Today was an early morning. We wanted to visit Ho Chih Minh's mausoleum, and it is only open certain days throughout the week from 8 to 11 in the morning. So we woke up at 7 in order to get breakfast at 8 and head out at 9. The hostel called us a taxi and told us to expect to pay around 60,000 dong for the ride to the Ho Chih Minh complex. I guess we had a good taxi driver, or the hostel told them to treat us as locals because we came in well under budget and the driver (in no English) gave us great instructions on where to walk.
The queue looked quite long at this point, so we were hoping that we would still be able to see Ho Chih Minh before 11. The first take you through security (similar to an airport) and give you a bag for your cell phone and cameras. Then you go to another line where they confiscate this bag (pictures are strictly forbidden). It is rumored that if you try to sneak a camera, they will take you to a small room for sequestering. You then wait in another line to finally see Ho Chi Min's body.
In China we got used to no queuing. People just push their way to the front and it is usually the older people, who have lived a long life of pushing, who are best at it. So pushing a grandma around is unusual at first but you get used to it. I thought we were finally done with that when leaving China, which we were, but people in Vietnam still cut in front of you, they are just sneaky about it.
They wait for you to turn your back for a second then just go around in front of you. The first time it happened, I noticed quickly and just jumped back in front of the guy, then used my wide body to block him out. It then happened again, but this time the perp was able to cut 3 or 4 people, so I couldn't do anything about it. I spotted the third guy who attempted to cut in front of us and pushed my way ahead of him. At this point he grabbed my arm and said something in Vietnamese. In my best sign language, I told him that I saw what he was doing and he should be further back. He then smiled at me, moved back, and no one cut in front of us again.
The line to see Ho Chih Minh moved fairly quickly. We made it to the building, up a few steps and entered the room that contained 6 guards around the body that was laying in a glass box like an autograph baseball being protected. There are 4 guards around the case, and then 2 on the level above literally pushing people through to keep the line moving.
It was my first time seeing a man that has been dead for decades and he was in pretty good shape (apparently he is shipped to Russia every year to get re-embalmed). I think "interesting" is the best word to describe the whole experience. We collected our camera at the end and made our way to the next part of the complex to see the outside of the palace and Ho Chih Min’s house on stilts (along with some other sites). It was getting close to 11 (closing time), so we started to head out.
There was a line of taxis at the exit, so we went in the vicinity and immediately had drivers come up to us to get a ride (much different than in Beijing where we had to fight for a taxi). We get in one and tell him we want to go to the Museum of Ethnology which is about 7km from the city. It is customary to ask how much a taxi ride will be before getting in as there are many scams. Our first taxi was metered, so there was no problem and we got a basic understanding of the price to distance relationship. This new taxi also tells us it is metered, so we say okay and off we go. We only make it about half a mile when I look at the meter and it is already 50,000 dong (more than our trip to the mausoleum). I knew this wasn’t right, but I also didn’t know where we were. So we went a bit further when I saw a hotel up ahead and told the taxi to pull over. We hopped out only having driven about a mile and the cost was 70,000 ($3.50). It wasn’t a lot to us, but who knows what the final cost would have been. The driver gave us one of those looks of "why are you getting out"/"they just caught me”/”who cares, I got my money from these foreign suckers.” We walked to the nearby hotel, told them where we wanted to go, got in a new taxi and finally made it to the museum.
We'd like to thank Mrs. Elzey for recommending the Museum of Ethnology to us. The museum was very interesting as it described the many different races that lived in Vietnam and other parts of SE Asia. The museum was divided into sections based on historic migration patterns. It was really interesting to learn about all the different ethnic groups, how they arrived and their language and customs.
There was also a temporary exhibit about people with HIV/AIDS living in the area. At the entrance, there was a shop selling some local goods, but we left that for the tour group inside. Overall a good museum and we now have a better understanding of the people in Vietnam. We got in a taxi to head back to Old Quarter, and once again I noticed the meter sky rocketing. Not wanting to go through the charade of finding a new taxi, we just let it go and paid the 200,000 dong bill. Once back we were starting to get hungry, and once again were craving pho. Our Lonely Planet guide recommended a place down the street so we started to make our way there. Before we got to the restaurant, we found Pho 24, which is a common chain in Vietnam. Being lazy we stopped in (even though the majority of the clientele were Westerners). The pho was good, but definitely not the local experience. Once lunch was over, we decided to head back to the hotel to get in a little siesta.
Amy here: I’m really enjoying the architecture and feeling of this city. It’s a wonderful combination of old and new – beautiful French architecture buildings, Buddhist pagodas and the Vietnamese whizzing by on their mopeds on their mobile wearing conical hats. I’ve never been to any city like this and can’t compare it to anywhere I’ve ever been which is exciting.
Anyway, after a few hours in the hotel we decided to head back out for dinner. Some very nice Canadians in our hotel told us about a restaurant down the street that has good beer and pizza.
After traveling for 3 weeks you sometimes need a break from Asian food. The restaurant was on the second floor overlooking the lake and traffic circle, and we scored some seats on the patio to get a great view of the cars and motorcycles going by. If you are not familiar with Vietnam, there are stop lights, but I don’t think many people follow them. Cars, buses, mopeds, bicycles, and walkers come from and go to every direction. Somehow they weave in and out of each other because we never saw an accident. Just learning to walk took us about an hour on the first day. You don’t slow down or speed up, just walk slowly across the street and the vehicles go around you as you are parting the sea. Well we got a pressbox view of the action (and took a video below for your viewing pleasure) while eating our pizza. A very relaxing way to end the evening. Once again it was an early night as we had a wake up call at 6:30 the next morning for our trip to Ha Long Bay.
I am really starting to enjoy Vietnam. It is by far the cheapest place we have been to thus far. No matter what we seem to buy, it always cost no more than $3. A large bottle of water is only 30 cents. A piping hot bowl of pho is $1.50. Tickets to the water puppet show are $2. And most of the people would bend over backwards to help you (usually with their hand out for a tip at the end of it).