Friday 15 October

Hanoi Street

Dong Xuan Market

Begin with a walk to the bank to change some more money. The streets of Hanoi are a bit calmer than those of Saigon, but there is still the ever-present cacophony of hooters and bells. We spend most of the morning looking around the Old Quarter. John takes us on the walk described in one of his books. Each street specialises in a particular commodity—jewelry, hardware, shoes, mats, ropes, clothes, traditional medicines and spices, etc. We end up at the Dong Xuan indoor market, a large ugly concrete building. Jay is feeling unwell, so John offers to take her back to the hotel and meet back with James and me later. The market is a bit of a dissapointment as there is not a great deal to see inside. More interesting and perhaps disturbing is the animal market outside at the back, where birds, cats, lizards, etc, are kept in cages barely large enough for some of them to stand up.

On John’s return, we continue through the Old Quarter and decide to check out a couple of other hotels, as we are not wholly impressed with the quality of the plumbing at Hung Hiêp. For lunch, for the price of a MacDonalds we eat fish cooked at our table with generous helpings of assorted greenery and cold noodles in the smart restaurant Cha Ca La Vong. Seems a bit decedant for lunch, and the food is certainly well up on a burger.


Cyclo Driver

Our first taste of a cyclo ride to reach Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum in the administrative centre of the city to the west of the Old Quarter. It feels rather exposed to sit in an armchair that is thrust out on the front of a three-wheeled cycle into the mêlée of traffic, but we soon get over the initial terror of the apparent near-misses and begin to enjoy the experience. On arrival, we discover that the Ho Chi Minh museum is closed for renovation at this the height of the Hanoi tourist season. Never mind. We walk around the corner to the mausoleum just in time to witness the changing of the guard. The march is a slow funeral step, although cutbacks appear to have left one of the guards minus his rifle. Forgetting myself for a moment, I venture to place a foot on the curb in front of me to better position myself to take a photograph and am instantly rewarded with a whistle blast.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

One-Pillar Pagoda

The mausoleum itself is a very sobmre and heavy grey stone structure. It is easy to picture columns of tanks parading past through the square in front of it. Nearby in total contrast is the One-pillar Pagoda—an elegant building raised on a single concrete pillar in the centre of a large pond, and it does admirably for a photograph or two.

It is a relief to come to the Temple of Literature (I am quite sure that the map of Hanoi in my copy of the Rough Guide is faulty) and get away from the ever-present cacophany of scooter horns and cyclo bells. Inside is a large collection of ‘stelae’. These are a kind of degree certificate, though dispensing with the usual practise of placing it in a frame on the back of the lavatory door, the academics of Hanoi seem to have preferred to carve the pertinent details onto a less-portable tombstone-like slab set upright on the back of a giant stone tortoise. The oldest of the collection date back to the 15th century.

After a much needed drink at a hard-to-find nearby café (that map is definitely wrong) we return to the hotel by cyclo. By the reaction of our drivers, the fare of 20000 dong (about a pound) is clearly more than they usually get for the journey.

Jay is feeling a bit better when we return, so we decide to spend the rest of the afternoon souvenir-hunting. Apart from bootleg CDs, I find nothing of real interest. The main goods on offer seem to be silk scalves and ties, trinkets carved out of wood or stone, and silk tapestries. We eat a light supper of spring rolls in a café on the Hoan Kiem lake. The ambience is quite western, and the clientel are clearly well-to-do. The food is excellent and we decide to return here for our last night in Hanoi. Afterwards, I return to the hotel while James and John seach out the Prince Hotel that we passed earlier to make a reservation for our return from Cat Ba Island.