From Uncle Ho to Ho,Ho,Ho

Trip Start Oct 19, 2010
Trip End Jul 23, 2011

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Went to the botanical gardens on the way to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. The gardens were quite small but it looks a nice place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi's busy city life.  The Mausoluem of Uncle Ho, as they call him, was large and impressive, surrounded by guards in white uniforms blowing there whistles at people if they stepped on the grass. Not us though, we were behaving! There are some beautiful gardens behind it and a large open square at the front.  It is amazing to see the upmarket boulevards, embassy buildings, top of range cars like Rolls Royce Phantoms and designer shops in this Quarter, after staying in the Old Quarter which is where the poor and homeless reside and us at the moment (but as we are technically homeless too, I guess we fit in perfectly!).  Just around the corner of Uncle Ho is the One Pillar Pagoda.  It is quite small, after seeing a few of these shrines now dotted around the City, the pagoda itself kind of looks like all the others except as the name says - it stands on a single pillar! We must have walked miles but at a very slow pace stopping every now and then to sit and watch the Hanoians play badminton with or without rackets...  We had bets on two old guys playing using their feet, we think my guy won.

Christmas is just around the corner and we haven't seen anywhere to get turkey dinner but on Friday we managed to get as close as we could to a Christmas dinner in a chain run coffee shop called Joma...Roast turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwich with a very tasty pumpkin soup - it was great - I know it was just soup and a sandwich but made us feel all festive (they were playing carols in English adding to our mood).  Still feeling festive, we ambled through the streets with all the Christmas decorations and Chinese red lanterns on sale in their masses.  We didn't want to go on too much of a ramble as we were saving our strength for our trip to the Perfume Pagoda the next day.

Visiting the Perfume Pagoda was a mixed bag of travelling and sites good and not so good.  We went by minibus to the village where we had to travel the next part by boat.  On the way we passed small villages where you could see the rice noodles being dried in the sun on racks and shabby restaurants.  Our guide, who spoke broken English asked everyone if they had eaten 'doc' before and as we had passed many duck farms we thought he said duck so we said yes confidently.  He looked surprised...'You tried doc?' he repeated...I asked him if he said duck or dog...and guess what, he said dog, everyone then said no in horror.  He told us that the village restaurants were cooking up dog meat in the restaurants and that it is lucky to eat dog at the end of the month and cat at the start. (Not so lucky for the dogs and cats!!).  He then pointed out a man on a bicycle with a cage full of dogs on the back and said they were for dog meat...(I understand the cultural differences and have eaten all kinds of exotic meats  but it was very upsetting to see the sad look on the dogs crammed into a cage, as if they knew they were on death row).  Trying to forget their sad eyes, we arrived at the river and climbed into a metal canoe which was rowed by a small Vietnamese woman.  The trip down the river took about an hour.  You could see the karst mountains all around  the calm and peaceful river, it was lovely. 

We then took the cable car to the top (1,000 rugged steps seemed too much).  The  Perfume Pagoda is in a cave and is thought of to be a significantly lucky pagoda.  The cave was full of stalagmites lit up by the lighting below forming shapes of dragons coming out of the walls.  We visited another Pagoda on the way back to the boat which seemed more like the ones we have seen before.  They fed us a selection of Chinese food and we headed back, arriving in Hanoi about 6pm.

Sunday we booked our next hotel as we decided to leave Hanoi on 22nd and make our way to Cat Ba Island to spend Christmas - beaches, boats and nature parks!  Later we went back to the night market and Waffle found a Liverpool FC leather wallet he liked (that's his birthday present sorted for tomorrow!).  The trader wanted 100,000 dong for it (about 3.30) I haggled, as you are told to do, started at 50,000 (suppose I should have started lower than that), I eventually said 75,000 to which he said no 70,000... I agreed quickly before he realised what he said.  Quite funny to get him to undercut my offer...Saved 90 pence in all!!! 

For Waffle's Birthday we went for a drink and a chocolate cake by the lake then wondered around the shops looking for a new cap but his head is too big!!  In the evening we went to his favourite restaurant for the Thai special hotpot he wanted.  It is cooked at the table and has prawns, clams, squid, pork, chicken, beef (which was cooked briefly in the stock so it was still medium rare) and loads of vegetables and noodles.  We had starters as well and was quite a task to eat it all but we gave it a good go.  After several beers we crashed back at the hotel.

It's Today and not done much today except packing ready for our 2 hour train journey to Hai Phong in the morning and the hydrofoil to Cat Ba Island. 

(click here to see more of our pictures from Hanoi...)

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