The arrival to real life!
28.11.2012 - 29.11.2012 23 °C
So, there we were, somewhere in Hanoi, but luckily still alive despite the bus drivers best efforts. We walked into the bus station to try to find a map, or someone to ask. No go, it was all shut and dark. Fantastic. We decided to just start walking, and wandered around some fairly main, lit streets, but they were all very local, and there was no English anywhere. We walked past a couple of places that could’ve been hotels, but we weren’t sure and didn’t dare go in and ask! 10 minutes and lots more maybe hotels/maybe nots later, we braved it, and after one telling us they had no beds, and looking shocked at the very prospect of us checking in, another one scooped us up, and hurrah, we had a bed! Admittedly a rock solid bed, in what may or may not have been somewhere that people normally rent ‘by the hour’ (read, where to take your mistress/prostitute...), but we decided to ignore that possible fact, and just went to sleep!
The next morning, first task, find out where on earth we were, and how to get to the city centre. After a little walk around, which stressed Susie out because she had no idea where anywhere was in relation to our hotel etc (John did though so it was OK), we found a coffee house with wi-fi. We eventually worked out where we were – about 6km south of the city centre. We decided in our infinite wisdom to walk it, and after getting some money out, checking out (where the woman charged us $3 less than the man had said, which made up for the fact he charged us 5 times more than he should have done for water. Haha.
The walk was rather long, but straightforward, and we were both enjoying being somewhere with some life to it, after all of Laos (which although lovely is very quiet!). After about 90 minutes, we arrived at the hotel we’d planning to stay in, Liberty Hotel, where we were greeted by a lovely, yet completely insane lady who asked us about 10 questions in quick succession, and then finally took us to a really nice room. It had a HOT SHOWER, CABLE TELEVISION, SOFT PILLOWS, and various other luxuries unknown to us for weeks! It was an extravagance at $15 a night, but soooo worth it. Ahhhhh.
We went out and got our bearings (well, John did anyway, Susie seems to have a mental block knowing her way round Hanoi). After a little wander, we went and got a very locals lunch of Bun Cha (grilled pork mince meat balls, with a tasty soup with more pork in it, that is served with a massive plate of lettuce/other greens, loads of noodles, fish spring rolls and a beer), which was very tasty, but LOTS of food and far too much meat for people who’ve basically been eating vegetarian for 2 weeks!
We then went back to the room, and proceeded to have a VERY lazy afternoon, which was much needed after the busy last week or so we’d had! We spent almost the whole afternoon in our room, making the most of having cable tv in our room (first time since Siem Reap!), and watched ‘America’s Next Top Model’ for about 5 hours. Disgraceful, yes, but definitely some much needed trash! Our brains hadn’t chilled out that much for weeks!
After America’s Next Top Model finished, an episode of Masterchef USA gave us both a massive craving for ribs, so a short guide book flick later, we ended up at Al Fresco’s for dinner. This is a small Australian run chain that does ribs, burgers, etc. Upon arrival, we deliberated for a while about whether to get a whole rack each, but descided against it, mainly because it was $20! In the end we shared one, and we were so glad we did. It was huuuuuuge!! With that and an extra potato wedges, we were both struggling to finish it, and we were really hungry before! We did finish though, because they were quite possible the best ribs we’ve ever had - so meaty and delicious, and yummmmm!!!
What made the whole experience even better was the fact that there was paper over the table, and crayons, for drawing on. WIN! We had great fun, and Susie drew an awesome map of our route so far!
We staggered back along the edge of the Hoan Kiem Lake, which was surrounded by couples, cuddling up on the benches! We declined to join in, and instead went back and went to bed!
Did we mention that there's a LOT of motorbikes here???
The next day we woke up at 8am, which is fairly late for us, and set off with the intention to go and see Ho Chi Min’s (or Uncle Ho as the Vietnamese fondly call him) dead, embalmed body. However, when we got there it turns out that it’s shut on Mondays, we can only assume because he needs some down time! Undetered, we set off to find more about him, and went to see his house, a simple wooden building, and the palace next door, which was where the Royal family lived, and is supposed to contrast how wonderfully simply Uncle Ho lived his life!
We also went to the Ho Chi Min Museum, which tells you about his life and times in a stupidly abstract way!
THis tells you something about HCM, of course :s
We found it all rather amusing though, and the contrast between everything that Ho Chi Min and the Vietnamese communists stood for, compared to Vietnam today, and the stalls outside the museum selling tacky souvenirs, is funny but a little ridiculous and sad.
After that, we went to the Temple of Literature, a Confucian temple, which was very pretty and peaceful.
Our tummys finally started rumbling after last nights ribs, and so we headed to a little cafe. It provides jobs for locals from poor backgrounds, and so we felt very good about ourselves, both because our money was going to a good cause, and because we had yummy cakes and tea. Mmmm!
In the afternoon, we watched some more TV, and then went out to St. Joseph's Cathedral. This looks like a small version of the Notre Dame from the outside, and inside looked exactly like a church/cathedral would at home. Despite not being in the least religious, it was really comforting, just because of how British it felt!!
In the evening, we went to a vegetarian restaurant, which specialising in making dishes that look and taste like meat, while still being suitable for veggies. This is fairly common in Vietnam, as traditionally hosts wanted to make food for their Buddhist guests that was the same as their other guests. It was OK, but we caught them at a bad time, as they were very busy, and so it wasn’t as good as it could have been. It did look very like meat, and the taste was there, but the texture was missing!!
We then headed off to bed, ready for our early start to Halong Bay the next day.