Originally published on facebook –  October 1, 2010 at 6:25am ·

HANOI – day 6.

Back in Hanoi, we arrive by train at 5am, rapping on the door and obnoxiously loud Asian music playing, lovely. I search out some crappy coffee on the train and then we have arrived at the station. I meet up with everyone on the platform and we find a taxi large enough to take all 5 of us and our packs to the hostel. It’s raining buckets and we’re all soaked pretty quickly. Reception at the hostel doesn’t open until 6pm so we wait around in the lobby with some other refugees all of us dozing, dazed and dreamy. I wrangle a dorm bed but can’t get into it until 8am, others are not so lucky and have to wait until 11am. Some of us (Andy, Len, Beckie, Nicole, who I have found again, yay! and I) decide to check out the Museum of Ethnology and then go in search of the remains of some B52 bombers that were shot down by the Vietnamese during the war. Nicole is a huge asset as she speaks Vietnamese, her skills come in very useful as we navigate by taxi around town for the day. Everyone falls in love with her as quickly as I did, it’s hard not to.

The Museum of Ethnology is interesting, outside are some buildings with written descriptions, one of which is a tomb or burial preparation room. Outside it is surrounded by wooden carved sculptures which are designed to depict all that is needed to have led a good life as well as the things to take with you to the afterlife. There are a surprising number of erect penises and sexual couplings. Everyone, all ages, get the giggles once they realize what they are looking at. We’re all a little punch-drunk form the early morning and agree that we have a hard time reading let alone understanding the written descriptions of what we are seeing. I basically wander around finding photo opportunities, looking for pretty things. Inside the museum it is the same with lots of displays of different ethnicity’s ceremonial clothing but most is behind glass and difficult to photograph.

Image

We’re all dazed and hungry so decide to cab to the general area of the B52 bombers to get some lunch and then seek them out. we have a fast and cheap lunch at a street stall where we point at what we want to eat and hope for the best, I do well with a bunch of different veggies and some tofu, but the food is just ok. Afterward we set out to find the bombers which are notoriously hard to find. We actually locate the first one quite quickly. It’s sunk into a lake/canal and only looks like a small pile of scrap metal. It’s a bit disappointing as the B52 was a massive machine and these remains don’t do it’s size any justice.

Image

We move on to try to see the next site. I am not a map reader today and am happy to relinquish control to the others. We get lost and it’s super hot but I keep my mouth shut and leave them to figure it out, I follow the group and happily take pictures to amuse myself. Traveling in a pack can be tricky if you are an Alpha so sometimes it’s better to just let go and let others do the figuring which I readily did today.

We find it eventually, it’s some sort of museum. Outside on the grounds are the remains of the B52 bomber and this time you can really get an idea of the scale of the thing. It really is massive, the tail must be about 30′ high. The ruins are just that, in ruins, but there are some impeccably well maintained large scale guns of Vietnamese origin as well as a Mig 21 fighter plane on a large marble pedestal and 2 gigantic ground launch missiles. We take a quick look through the museum but are all so hot and beat by now that we decide to go to a cafe Nicole found overlooking the Hoan Kiem Lake. It has a good breeze on the covered rooftop patio and we all have cool drinks or coffee to help perk us up a bit. Some of us decide we want to see the Water Puppet show which is nearby, some of us have seen it so we head off in our different directions. I went to see the show but unfortunately the showing we wanted was already sold out, we didn’t want to hang out and wait so we headed back to the hostel for a rest and a shower.

Image

Later that night I took Andy, Jan Willem, Manon and another girl we met whose name escapes me right now back to my favorite restaurant, Quan An Ngon. I had to run around with the waiter a few times pointing at things we wanted but he was great and we all enjoyed the food very much. Back to the hostel and I was asleep by midnight having said my goodbyes to Jan Willem and Manon who were heading South and to Len and Andy who were headed back home the next day. Hugs all round the world!

HANOI – day 7.

Headed off to do my own thing for most of the day, a little gift shopping for you lucky folks at home, booked a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda for the next day and arranged to meet up with Nicole to see the 5pm Water Puppet show. I’d heard from a few people that the W.P.show was “a bit naff” and that’s probably how I would describe it as well. The puppets are neat to look at but there seem to be only 2 stories actually told, with an infinite variety of variation. In story #1, boy (human, dragon, or phoenix) meets girl of same species, he chases her around for a while and she token resists until eventually she relents and love ensues. Story #2 consists of a hunter or fisherman trying to catch his prey. He chases the prey around for a while, hilarity ensues and he finally victoriously, with great fanfare finally catches it, surprise! There was live music played on a wide variety of traditional instruments with Vietnamese singing. I found listening and watching the musicians much more interesting then the puppetry itself.

After the show we went in search of a street shown on our hostel’s map which is known as the Vietnamese food street. I’m not rely sure how it differs from almost any other street with food stalls all over it but we found a great place with indoor seating and A/C. It was called The Hue which after looking at the menu Nicole figured specialized in food from the city of Hue which is on the Central Southern Coast. The food was awesome, service was great and we left stuffed and very satisfied. Off to bed for a good nights sleep I have a big day tomorrow at the Perfume Pagoda.

HANOI – day 8.

