Hanoi walkabout - CHUC MUNG NAM MOI 2013!

Trip Start Jan 23, 2013
Trip End Jul 23, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  , Hanoi,
Saturday, February 9, 2013

We were woken at 06:45 by singing and Vietnamese announcements over load speaker systems in the streets! We certainly hoped this was a one off. We managed to get back to sleep by covering our heads with our second pillow. My phone alarm woke us up again at 09:00 so we could get breakfast before it finished at 10:00.

Breakfast was very good, half buffet half menu. Loads of fruit, juices, yoghurt, croissants etc followed by various cooked breakfast options. Once again though, milk was sweetened which rendered a cuppa unbearable.

We ventured out to explore the city on foot. We took three steps outside the hotel foyer and realised how cold it was so returned to get fleeces and jackets. We had been given a street map at the reception area, and headed south east towards Hoan Kiem Lake. We slowly became accustomed to the crazy way you had to cross the chaotic roads. Even on pedestrian crossings you just walked across slowly and the traffic weaved in front and behind you.... it didn't stop but the 'system' worked!

We came to a lake and headed to the tiny island temple of Ngoc Son which was built circa 1883. The temple itself was reached by crossing a red-painted wooden bridge called The Huc (Rising Sun). The temple shrine was ornate and dedicated to Tran Hung Dao, a 13th century Vietnamese military national hero, scholar Van Xuong, and to Nguyen Van Sieu, a Confucian master who assumed responsibility for extensive additions and repairs made to the temple and the surrounding areas from 1864. To the left of the main temple was a side room containing the preserved body of a giant soft backed turtle (rafetus leloii). This turtle is 2.1 meters long, 1.2 meters wide, and weighs 250kg. It was found in 1968 and was said to be 500 years old. This gives credence to the legend about the giant turtle, which took the magic sword of Le Loi in the 15th century. Both Terry and I thought it was a bit smelly in the room where the turtle was on display; it made me feel a bit sick.

We continued to walk south along the eastern shore of the lake and came upon a huge flower display and gardens full of orchids, pointsettias, dahlias and azaleas; to name a few. The displays were so pretty; it would seem flowers and trees play a large part in preparation for the forthcoming New Years celebrations.

We walked to the Museum of History, but this was shut for New Years holidays! We then headed west and found the St Joseph Cathedral which was built in 1886 in the 'neo gothic' style. Although impressive, the cathedral appeared bland and modern compared to the ornate temples we had visited in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang.

We stopped at a bar to have a coffee. The place seemed pretty 'hip, with trance style dance dance music blaring out. As well as funky tables and chairs the furnishings included a huge decorated blossom tree, retro scooters and mirrors. On our way out, Terry started throwing some shapes to the music, which made the staff and me crack up.

We continued west towards the Temple of Literature. On the street adjacent we walked past many Calligraphy artists drawing on scrolls. We believed these were for people to hang in their homes or pass to others as presents to celebrate the new year; year of the snake. On reaching the Temple of Literature, we were unable to enter as it was closed due to the holidays... this seemed mad as there were so many people about but hey, it made little difference to us, we were enjoying the scenery and exercise.......

From the closed Temple of Literature we headed North to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. The structure is 21.6 meters (70.9 feet) high and 41.2 meters (135.2 feet) wide. Flanking the mausoleum are two platforms with seven steps for parade viewing. The plaza in front of the mausoleum is divided into 240 green squares separated by pathways. The gardens surrounding the mausoleum have nearly 250 different species of plants and flowers, all from different regions of Vietnam.The embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is preserved in the cooled, central hall of the mausoleum, which is protected by a military honour guard. The body lies in a glass case with dim lights. The mausoleum is closed occasionally but is normally open daily from 09:00 to 12:00 to the public. We didn't get there until late afternoon, so it was closed......

From the mausoleum, we walked to the One Pillar Pagoda, one of Vietnams two most iconic temples, and past the Presidential Palace, a beautiful French colonial building

Feeling a little weary......we walked back to the old quarter and our hotel to rest our feet before setting out to join the New Year's Eve revellers and get some nosh.

At around 19:00 we headed back to the Hoan Kiem Lake and joined the throng of Hanoian's parading around the lake in anticipation of the midnight fireworks etc. We stopped in a cafe to grab a bite and a beer and got chatting to a British couple who were doing a 9 week tour of SE Asia, almost the same route as us but in reverse.

We did a complete circuit of the Lake enjoying the carnival atmosphere and multicoloured light displays lining and crossing most avenues.

We witnessed some dance group stage show which was pretty mediocre. We then headed away from the lake to grab a drink before the final countdown and ended up having a great chat with a young Australian couple who had been travelling for a year and an Austrian chap in his late 20's who has been working around SE Asia as a teacher for the past few years. We all swapped stories and the Aussie chap topped everything with his story about being scammed by a potential gay Vietnamese chap when visiting a remote tomb, priceless!

At 23:45 we left the cafe and headed back to the lake. The crowds were now thick, but we managed to find a spot where we could at least breathe. At midnight the firework display started and went on for 15 minutes. As the fireworks finished, people trying to get out formed long lines ( like in the 'locomotion') in order to work there way through the crowds. We joined on to the back of one and were soon clear of the mass. On the way back to our Hotel, we noticed many of the locals had lit mini bonfires on the side of the roads, have learned since that this is to 'scare' off the old year. We got little lost on the way back to the hotel but eventually got home safe.
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Mum on

Looking forward to the next entry. xxxx.

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