We have spent the last few days in Hanoi, checking out the tourist attractions in the city and generally just wandering around to see what we can find. So far one things keeps leading to another and we end up doing one museum too many and getting stroppy and over-tired.
After wandering around St. Joseph’s Cathedral we found ourselves a little further afield than we intended, accidentally winding up outside Fanny, the legendary ice cream parlour. We wanted to go in but were both hungry for lunch so decided to eat in the area and go back for pudding. We walked around for ages, each thinking the other was choosing a place to eat but eventually settled for somewhere and negotiated a price for Pho Bo. It was my first time eating street food so I was a little apprehensive, particularly when attempting to balance my backside on a stool designed for a Vietnamese infant.
The food came and looked amazing, and a bargain at less than a quid each. Steaming soup with noodles, onions and tomatoes with meat on top (delicious, but probably not beef!), and a big bowl of greens to add into it. So far so delicious.
On the way back to Fanny we stopped by the old prison and learnt about how industrious the Vietnamese prisoners had been under the French colonialists. Not to mention what a lovely time the American prisoners of war had when it was dubbed the Hanoi Hilton. Despite the bias, it was well worth a visit for 20,000VND (about 60p) and also has lovely clean sit-down toilets; so far I haven’t had to squat and I would like to keep it that way!
At Fanny we elected to just have a sundae each and no drink as compared to street food prices it is very expensive. For example lunch in Hanoi (one of the more expensive cities) is around 30,000VND for a bowl of Pho, and a Fanny ice cream is upwards of 80,000VND. A can of pop can vary from 10,000VND to 25,000VND and beer is often the same price or cheaper. We picked a sundae each and were not disappointed, it was a lovely ice cream. The place was full of Westerners though, it’s really just for tourists.
The next day we got up bright and early to make it to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, taking a cycle rickshaw as our legs were sore from all the walking the previous day. This trip turned out to be weird, interesting and creepy in equal measure. Ho Chi Minh’s body is kept preserved in the mausoleum in the grounds of the presidential palace, so people can visit and pay their respects. The Vietnamese take this very seriously, with airport security to get into the grounds (the man in front had to surrender his water bottle) and soldiers with rifles and bayonets at every turn.
In procession, we filed past the glass case containing Uncle Ho’s body. I thought it was pretty grim that the poor man has been left on display for tourists to gawk over rather than left in peace.
Aside from the weird creepiness of the dead body in a glass display case the rest of the museum was quite interesting, albeit completely swarming with tourists. There was a very strict path around the palace gardens so it was pretty restrictive, kind of like a production line trying to get everyone through and out in the quickest time. The architecture is more communist than oriental, with stark grey modern utilitarian buildings littering the beautiful palace gardens. Although the Ho Chi Minh museum contains many interesting artefacts, the translations were hit or miss, probably why many of the westerners hired guides.
Later we visited my favourite attraction so far, the museum of fine art, which is just behind the Temple of Literature. It seems most tourists don’t bother with this, meaning it was a peaceful oasis away from the chaos of Hanoi. The collection shows Vietnamese art through the ages, and has information fairly accurately translated in each gallery which explains the techniques and styles and how they have evolved through the ages. It is well worth a visit!
My favourite thing so far in Hanoi is Bia Hoi junction; where you can get a beer for 5,000VND (around 15p) and just sit on the side of the street watching the world go by, occasionally picking up snacks from vendors as they pass by.
It’s safe to say Vietnamese life is growing on me, the food is amazing and I’m even getting a little better at bartering!