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XXXVI: Good Morning Vietnam!

A very lazy day in Hanoi

sunny 38 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

My night on the floor was surprisingly comfy, if not a little dusty, and I bounded downstairs for the free breakfast - fresh baguettes with eggs and Vietnamese coffee. We spent the morning in the hotel waiting for the cleaners to finish so that we could move rooms, and ended up with a very nice triple room with fridge and a view over Hang Cot street. One of the giggly staff said I was handsome as we left, so I was in a good mood when walked through town to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

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On the way we had our first encounter with the Vietnamese Army, very sharply dressed soldiers standing guard at the entrance to the Defence Ministry who were thoroughly unimpressed when we tried to cut through after misreading the map! Our walk took us past the War Museum and the Flag Tower and we arrived at the Mausoleum shortly after 10:45. This ugly communist building houses the preserved body of Vietnam's biggest national hero, Ho Chi Minh himself. All of the streets in Hanoi were adorned with red flags and banners in celebration of his birthday (an annual display), but instead of finding a queue outside it was silent and deserted (aside from the very smartly dressed guard who shouted at me for crossing the yellow painted line in front of the steps outside!). A quick recheck of The Book showed that we'd missed the last admission at 10:15 and it wouldn't reopen until the following morning! Just round the corner was the Ho Chi Minh Museum so we made the most of the walk, paid the 25,000 dong and went in to absorb some history. Or rather we would have, if they hadn't started ushering everyone out of the building after ten minutes in preparation for their closure for lunch at 11:30! To be honest, neither of us could make any sense of the place anyway - essentially the life story of 'Uncle Ho' has been offered up for interpretation by several abstract artists and the whole place is filled with a mad jumble of sculptures, photos and weird exhibits including a giant table of fruit.

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On the way out I was surrounded by at least 30 Korean men and a couple of them shook my hand and asked where I was from. When I said "the UK" they asked if I liked Manchester United and if I'd heard of Ji Sung Park (the footballer, a few of them were wearing shirts with his name on the back). When I said that I'd lived in Manchester for five years they broke into a chorus of "ooohhh"s which sounded identical to the aliens from Toy Story. Felix was highly amused by this but I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic so we left without waiting to see if they'd say "the Claw...".

We briefly toyed with the idea of going back to the museum when they reopened at 2pm, but after a delicious Vietnamese iced coffee (easily my favourite national specialty) at a local cafe we gave into the oppressive heat and had a slow walk back to the Old Quarter. I'd had a tip-off from Sam (from the Cameron Highlands) about a tailor that had made his wedding suit, and with the promise of mates rates I wanted to find him and tick off "get tailored suit made" from my bucket list. We had another cafe stop while we waited for Mr Nam to return from lunch, and then spend a good while browsing the materials in his shop. I had been forewarned that he spoke no English, so all communication was done over the phone via his daughter (there were several calls, bless her). Eventually I was left with a time dilemma, as it would take him 3-5 days to complete and I would need to buy my own silk lining from the market as he didn't stock the colour I wanted! Lunch was needed before tackling the indoor market and we ended up at Egg Talk, where we got a whopping 2% discount for 'liking' them on Facebook! With all that saved cash burning holes in our pockets we walked in, and swiftly out, of the Dong Xuan market away from the stale heat and hundreds of hands pulling our arms towards their stalls.

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After a nap we booked our trip to Halong Bay, and it was rather overwhelming to be presented with a dozen different brochures and having to choose the right tour operator. In the end we settled on a 2-day, 1-night trip on a midrange boat for $75 each - based on the pictures it would be a little more luxurious than we needed but the $50 trip offered a very basic route and no activities. We had dinner plans with Felix's friend and arranged to meet him at the Opera House. A miscommunication outside the hotel resulted in the two of us being squeezed into a one-man rickshaw, pedalled by an alarmed and dangerously old man. In hindsight we could probably have walked there in the same time that it took, and it would have been safer too - our 'driver' decided to take the highway for a couple of miles and I could only sit and film the cars and bikes whizzing past us, praying that we'd make it through each junction. We paid the drenched man his 50,000 dong despite his attempt to drop us off on the wrong street and met Christian (who had clearly been waiting a while). He took us South of the Old Quarter to a very Bavarian "brauhaus" where we had a few giant beers and smoked cheese followed by an expensive but tasty meal on the balcony. We chatted for a couple of hours about Christian's work at the World Bank and how the different blends of communism had benefitted Vietnam and stunted Cambodia's growth, and at the end he very kindly picked up the bill.

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Back on our patch we spent a long while browsing through a great little shop selling old propaganda posters from the war, and then finished the night on another streetside plastic chair with a pint of bia hoi. I made Felix watch Animal House on HBO before bed, essential viewing.

Posted by WorldWideWill 12:37 Archived in Vietnam

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