A walk in history

Trip Start Feb 16, 2010
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Trip End Mar 09, 2010


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Where I stayed
Prince 1

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

After checking back in to Prince Hotel, I immediately made bookings for the next 6 days to Halong Bay and Sapa at the hotel reception. Competition was pretty high, out at the streets, every other tour offices were touting the same deals but at slightly different prices. What you will see alot are the Singh Cafe tour offices (which were in fact spin off versions of the original office). The original tour office is now renamed Singh Tourist - they do pretty good for a tour office with reliable information.
 
Thus I began my long walk - blindly trekking to the east side of Old Quarters and stumbled into an open wet market. One particular street sells pirated DVDs - the packaging was startlingly authentic too, probably even more posh looking than the real ones - especially the TV series boxsets. Heading towards Hoan Kiem Lake - I crossed my first major vietnamese road but the traffic was pretty light - so no hassle at all. Ngoc Son temple which perched on an island out in Hoan Kiem Lake was full of local devotees, in fact all temples were packed.
 
The sky was overcast and the air was a cool 14 degrees, perfect for a city trail walk. I left the tourist trail and headed towards the History Museum where I was scammed by an old lady who offered to take a photo of me carrying her baskets. She demanded 50 000 VND for the favour and i relented out of courtesy. But when I gave her a 100 000 VND note, expecting change, she returned a 5000 VND, and almost had me there. Tsk Tsk. 
 
Nest stop was to Hanoi Railway station. It was about noon and lunch was a bowl of piping hot Pho Bo along a side street. For 30 000 VND a bowl, this street stall version is simpler and have no mint leaves at all. There was something about slurping a Pho soup on a tiny plastic stool on low table just 1 metre from a certain automobile accident. At the railway station - I was completely lost in trying to buy a ticket (out of Hanoi in a week). When I tried to use the public toilet, the attendant demanded US$2 for entry when I refused blatantly.
 
At the information table, a local lady spoke abit of English. I managed to squeezed some details of train schedule to DongHa. Travelling on train during Tet New Year is a challenge, let me tell you that first hand. No seats. For weeks. This I didnt know until when I returned to Hanoi in about a week. I merely left the station with train departure times to DongHa, I didnt query about availability of seats but that's in the later entries.
 
Next stop was to Temple of Literature. Well, I lost my way (even with a map) but found a KFC outlet near the Thai Embassy. I went in (wait for it) only to use the toilets. Temple of Literature was literally packed and was kind of exciting. Parents with kids swarmed the premises praying and offering incenses and touching every artifacts for blessings. At the main grounds, a human chess game was takin place. The ponds were floating with VND notes like water lillies.
 
The park next to the temple had a water puppet show organised by the municipal council. If you are not keen to pay thousands of VND (literally) to watch a water puppet show at the theatre proper (in the Old Quarters), get yourself to this park, it is free! And you watch it with the locals. The local school kids loved it! The banging music, the water sprouting dragon and stage smoke, all part of the exciting show.
 
Idlely made my way to the One Pillar Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh residence and Ho Chi Minh Mausoluem but it was closed. The grounds were huge and populated with communist flags. The locals would hang around the parade square, strolling or chilling out. The mausoleum itself was a princely structure with heavy marble finishes and looked very intimidating from every angle.
 
My trail brought me West Lake and to Tran Quoc Pagoda. I was looking forward to step foot into a 11th century Quen Thanh temple but not only I couldnt find it, I actually thought it was already demolished and replaced by a dozen of kitsch looking floating western restaurants. I had my next bowl of chicken noodle ordered with the help of a local school girl who spoke english. This was just behind the streets leading to the floating restaurants.
 
By evening, I was on the northern outskirts of Old Quarters. Alot more shops were opened for busineses - I found a couple of proper cafes selling local dishes and finally a convenience shop where I gathered more toiletries. Found alot of street stalls selling snails for consumption - should I? Hmmm....
 
Back at the hotel, the hot shower was not working but thankfully the staff got it fixed pretty quick otherwise I would have blown my top. I was not going to entertain the idea of changing to another room. Supper was uneventful but the walk around Hoan Kiem Lake was mesmerising. Local couples dating, bright lanterns lit the romances and the festive music blaring away. Of course not forgetting the horns of the traffic.
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