, sorted. I was dead keen to dive Sipidan in Malaysian Borneo, however I got an email from one of the dive companies there and it will cost me at least $1500 NZD + flights to dive, on a minimum four day package. This will really stretch my available funds, so I may have to dive somewhere cheaper – any suggestions ??

Thailand or Malaysia – I will be ending my travelling in Chiang Mai and fly to the UK from Kuala Lumpur, so happy to dive anywhere sort of in between – as long as it is GOOD…

Back to the day – I was up in the ‘restaurant’ too early for eggs, so had a meagre breakfast of horrible toast and banana and a couple of coffees. I was on the road by 7.30 and took a long walk to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Around the Presidential Palace.

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I knew it was going to busy, but wow – the queue was 500 metres long at 8.15, and it took me 10 minutes to find the end!

The start of the queue

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The middle – though I had to hand my camera in soon after – no cameras allowed from here to the mausoleums exit.

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The end of the queue !

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However the queue moved pretty quickly and I was through in half an hour. The visit was interesting – basically you queues for ages, shuffle quickly through the mausoleum, past dead Uncle Ho and out the other side. No stopping, no lingering and definitely no photos, I slowed down a bit inside as I kept stepping on the heel of the young girl in front of me – and got a hurry up nudge on the arm by one of the numerous guards.

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After a slow walk through the palace grounds with hundreds of Vietnamese I visited the One Pillar Pagoda, but decided to flag the nearby museum as it looked like a repeat of the HCM museum in HCMC (as it were !)

HCM’s place of residence in the 50’s

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One Pillar Pagoda

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I went in search of coffee on the way to my next stop which was the temple of literature, I wanted airconned – or at least fan cooled coffee, though it was cloudy and only 29 degrees I was still sweating like a trooper and needed a seat and a cool down, a roadside coffee was not going to work – though I should have taken one as I found nothing !

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The temple of literature was barely interesting, I am not sure if there was war damage to it, but everything is so renovated and concreted, new features are still being added, and it really detracts from the ambience of historical sites. I have mentioned this before, so no ranting now ! It was worth visiting, but was hardly a highlight of Vietnam.

This is really common in Buddhist temples, relics that have been rubbed so many times over the years there is a shiny spot. I think it is awesome.

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Vietnamese calligraphy.

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The place was fairly busy so I was amazed to be able to grab this shot without too long a wait.

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I had been on my feet for three hours by the time I left and was in need of water and coffee and some food , I wandered back into the old quarter to try and find my lunch spot from yesterday, maybe I was confused by being so dehydrated but I just could not find it and almost got lost wandering around I stopped for a coffee and chicken rice at a random place and found the wifi wasn’t working which was frustrating as I would have gone somewhere else that had wifi and relaxed for a while. So, it was back to the hotel room for a cooling shower and a lie down – bushed, and it is only 12.30. It was a good morning though, I do like walking around watching all the people, especially the lost tourists !

Yesterday I handed some washing in to the hotel to do, I got it back today and every item has a small label with my room number attached by two safety pins – labour is so cheap here.

After a wee lie down I started work on finalising some plans, I got myself booked on a flight from Hanoi to Luang Prabang in Laos for the third May, which kinda settles my plans for Vietnam ! I was planning on flying from Luang Prabang down to Pakse and then making my way back up to Vientane and then over to Chiang Mai, but there is no flight to Pakse anymore… going to have to rethink my whole damn schedule again : (

Bah, I went for walkabout, a couple of beers and some dinner.

A lovely (is there such a thing ?) old Citreon.

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I have sort of liked Hanoi, but like all large cities it is very impersonal and I have not connected with anyone since I have been here – this makes meal times less than fun times, though like all big cities wandering the streets is always interesting. I have been a bit reluctant to take photos here, there has always been someone in shot and I really do not want to offend by snapping peoples photos without their permission, well if they are looking at me anyway : )

After dinner it was back to the room to watch a bit of TV, review todays photos and post this blog entry!

A wander around Hanoi

Day 115, Saturday 28 April 2012, Hanoi

I woke early but lounged around in bed till 8.00 – and not due to the bottle of Jamesons I bought last night as I only had a couple, oh ye of little faith

Up for breakfast and found again that I was the only person in the restaurant – I am really starting to wonder about the places I pick – I have generally selected hotels/hostels/ guest houses that rate well on various websites, based on the assumption others would too. However it appears I choose places that no one else goes to. Maybe when I go Luang Prabang I will stay in a dorm room, though with my luck it will be empty bar me – at least it will be cheap I guess. Breakfast was average so maybe that was it !

I got my shower fixed and used it – bliss ! Loved the little flower tile. P1120465

I also discovered my first hotel cockroach in four months of travel – awesome, and about time too, I have heard so many stories of hotel cockroaches and was starting to doubt them!

For the first time in weeks I wore shoes today, I have a few grazes on my toes from the crappy flippers I was using diving and my jandals are virtually worn out now so I was getting sore feet walking in them last night.

