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Asia Trip 2011: Day 2 – Hanoi

We woke up at 6:30am to be ready for breakfast at 7am. We had a full day of walking around the city to do, and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was only open until 11am, so we wanted to get there quick.

After enjoy our pho breakfast (with fresh juice and a tea / coffee and some fruit), we set off on foot to the Mausoleum to pay our respects to the famous Vietnamese president. The mausoleum is open for 10 months of the year – the rest of the time it is closed for maintenance, and we were lucky enough to arrive shortly after its re-opening. It’s a bit of a walk from out hotel, and we got lost for a little bit as well since the streets are not in a grid format, but we eventually found our way there. The area around the Mausoleum is very large, and there’s a beautiful square out front which no one is allowed to tread on. If you ever plan to visit this place, remember to bring something to cover up – shorts and tank tops are not permitted. Cameras and electronics are not allowed as well, and large bags need to be checked in. There are guards everywhere, so you always have to follow the rules and they make sure you don’t wander anywhere you’re not supposed to be. We got in trouble for whispering as we approached the Mausoleum, and were motioned to keep our hands by our sides at all times.

The visit isn’t just for tourists though, several locals come to pay their respects often. The queue for this trip is quite long, so make sure you arrive around 9am. There are several other areas to visit once you’ve gone through the Mausoleum, including the stilt house that Ho Chi Minh used to live in, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. There is also the beautiful One Pillar Pagoda in the area as well.

After our stop there, we made our way to the Temple of Literature. The site of the first university in Vietnam, this place holds several stelae (large stone tablets) used to track the names of exceptional scholars, all of whom were given their examination questions by the King himself. The Temple is also a place where locals go to pray to Confucius and his four favourite disciples in hopes that their children will have good grades and excel in school.

A was very confused to see several Chinese characters here. All the stelae were engraved in Chinese, as well as the phrases above the doors and gates. Every time I asked for a translation, he said it didn’t make any sense. I claimed I had a faulty translator, but there was nothing we could do about it. After visiting the temple, we walked to a highly recommended restaurant in our guidebook called KOTO for a quick bite.

From there, we slowly made our way to the French Quarter on the other side of the lake. I commented about how we hadn’t seen very many schools in the area, when we turned a corner and obviously, there was a school. We also wandered into what we thought was a department store, which turned out to be an electronics store and people followed us around until we left. We finally found the famed Hoan Kiem lake, where the emperor Le Loi received a magical sword from a golden turtle, which helped him fight off the Chinese. The turtle is one of the four prominent animals in Vietnamese culture, representing wisdom and patience. I thought that was pretty funny, since I had said that A’s mascot is a turtle, but more like this one. We tried to get tickets to the water puppet show (thinking it’d be a good rest), but they were sold out for the next two days! Now I’ll never get to see it :(

We took pictures at the Opera House and walked past the Metropole Hotel before finally deciding to take a break and head back to our hotel. After a quick bit of research, we jotted down the walking tour recommended by our Lonely Planet book, as well as an address for what a local blogger said was one of the best bun cha stalls in the city. Excited about food, we made the trek back out and walked up and down several streets, which mostly consisted of shops and stalls separated by their wares (an entire street devoted to toys or tin or altars). The baguette & chocolate place recommended in the guide book was nowhere to be found, and the bun cha place was not open. Defeated and hungry, we wandered back to our hotel area where I spotted a banh mi store. I quickly picked one up to tide me over until dinner.

We went back to our hotel and asked the receptionist where I could get some bun cha. She recommended a stall down the street that closed at 7pm, so A and I hustled down to the place for a quick dinner. They apparently charge more for tourists, since the couple next to us got coke and the same meal for only 100,000 VND whereas A and I paid 120,000 VND for just the meal. That aside, the food was so delicious that I ordered it again the next day (except I had the receptionist call ahead for us so we could get the local rate).

Pretty sure the rest of the night was spent doing nothing, since I don’t remember anything happening that evening.

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