Back in the Old Quarter it was time to give our feet a workout and explore the city. The streets of this part of the city are all named according to a certain profession. For example P Hang Gai is ‘Silk Street’. Another street will sell shoes, and yet another headstones for burial plots.
These streets were full of life and provided many distractions as we made an early morning walk to the mausoleum of Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh for those not in the know). In death he remains as popular as ever and despite his requests to be cremated, he remains embalmed and on display where he can be viewed most mornings by his adoring followers.
All cameras and other recording devices must be handed in before you enter, followed by a shuffling entrance where everyone slowly files passed Ho in his illuminated glass coffin (more of a display case).
Exiting out the other side there is the chance to visit one of Ho’s old residences as well as one of the more bizarre museums I’ve ever encountered, the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Here alongside historical pictures of Ho and examples of how the Vietnamese peasant may have lived, are art installations of oversized tables with fruit bowls. The meaning was a little lost on me.
A visit to the Vietnam Military History Museum showed off some more war era military hardware before what proved an interesting stroll through the ‘Maison Centrale’, the Hỏa Lò Prison, better known (well, notoriously known) as the Hanoi Hilton.
Whilst much of the prison is now gone, what remains is now the museum showing off the old french guillotine, some of the old cells and photos of US POWS from during the war. They even had the flight suit of US Presidential hopeful, John McCain on display!
By now we’d well and truly worked up a thirst and it was time for some Bia Hoi. It was certainly far more prevalent here than it had been in Saigon, and it wasn’t long before we find a great little corner place in the heart of the Old Quarter. Our guidebook suggested a place called ‘Bia Hoi Corner’ where different vendors sat on all 4 corners of a crossroads, however the area was littered with tourists.
The little place we found was full of locals, with us the only foreigners, and that suited us perfectly!
We were able to chat with a few of the locals in broken english, and after a few beers (and some great people watching) it was time to wander on.
With more time spent wandering the Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake, we made friends with a small group of students, keen to grab photos with us at every opportunity… almost as though we were all old friends!
Dinner was out on the streets in form of a sensational bbq. Sat on small plastic stools with a burner in front of us, you order the meat, vegetables or whatever you desire then cook it yourself as needed. When the smoke wasn’t blowing in your direction it was incredibly tasty.
Earlier in the day we’d walked the distance to the railway station, so we knew when it came time to go and meet our overnight train to Sapa, walking with our backpacks was not going to really be an option.
We grabbed ourselves a taxi, loaded our bags and off we went…
You hear travel horror stories, but this was the first and only time to date we have ever encountered a really dishonest taxi. This guy tried to get us with the triple threat. His meter was doctored so that the fare clicked over very quickly. He then tried to take us the incorrect way (at that point we were very glad we’d scouted earlier and knew where we were supposed to be going). As a final insult, he then tried to keep the change we were owed.
Prior to reaching the station we’d considered ditching the cab and walking the distance, however our need to meet the train overwhelmed this desire, so with a slightly bitter taste in our mouths, we left Hanoi.