Hoan Kiem Lake

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December 15, 2015

We had an 8:30 am flight out of Saigon for Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. This was a trip we had arranged on our own through a travel agent. We had decided that since we had come this far it would be a shame not to see Hanoi and particularly, Halong Bay. Our travel agent had contracted with a local tour company (Asian Vistas) to meet us and guide us around. Min met us at the airport and dropped us at our hotel, the Hotel Nikko Hanoi. This is a beautiful hotel which caters to Japanese businessmen. Our room was very nice and had a feature we've never seen before. The toilet seat is heated and the toilet has an electronic bidet-like contraption built into it. You press a button on the wall for rear cleansing, front cleansing or dryer. It has an oscillating feature and you can set the spray intensity. Barbara started giggling the first time she sat down. If we ever need to replace one of our toilets, this will be a requirement!

It was much colder in Hanoi than anywhere else on our trip - 50's, windy and cloudy. We finally got to wear the jackets we'd been carting around. We had spotted a KFC around the corner and decided to go there for lunch. Tasted just like at home. After a short nap, we got daring and took a cab to the Old Quarter. This area was built in the 16th century and consists of a maze of narrow, winding streets with small shops selling everything from shoes to jewelry to fabric to fresh produce. Although some shops are for tourists, most are for locals. We got lost a few times as the map didn't always match the street names. But it was fun to wander. The hardest part was crossing the street. Hanoi traffic is even worse than Saigon. More motor bikes and no traffic control. You have to jaywalk into oncoming traffic. We were told to walk slowly, don't run, don't stop and don't back up.



December 16, 2015

Our driver and guide picked us up at 9 for a full day of sightseeing. We started at the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. This contains an open casket with his body displayed. Every year his body is sent to Russia and re-embalmed. Thousands of people file past each day to pay their respects to their hero. Of course no photos were allowed. However, afterwards we toured the grounds which contain the palace, his home and office where he lived from 1954 until his death in 1969. It is a very beautiful and peaceful setting with a pond, flower garden and fruit trees.



Our next stop was the Museum of Ethnology. Vietnam has 54 ethnic tribes, each with their own language and customs. Our guide toured us around the outside section of the museum which contained life size models of the various types of houses used by the major tribes. Then we toured the inside of the museum on our own. The inside contains more details about the tribes and life size displays of the customs, dress and artifacts. This was a beautiful museum and we recommend it to anyone visiting Hanoi.




After lunch at a local restaurant we visited the temple of Literature. Founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, this was also the site of Vietnam's first university. The garden area was filled with topiary animals. It is said that students often come here to pray before taking a test.



We then visited the Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake. The lake's name means Lake of Sword Restored. Legend is that King Le returned a precious sword to the Tortoise. People still believe the sword is buried deep in the Lake. The lake is at the entrance to the Old Quarter and we went to the top of one of the restaurants that overlooked the area for a great view.






Our final stop was to another water puppet show. We learned that these originated in the rural villages as entertainment for the children after a day working in the fields. The puppets were hand made of wood and tell about local life and folk tales. It was very similar to the one we saw in Saigon but we enjoyed this one more, maybe because we understood it better.






December 17, 2015

Our guide and driver picked us up at the hotel for the drive to Halong Bay. To read about our time in Halong Bay, please go to Halong Bay Newsletter.

To view more photos from our trip to Hanoi, please go to Hanoi Photo Gallery.

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