Culture, Chopsticks And A Bloody Big Cathedral

Trip Start Oct 02, 2012
Trip End Mar 31, 2014

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, November 22, 2012

We awake full of energy and excitement. Today we set out to explore the old quarter of Hanoi. We already adore this city and are eager to have a good look about. We fill up on sweet Vietnamese coffee, pop our flip flops on, pocket the free map from the hotel and cast ourselves adrift in the city.

The old quarter is a maze of streets, each selling something different. We walk down Shoe Street, onto Flower Street, turn right onto Neon Sign Making Street, then we make a left onto Pots And Pans Street.... Every stretch of road has a multitude of shops all selling the same thing, at first it's crazy to our western eyes but it soon becomes the norm. The buildings here are a mixture of different architectural styles and influences, but they do share a common factor, they are all really thin and really tall. Most shop fronts / hotels / homes / workshops are all the width of a large room, but they are tall (our hotel is 8 floors) and just as deep. It gives the street fronts a jumbled up and crammed in appearance, which is claustraphobic and endearing in equal measure.

We walk to the lake and visit Ngoc Son Temple which houses a giant mummified turtle. It is massive and a bit creepy (the turtle, not the temple). The temple and ancient artifacts are interesting and the surrounding view of the lake amplifies the serenity of the place. Leaving the solitude of the lake we walk the busy streets until we come to the Hanoi History Museum. Before we indulge in looking at stuff in the museum, we have a bite to eat in a cafe. It is Anna's first ever attempt at using chopsticks and she has ordered noodle soup. She is not happy. After struggling for a while (...while the waitress laughs) she is rewarded with a fork and spoon. Although she struggles, it is a start and in time she will no doubt become a master of the wooden cutlery.

We look at stuff in the museum. It is a wonderful building and it houses a number of extremely interesting pieces. The  artifacts date from prehistoric time right through to the present day, giving a brief history of Vietnam. We depart the museum full of culture and knowledge. We are feeling brave and are still hungry for more culture so we catch a cyclo to the Temple of Literature. A cyclo is a bicycle with a box on the front into which you can squeeze upto 2 people, or a small cow, or a house, or a small forest. Although the Temple of Literature sounds like a rejected Indiana Jones movie, it is actually the site of the country's first national university and a well preserved jewel of 11th century architecture. The cyclo ride is like a rollercoaster but with added death-danger as we are peddled along the super busy roads. The ride is fun but it leaves a sour taste in our mouth when the driver tries to scam us out of 100,000d (3), he switches the note we have given him for 10,000d and tries to make out we owe him money. We stand our ground and he eventually gives up and rides off. As expected, the temple is quiet and peaceful, we walk around before heading to a roof cafe opposite. It is a non-profit business which helps disadvantaged children in the area. Here we can sit and look down on the gardens of the temple and have a beer and a bite to eat before we take the long walk back to the hotel.

By the time we are close to home the light has faded. Hanoi is just as vibrant after dark as it is in the light of day and the walk along Neon Sign Street keeps us alert, along with the swarms of moped beams whizzing past. Out of the darkness we see a strange sight. Someone has plonked a large gothic cathedral on the corner of the road. It is called St. Joseph's and to say the bulding is a bit out of place would be an understatement. We walk around it and have a quick nosey inside before mass starts. Very odd. Then it's time for food and sleep. We have looked at a lot of stuff today and our eyes are tired. Good night Vietnam.
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