Hanoi to HomeNovember 1, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C
Over a week ago now, we headed south from Cao Bang -- Don on his sturdy Honda 110 and Hans and I by taxi. We passed him on the road!
Hans and I arrived in Hanoi on Thursday evening (24th), and spent most of the day Friday at one of Hanoi’s international hospitals. Turns out that Hans completely tore his quadriceps tendon, an injury that requires surgery -- the sooner the better. We spent Friday night figuring how to get Hans back home ASAP, talking to insurance, our doctor, the airlines, the credit card company...basically, anyone who could help figure our way through this. Hans ended up flying home on Saturday (26th) in business class. He had a Fit-to-Fly letter from the doctor, authorizing business class and wheelchair assistance. In Taipei, he received special treatment: transport between terminals in a cargo truck.
Don arrived in Hanoi just a few hours before Hans left for the airport. He had motorbiked south from Cao Bang to Ba Be National Park. His homestay, right on the 8km long Ba Be Lake, was down a muddy potholed jungly 5 km dirt road. He reported it as very peaceful. The next night he ended up at a homestay a few hours north of Hanoi, where he used Google translate to communicate with the owner’s parents.
Once Hans left, Don and I hit the sightseeing hard. (I felt a bit guilty, but knew that Hans would be in good hands with our son back at home.) We visited the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, a must-see if you ever go to Hanoi. It’s four floors of exhibits, all devoted to women in Vietnamese society: family, military, history, traditions, fashion, culture. The short video at the entrance is worth the price of admission. It focused on street vendors, the thousands of women selling everything from vegetables to flowers to household goods to feather dusters and toys. You see them on bicycles or scooters, or walking with heavy baskets dangling from a pole across their shoulders. We learned that the majority of these women are in Hanoi not by choice but by circumstance. There is not enough work in their home village to support their families, so they head to the city, visiting home as time allows. Life is hard: arriving at the market at 2 in the morning to buy vegetables, selling all day, returning to their boarding house at 7 or 8, only to do it again the next day.
We also visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex, the Hoa Lo Prison Museum (aka Hanoi Hilton), the night market, the day market, the train street, the Temple of Literature, and the Imperial City. We ended up on a free walking tour, where we saw monuments, fountains, the cathedral, the Opera House, and were taken to a small upstairs cafe for the best egg coffee in Hanoi. (Hint: an eggnog like custard on top of a very strong espresso.) On our last morning, I got up early to walk the perimeter of Hoàn Kiếm Lake near the hotel to see the incredible variety of people exercising: stretching, dancing, jogging, bicycling, playing badminton, or lifting weights. Impressive. On his early morning walk, Don also took some videos.
Exercisers 1: https://photos.app.goo.gl/qWuczBLiikvKD4zi9
Exercisers 2: https://photos.app.goo.gl/GdjiLym9GGRERb2W8
Exercisers 3: https://photos.app.goo.gl/QnfLFzpbSRfRQk967
A few highlights from our sightseeing blast:
Train Street: Wow, it is really cool. The iconic part of Train Street, where the train curves around a bend, is closed to tourists. Too many Instagrammers -- I guess the street was overrun. Guards now sit at street crossings, preventing tourists from wandering across the tracks. We walked up, took a look, and Don offered a sticker to a little girl in a red sweater. Her grandma then walked over to us, showed us a piece of paper with 17:30 written on it. The train was due in an hour. We decided to walk around and come back. But closer to the railway station, we found a few blocks along the tracks still open to tourists, with several cafes for the weary wanderers. We parked ourselves at the Rail Way Cafe to wait. The train roared through pretty much on time, and it was a surprise. It really is dangerous! The train whizzes by at a fast clip, not two feet from where all the tourists were standing. Definitely a highlight. Don took a video:
The market: We wandered through the four story market, filled with fabric; souvenirs (where we loaded up on trinkets); shoes, shoes, and more shoes; tailors; food stores; and veggie stalls. Very colorful, and somewhat organized. We discovered the next market, with stalls and stalls of dried fish and shrimp; nuts; food stuffs; noodles. Outside, in a small alley, we happened upon the ‘live animal’ section. Cages and cages of song birds, soft-shelled turtles, snails, and carp swimming in tubs. A bit much for our western sensibilities. We didn’t take any pictures.
The Ho Chi Minh Complex: We decided to brave the lines and see Ho Chi Minh lying in state. We arrived early, and were delighted to see the line moving along at a fast clip. We had to surrender our bags at the security gate, but were allowed to bring our phones and small camera. We followed the line until we reached the large plaza, Ba Dihn Square, in front of the crypt itself. It’s a massive building, guarded by a military honor guard. Each soldier stands stiffly, and is completely dressed in white: pants, shirt, gloves, shoes, hat. ‘President Ho Chi Minh’ is inscribed on the outside of the building, and the slogan written inside the portico reads: ‘Nothing is more valuable than independence and freedom.’ Ho Chi Minh’s signature is in gold plate. You file in, two by two, up the stairs, into the cool, dim interior. The body lies in a glass coffin. No pictures or talking allowed. No hats or hands in pockets. You walk through at a slow but steady pace. It’s long enough to get a good look at Uncle Ho. Once outside, the route takes you through the rest of the complex: past the simple building where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked; past the Presidential Palace, where Ho Chi Minh decided not to live because it was too ornate; past the garage storing cars that ferried him to and from events; past the famous Stilt House, which reminded Uncle Ho the simple rural life; past the One Pillar Pagoda. It’s quite a huge complex for a man who didn’t want to be honored in this way. In his will, he specified that his ashes were to be scattered in the North and the South.
Ho Lao Prison: The infamous Hanoi Hilton we heard so much about during the Vietnam War. The prison where John McCain was held. Most of the exhibits focused on the French history; how the French tore down a village of potters to build the prison, and them brutally imprisoned male and female members of the resistance. A smaller section was devoted to the American War of Imperialism, with displays on the anti-war movement across the world. One part of the exhibit was a tribute to ‘Living Torches’: Men and women who immolated themselves to protest the war in Vietnam. A few panels were devoted to Norman Morrison, a Quaker who immolated himself in front of the Pentagon in 1965.
We ate a few wonderful meals, walked upwards of five miles each day, and talked about getting back home.
And here we are! I'm getting back in the swing of things while helping Hans recover from surgery. We’ll be home for a while, so let us know if you get to this part of the country. We’d love to see you.