Trip Start Aug 04, 2010
54Trip End Feb 04, 2011
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After a quick breakfast of Muesli, yogurt and mini pineapples, we bid Heather's housekeeper (her name is Ha and she is delightful) farewell, we flagged a taxi (we have been told that Hanoi Taxi, CP and Mailinh are the best ones to use).
We started the day at Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum....very strict rules associated with the visit. Armed guards made sure we didn't take any pictures of Ho Chi Minh, or put our hands in our pockets etc... Ho Chi Minh looked very real, but there is some talk that it is simply a wax rendition of him
Right outside of the mausoleum we rented a Cyclo from a man who had an amazing smile...he took us to the Temple of Literature. The Temple was amazing, it started training students almost a 1,000 years ago. There were tablets (or stellae) that represented the names each of the doctoral graduates from the temple of literature from the beginning. It was fantastic to stand in a place that has been around so long and contributed so significantly to the education of the Vietnamese people.
Next stop was Koto, a restaurant across the street from the Temple. Koto is a nonprofit organization that takes street kids/disadvantaged youth and trains them over 24 months in the areas of interpersonal skills, English language, vocational skills (hospitality) so that if they stick with it and graduate they will find a job in the hospitality filed either in Vietnam or abroad. They have a 100% placement rate. We ate a falafel wrap and marinated tofu.....service was terrific, the waiters had impeccable English skills and the atmosphere was delightful. Lovely and we felt good that we could contribute in a small way to helping this amazing organization.
Bellies full, we sauntered over to "Hanoi Hilton" the prison that all the American pilots were held in during the Vietnam War. The exhibits were much better than we had anticipated. The interpretation in the jail started with the French occupation of Vietnam and the detention of patriotic Vietnamese during the early 1900s. Then they interpreted the Vietnam War and we saw pictures of all the American pilots who were gunned down during the war. We saw pictures of John McCain having his broken arm treated by Vietnamese doctors.....all the photos showed American soldiers being treated very well. The Vietnamese wanted to treat the American soldiers really well so that they would change their mind about the Vietnamese people and shift their way of thinking about the war. Pretty powerful stuff.
Last stop....the Water Puppet Theater. I loved the water puppet show, we opted for the more expensive tickets ($3 or 60,000 dong instead of $2 or 40,000 dong). The best part of the show for us was the traditional Vietnamese folk music. We saw an instrument that was new to us. It was a tabular instrument with strings and then a circular stick that she used to control the sound of the strum. The puppets came out in water to the music....there were men, women and children puppets and a variety of animals including: dragons, turtles, phoenix, fish, birds etc.... This is a traditional art form that farmers used to do in the rural areas in the flooded rice fields. We really felt like we were getting a good dose of Vietnamese theater, everything was in Vietnamese language.
We then walked to the pagoda (temple) in the middle of Hoan Kiem lake where there is a preserved giant turtle (which are sacred in Vietnam) in a box. We had a beer at Legends Brewery in downtown, caught a taxi home and will be getting ready for our trip to the Perfume Pagoda tomorrow and Sapa on Thursday evening.