Tuesday 29 August, rain, cloudy, 29°
We got up 5:45am, after our late night, and walked around Ho Hoan Kiem Lake ( the wrong way, apparently everyone walks clockwise around things in SE Asia, we were walking anticlockwise ). Took some photos of the temple and old tower in the middle of the lake, but mainly just shot people doing their morning exercises. We headed back to the hotel at 7am and up for breakfast on the top floor ( very yummy pancakes ).
After that we headed down to the reception to book our Ha Long Bay trip. We looked at the options and decided to go with Legacy Tours who operate a 1 night trip that takes in Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay (US$135 ea / N$175 ea ). We also booked another night at our hotel ( Hotel Rendezvous ) for when we return to Hanoi after the trip. We have already booked the train out of Hanoi for the evening after we come back from our trip, so that is our next few days travel sorted.
We headed out at 8:30am and dove into the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Our hotel is located on the southern edge of the Old Quarter so we were straight into the hustle and bustle of the area. The Old Quarter is what you expect SE Asia to be, lots of little shops selling all sorts of things, narrow alleyways, motorbikes, and people. And it feels authentic, not like a tourist attraction.
We hit a couple of the "must see" spots. The Ancient House, Bach Ma Temple and then carried on just walking through the streets until we got to St Josephs Cathedral. This feels a bit odd in the middle of Old Hanoi but it is a nice church and a nice refuge from the noise and activity outside. We stayed inside for a while taking photos, then went across the plaza to Cafe Cong ( a Viet Cong themed chain of coffee shops ) at 10:15am for a coffee and cake.
Something we have noticed in SE Asia is that the staff in cafes and shops always seem happy, and there is always a lot of friendly interaction between staff members, and with customers. We get the impression that these jobs are seen as good jobs and the staff seem happy to be there.
We carried on waking south and headed to Hoa Lo Prison ( the "Hanoi Hilton" ), paid our D30,000ea / NZ$1.80ea and went in. Most of the prison exhibition is about the imprisonment of the Vietnamese under the French rule, but there is a section on the American Airmen who were held here under the North Vietnamese Government. The exhibitions were a little heavy on the sentiment that the "righteous, brave and committed" comrades rose up and defeated the French dictators, but it was interesting none the less.
We left the prison at 12pm and walked back to the Old Quarter and found a JoMa for lunch. After refuelling we decided to walk to the Ho Chi Minh complex where his tomb and museum are located. It was nice walk through a nice leafy area of Hanoi, past Embassies and upmarket shops. It was a hot walk though.
When we arrived it looked like everything was closed and we interpreted from the signs ( not in English ) that Ho was away in Russia being repaired so there was nothing open until the end of September. So after a wander around, dodging the touts trying to give us a tour of what was open, we grabbed a taxi ( D300,000) and headed back to our Hotel at 2pm.
At 4:30pm we wandered down to the lake and walked across to the temple on the island, Den Ngoc Son, for a look around ( D30,000 / NS$1.80 ea ). This temple is under construction ( as is most of SE Asia ) in the quiet season, but is still a stunning little spot. We walked around some of the streets around the lake then back to the hotel briefly to grab some camera gear, then out again to Highland Coffee to sit on their balcony overlooking the lake and the busy roundabout.
We left at 7pm and walked around looking for some dinner and found a little restaurant that served Pho, which is what we were both wanting. As a sign of the type of people Vietnamese are, Liz ordered spring rolls, but didn't realise that they were the uncooked version, so when they arrived she wasn't keen to eat them. When we came to pay the bill they refused to let us pay for the uneaten rolls, as they obviously weren't what Liz wanted, and they then proceeded to give us some free fruit to try from the street vender that they were talking to as we left. This experience certainly rebalanced the taxi driver from last night.
We walked back down to the lake again then back to the hotel at 8pm. Another early start for our trip to Ha Long Bay tomorrow so time for bed.