I had loose plans to see a few sites when I left the hotel this morning, but the real aim was to walk and enjoy Hanoi. I didn’t bring the longer zoom lens which was a bit frustrating as there was a few things I would have used it on where the 20mm was way too wide – tomorrow !

My first stop was the remains of “Hanoi Hilton”, Hoa Lo Prison as it is officially named. The prison was opened by the French in 1896 and was used by them up until they were kicked out in the 50’s. It was then used by the Vietnamese to house US airman captured during the Vietnamese/American war. There is only a small section of the prison left standing. The commentary is very biased, the French were bastards (probably true) but the Vietnamese treated the American airman like hotel guests (probably not so true) and there were some great photos of smiling US prisoners to prove it. it was nowhere near as bleak as S21 in Phnom Penh.

I liked this quote from this female prisoner as she was sentenced to twenty years hard labour by the puppet government of the French.

“Will your regime be able to exist for another 20 years to keep me in prison”. Awesome !

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I wandered the streets a bit more.

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Feather duster seller.

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LCD TV delivery vehicles !

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If you get stopped by the police for any reason and cannot pay the instant fine then your motorcycle is confiscated on the spot and held for 10 days. When you get it back it will have no petrol and will possibly be missing parts. I heard one story of a newish engine being swapped for an old one. Got to love the police here !

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Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of restored sword) is the centre point of Hanoi’s old quarter. The lake’s story is that in the 15th century the Gods sent emperor Ly Thai To a magical sword which he used to drive off the Chinese invaders. Once the Chinese were gone a tortoise swam out of the lake, grabbed the sword and took into the lake to return it to the gods.

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Ngoc Son Temple is a an 18th century temple in the lake.

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St Josephs Cathedral was built in 1886 and was closed when I got there.

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After a wee lie and cool down I ventured out again for another wee walk.

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Some street art, sadly most of it was covered up !

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And some not so good.

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Finally – a bike I can photograph.

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This outing my goal was to find “Bia Hoi corner”, which funnily enough I did… Bia Hoi means fresh beer and is dirt cheap, at 30c a glass. It is made in the evening, delivered in kegs the following morning to the various street stalls and drunk that afternoon and evening by a large mix of Hanoi locals, expats and tourists.

Bia Hoi corner, it slowly takes over the street.

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I had a couple of beers followed by a noodle dinner and back in my room by 7.30. Tired.

Hanoi Arrival

Day 114, Friday 27 April 2012, Da Nang – Hanoi

Wow my four months of travelling anniversary today, pretty sure when I started I never expected to spend this much time in SE Asia, I may have planned to spend it , but those first couple of weeks of solo travel were tough. Looking back at some of my posts I was not exactly happy with my world – surviving it all was the key then. If everything goes according to plan then I have one month in SE Asia to go before heading to the UK and Europe and a new unknown – well almost, I have been there before, but it was a long time ago.

I did nothing active all morning, but had a productive time. I spent a good few hours catching up on a massive backload of emails, I am so sorry to all those who were waiting for replies, no excuses at all. I also got a good chunk of planning done including trying to organise some diving over my last week away. After some chasing have finally had a response from the company I used to send a box of stuff to the Uk, including my big DSLR camera – I am looking forward to being reunited with it !

I want to do the Sipidan dive in Malaysian Borneo, the site is one of the top dive sites in the world and is restricted by the Malaysian government to a limited number of divers per day. I dived nearby back in Jan but couldn’t get a dive there then a there was a four week waiting list. I emailed Scuba Junkies who I dived with in January and the closest they could do to June 1 was June 14 ! No good for me… But tonight I may have found another place, so hope to finalise soon.

As I left for the airport I felt good about my morning for a change ! I also had some awesome news from my sister and bro-in-law, that I will share later. But I am very pleased, though happy is not a word I will use in this situation.

I am reasonably convinced my taxi to the airport was being driven by a guy who may have driven a car before, but if he had it was probably only a couple of times, interesting is the word I would use. It was the first time I had gripped the sides of the seat in a cab, thankfully he was slooooooow. At the airport I had a traditional Vietnamese meal – I think this is the only BK I have seen in Vietnam…

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The flight was a wee bit bumpy, especially the descent into Hanoi, probably the lumpiest flight i have had so far on my travels.

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I had organised an airport pick up to my hotel, seems to be a lot of airport taxi scams in Hanoi at the moment. I was surprise at how far away the airport is from town, so glad I did. I snapped a few things on the way. I recognise the ironing board, but I cannot figure out what else was there.

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Once I was settled into the Atlantic hotel (Atlantic ???) I went walkies around town for a while, it was dark soon after I left so it was a short walk, though I grabbed a fried rice meal while out. Hanoi, or at least this part is way crazier than Saigon !

Outside my hotel

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I think I have stepped into an episode of Dr Who !

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Bathroom essentials – soap tray, loo roll, ash tray, and this is a non smoking hotel !

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I picked up a bottle of Jamesons Irish Whisky tonight and had a celebratory drink in my room. I then discovered the shower doesn’t work, grrrrrrr.