So, today was our first full day in Hanoi and our first day in the old "North Vietnam". Last night was pretty unproductive after we arrived. We asked the hotel for the name of a good, reasonable restaurant nearby and ended up at Green Mango. Don't get me wrong, the food was great, ambiance wonderful and lots of airconditioning, however, reasonable price it was not. We ended up spending around $20 for Singaporean chicken and pesto fetticini with prawns which doesn't seem bad, but when you can go and spend $5 for a full meal, it's a little pricey.
We got back to the hotel and started realizing what an amazing place this is. It's called the Hanoi Boutique and Dave happened to randomly find it online. We were able to get an air-conditioned room for $25 a night. When we first got here, we were greeted by the front desk, offered a seat and they brought over a fresh plate of fruit for us and water. There is also free internet and whenever we are down here, someone brings us a glass of water, comes to talk to us, and we were just given huge pieces of dragon fruit to eat. Very friendly place where they speak English and help with Tours. Our room is brand new, clean with a separate shower and toilet, A/C and hardwood floors. It's a little loud because it's in the front of the building, but hey, we're in the city. We love it here!
Anyways, back to today. We started out our day with of course, eggs, bacon and bread. Very good though. We were greeted at 9 by our tour guides from Hanoi Kids (www.hanoikidsclub.org) Tree and Hai (sorry about the spelling). It's a program run by Hanoi students wanting to practice their English who give free tours to visitors. It was a great experience for us to be able to talk to them and ask questions about living in Vietnam. Hopefully though I didn't speak too fast for them.
We started out at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. There are a ton of rules for this place. No bags, no cameras, no sunglasses on your head, no hands in your pockets, no talking... You wait in a long line and then are shuffled through a huge marble museum, past Ho Chi Minh's body. It's a little crazy to see. It looks like he is sleeping. You just feel bad looking at this man, who wanted to be cremated, laying in a box for the entire world to come and view. Definitely a little unnerving.
Afterward, we walked by a beautiful French building which was offered up to Ho Chi Minh, but he rejected to live in a smaller habitat. Of course the original was closed, but we were able to see the stilt house he lived the rest of his life in and the smaller house he died in. Very simple. It was set in a beautiful landscape with a large fishpond and was extremely crowded!! We decided to forego the museum as we were a little museum'ed out. After we stopped by the One Pillar Pagoda which was built by a king and dedicated to Buddha for giving him a son. We were able to see many people praying as this was the first day of the lunar month.
Next stop was the Temple of literaturewhich is the oldest University in Vietnam. It is a beautiful complex with many buildings and statues of the old teachers. There are also 88 turtles which it is good luck for students if they rub all their heads. Since tomorrow is the huge country exam, many students were trying to make it by security to get their fill of luck.
Fact break: Today marks a big day for Vietnam for 2 reasons. First, although all adults are required to wear helmets, beginning today, all children under the age of 14 are required to as well (you would have thought this would be the opposite). Secondly, today marks the first day that the Vietnamese government is charging income tax on their people, although according to our guide in the Mekong, they are not sure what the money will be used for.
Ok, back to our day. Off we went to lunch which was the same as the place we had eaten in Ho Chi Minh. Only this time we had Tree and Hai to help us order. Our meal was great! Chicken wings (of course), buns filled with pork which were delicious, papaya salad with sun-dried beef, and noodles with a soup with grilled pork balls (also amazing!). We had a great lunch and then were back to the hotel to say our goodbyes.
After lunch, we rested for a bit and then headed out to the Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton by the US pilots which were held here (including John McCain). This was originally built by the French to hold political prisoners and there were lots of pictures about how they were tortured. Most of it was raised, but a portion remains for the museum. There are also several rooms which show how humane the pilots were treated, basically calling it a home away from home. See the picture of the yellow paper showing the rules of the prison. We saw the uniform that Senator McCain was captured in as well as many pictures of their "great life" in Prison. Very interesting to see, once again, their point of view.
A quick stop was needed at Fanny's, a Vietnamese ice cream shop, where I tried chocolate chili (really interesting) and Dave had dark chocolate and salted caramel (also very good).
Quick stop back at the hotel to shower and then we were off to the Water Puppet Show. This art form was created in the mekong so that they could continue their puppet shows during the annual floods. There was a traditional Vietnamese band and although we couldn't understand a word they were saying, it ws very amusing the watch the puppets in the water and figure out our own story. Definitely a very interesting site when visiting here.
After, we took our first bike tuk-tuk ride to Hanoi Garden for dinner. This restaurant has a mix of Vietnamese/Chinese food. I got sweet corn and crab soup and Dave got Sweet Corn and Chicken soup. Then we split Chicken with garlic and chilis (absolutely delicious chinese-type meal) and then chicken fried rice. Dave had a beer and I had a glass of house wine. All for the low cost of $17.50. Love it!
Now we're here and heading off to bed. We're taking an overnight boat tomorrow through Halong Bay and we need to pack our overnight bags.
Oh, and the end of today marks our half-way point. Crazy! We have really enjoyed Vietnam and will talk more about it on our last day of blogging here. But seriously, what a beautiful, amazing country filled with the nicest people!
**Dave note** We also only have 3 more days to avoid eating DOG. Cody- we are looking out for your cousins!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!