My one week anniversary! I’m celebrating by visiting the Perfume Pagoda. My day starts early as I have to catch the bus at 8am. I arrive and hop on the bus as it starts moving, just made it. On the way out of town we have to stop by the side of the road to wait for somebody who missed the bus to get dropped off with us. I meet a girl from Saigon, Kim, who is standing under a tree outside the bus while we wait. She is eating something and I ask her what it is, she points up and there are little pink fruits the size of a large blueberry on the tree. She picks one for me I try it and it’s wonderful, sweet and juicy it tastes sort of like a grape mixed with a watermelon. She tells me they are called fish eyes. The others arrive so we get on the bus and I promptly pass out for the next 2 hours as we travel to My Duc where we transfer onto small river boats. The boats seat 6 plus the oarswoman who is a tiny little creature with the most awesome strength. She kicks butt on the other rowers overtaking quite a few as we work our way up the wide river towards the mountain pagoda. The boat ride takes about an hour. On the ride Kim tells me that the mountain range we can see is called 99 elephants and once I know this I can see why. They really do look like elephants. Apparently 99 of them all face in the same direction while the 100th is facing the opposite way. We see fishermen hauling up bamboo cages (fish traps) from the water and a few tombs alongside the river that are used by families nearby. There are actually road signs at the rivers’ junctions and it makes sense really because it is like a road.

Image

After an hour we land at the base of the mountain. We are given an option to walk up 4km of stairs or to take a cable car up the mountain. We all opt for the ride up and I decide I will walk back down. I am the first person waved into a cable car as I am a “single” and I am placed with 5 South Vietnamese tourists who don’t speak very much English and who appear to be laughing at me, perhaps because of the appalling amount of sweat I can produce.

We are let off at the top and I am ahead of my group which I am happy about as I would rather be own my own here anyways. I walk a bit and find the archway that leads to the many stairs that go down to the mouth of the giant cave of the pagoda. At the entrance is a small shrine where people make an offering of incense and have a quick prayer. I work my slowly into the cave taking it all in. I am fascinated by the limestone formations, the stalagmites and stalactites and the few carvings of what I assume are Vietnamese letter characters that appear to be (and probably are) hundreds if not thousands of years old. Down random carved limestone stairs into the main body of the cave it is still massive the roof must be a hundred feet above my head, I see the odd bat flitting about up there. Ahead of me are a series of shrines. At the main one there is a very large collection of golden Buddhas. One one side of the collection they are depicted as aged and elderly, on the other side they all appear young. I overhear a guide telling his group that this is symbolic of the eternal life, the continual death and rebirth of Buddha, I like that. I am awed by this place and the sense of age and respect that almost palpably hangs in the air. I realize that this has a lot to do with the fact that this is a natural space where “God” was discovered and how different this feels to me opposed to a place that is built for the worship of “God” which sometimes feels like maybe he/she/it took some convincing or was sort of coerced or forced into the place we decided was convenient. People recognized in this place that it was special and so treated it accordingly. I like it very much and feel as though I, if I was inclined, could worship here even (or especially) without any sort of shrine except the natural beauty of the space.

Image

Image

Image

It’s time to start heading down the mountain to meet the others for lunch, I don’t want to miss it as it’s almost 2 pm already and I’m starved. I walk down 4km of stairs and hillside. My knees are wobbly by the time I reach the bottom but I make it in the nick of time for food. I eat quickly as we are only given a short time to check out the man-made but very old pagoda at the bottom of the hill. It ends up being massive and quite beautiful and of course I am fascinated and take forever and end up meeting everyone about 20 minutes late. The guide is calling me “Canada” by now and making jokes that he needs to find me a Vietnamese husband who will teach me how to read a clock. I take a lot of good-natured ribbing in stride and in my uniquely Canadian way I say sorry about a million times. We head back down the river in our boats and I can tell it’s gearing up to rain.

These are two of my all time favorite statues and I found them tucked away under a tarpaulin!

Image

Image

On the boat back we hear a dog yelping and whimpering, this can’t be good. Shortly we see two guys carrying a squirming bag hanging from a stick held between them, the yelps are coming from inside the bag…yup, dog for dinner. Kim tells me that it is common in the countryside for dog to be eaten but being from the city she’s never eaten it and wouldn’t. I’m struggling with it, it’s hard to wrap my head around the idea of eating Fido (or Morgan) but I knew coming here that it happens and I just have to be ok with it, different strokes and all that. We are almost back to My Duc when the sky starts to dump down, lucky for me I have my trusty umbrella this time! On the bus ride home most of us pass out again, we arrive back in Hanoi at dusk, damp and tried but I am very content.

Back at the hostel I meet some new people Andy, Johnny and Alex so Nicole and I take them plus a couple other girls whose names I can’t remember back to “our” restaurant. We arrive late and they warn us that not everything on the menu will be available. We try to hurry to choose our meals it’s hard cause the menu is so big. Then it get’s chaotic, different waiters come running up to us saying that certain dishes are not available but they aren’t telling it to the person who ordered it so everything get pretty confused. We do eventually get food but most of us didn’t get what we wanted but at least we got fed, Poor Nicole was run ragged trying to translate for us and help people figure out options, she told off one of the servers who did eventually apologize but it left us a bit dissatisfied with the experience. By 11pm I am back at the hostel, exhausted and to bed.

Advertisements