North and South of the River

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Where I stayed
Lakeview Hotel

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, April 2, 2010

On our return to Hanoi we checked into the Hanoi Lakeview Hotel for our final two nights in Vietnam. The hotel is very close to the lake in an area of the old quarter with lots of bars and restaurants. We decided to stay somewhere a bit more up market so that Derek and Sarah could celebrate their birthdays here and so we splashed out on the Lakeview at a whopping $40/night for a large three bedded room with ensuite bathroom and balcony, but ironically no lake view? The old quarter provided us with one of the best meals in Vietnam so far at the famed restaurant called Little Hanoi.

April Fools day is of course also Derek's birthday, but rather than let the birthday boy lie in we were up and out pretty early to visit "Uncle Ho", the father of Vietnamese independence and reunification (although the North & South finally reunified several years after his death). Although a communist, he was more of an idealist and in his leadership he did not seem to abuse the position unlike a few other tyrants one could mention. A short taxi ride and we were soon shuffling along in the moving procession of people waiting to see Ho Chi Minh. Despite requests for a simple cremation, when Ho Chi Minh passed away a rather impressive mausoleum was built and his body has been lying in state ever since (excepting the two months a year that he goes to Russia for touch ups?!?). The security is extremely high with guards in poorly fitting white suits everywhere. No electronic items whatsoever (including cameras, phones, laptops, etc) are allowed in. Ho Chi Minh’s rather frail looking body lies in a glass case in a very chilly darkened room with four guards positioned around him. Visitors must walk slowly around the glass case on a walkway, two-by-two. Rules are strict; no talking, no sniggering, no hat, no hands in pockets, etc. The whole thing seemed a little odd, but is a must do if you’re in Hanoi.

With Uncle Ho visited we spent a short while in the surrounding grounds of the mausoleum before strolling over to the Presidential Palace and Stilt House, Uncle Ho’s final two residences. HCM lived in the Presidential Palace from 1954-58 before deciding to move into the stilt house and live a more simple existence like the ordinary people of Vietnam. Final stop in the Ho Chi Minh complex was the museum, an interesting and informative visit, but was preceded by an amusing encounter with a Vietnamese “student”. As usual, in the last day or two of a country we try to rid ourselves of all of our local currency and only withdraw what we think we will need. Although we knew that we would need more cash for the next day, we had headed out to visit HCM with very little actual cash, enough for the entrance fees and our taxis and after paying our entrance to the museum, in addition to our taxi fare home, we were down to our last 2000 dong (about ten cents). As we entered the museum a young guy approached us and explained that he was a Vietnamese student who knew the museum very well, spoke good English and would give us a “free” tour. Derek thought it only fair to explain that while we would appreciate a free tour we had no money to tip him. At this, he clearly didn’t believe us, laughed and said “you can travel the world, but you have no money, very funny” before storming off to find another lost soul in need of a “free” tour!

We returned to the hotel where they presented Derek with a beautiful bouquet of flowers for his birthday (aah, how sweet). When traveling like this one tends to accumulate “stuff” and we had plans to mail a box back home so we spent a fun afternoon browsing the backstreets and markets and managed to pick up a few more odds and ends that we wanted. Wandering through the streets anywhere in Vietnam is entertainment in itself; from the interesting storefronts to the hawkers with their wares draped across their shoulders; from the chaos of traffic to the sidewalks which (in Hanoi) seem to have transformed into motorcycle parking lots. Prize for craziest motorcycle cargo was awarded this time to the guy carrying a mattress while on his scooter! (See fuzzy photo below).  With our shopping done (including two obligatory traditional Vietnamese cone hats) we returned to the hotel to abandon our acquisitions and head out to celebrate the benefits of old age. After a pretty good dinner at Thai Express of all places, we ended up at a bar called Legends on the second floor overlooking the lake and the busiest intersection in the old quarter….lots of interesting and amusing people watching. Legends also serve their own beer brewed on the premises which we ordered some of and discovered to be pretty good stuff. Derek claims to have been very restrained there since he managed to keep the number of beers down to just two (see pictures) and Alex tried to weasel his way into a sip or two.

As many of you are aware, Sarah’s birthday is the day after Derek’s and is often celebrated with a thick head….however, with stuff to get sorted, it was fortunate that this year was pretty mild. We checked out of our hotel and with bags stowed there until later set off with a list of errands including flight confirmations, a visit to the post office to mail our SE Asia souvenirs back home and a search for the fifth Harry Potter book in English. Flights turned out to be fine, the postal service was top notch (US Postal Service take note), though with a possible 3-5 months delivery time we might make it home before our stuff does, and alas the search for the fifth Harry Potter continues. It might be easier to teach Lauren Vietnamese than to find the fifth book in English!

We returned to Little Hanoi for dinner and had another great meal, before a final stroll through the old quarter back to the hotel. We collected our bags and were soon airport bound for our first flight in almost a month! Tokyo here we come….
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