Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 – Around Hanoi

Our holiday was finally coming to an end. We had only two days left and we were totally exhausted. Perhaps luckily, when we woke up, the weather was really ugly so after our breakfast we were quite lazy and rested in our room until around ten o’clock.

We went outside and walked down our crowded street, before heading to the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. David joked that we needed to check he was in there ! On the way, we passed a park which had a MIG fighter, more or less parked among the flower beds.

When we found the mausoleum, there was a long, long queue. The sort of thing those of us who have personally suffered the shortages of living under a communist regime refer to as a “queue for meat”. Even though it was moving relatively quickly, the guards started shouting and gesticulating when we tried to take a photograph. Neither of us had any overwhelming desire to go inside anyway, so we just walked away.

We contented ourselves with a quick laugh at the nearby statue of Lenin. For some reason, Lenin was written as V.I. Le Nin. A chill still ran down my spine, these things do not go away. Then we left the last bastion of communism behind us.

Next, we walked to the One Pillar Pagoda. It was quite picturesque and recently restored. Possibly the most interesting thing about it was that the French coldly destroyed the ancient building, purely out of anger, when they were forced out of Hanoi by advancing rebels.

In my mind, I wanted to try and make sense of the linguistic differences we had encountered on our journey north. We had decided we needed to go to the Museum of Ethnology. It was fairly well concealed and we had to take a taxi there, otherwise I doubt we could have found it. In reality, it was not that great, but probably good enough for Vietnamese standards. It did not help us recognise all the local ethnic groups we had encountered, but it did reveal that, altogether, Vietnam contains almost fifty of them. The “Viet” group is, naturally, the most numerous and hence the most dominant and it was less than subtly indicated that it was also the most civilised. To recognise that there were differences, of course, was also to fly in the face of the communist ethic. Those ethnographers have quite a task on their hands.

There were also some interesting, although possibly “staged“, scenes of rural life in the communist utopia ….

Outside, there was quite a good open air exhibition. It detailed the architectural differences specific to the dwellings of each ethnic group, or to be blunt, showed what kind of flimsy shack each grouping preferred to build. There were no mansions with parking spaces for a black Mercedes that characterised the architecture favoured by the communist elite. Sadly, there was a large group of giggling schoolgirls doing the tour and for incomprehensible reasons each girl was photographed with each house at least once. It was almost impossible to get a photo of anything without a schoolgirl in it somewhere. We tried to photograph the dwellings, in the order of the catalogue descriptions, to help with the later identification if we thought we needed to do it it. But, in reality, I doubted that we would be able to identify the individual buildings once again.

On the way back to the hotel, we were also charged a rather exorbitant price to enter the Temple of Literature. This contained a library that was actually carved in solid stone. 

There were also other beautiful artefacts, nicely exhibited. Somewhat sadly, as with most spiritual monuments in Vietnam, it had the interesting content, but it lacked the right atmosphere.

Rather unusually, we were able to find exactly where we were on the map. We shunned the waiting taxis and walked instead. After casually stepping over a railway line that ran through the extremely small space between the houses, we found our hotel with surprising ease (for the first time and also for the last time).

In the evening, we walked a short distance and we ate somewhere that I failed to record and I do not really remember at all. One thing I do recall was that we had spring rolls to eat and I fell out of my chair. They should not have the tables for passing foreigners so close to the steps ! On the way back, we passed the nearby lake again. The pagoda on the island was beautifully illuminated in the darkness.

By the time we got back to the hotel, we were both incredibly sleepy. I called my sister on Skype, but in the few seconds it took her to answer, David had already fallen asleep.