Day 12 – Hanoi

Comfortable / Day 12 of 64 / 21 May

We woke up today at 7.45am, as we wanted to beat the crowd at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum [Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh], the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh. But before that, we had some egg coffee at Giang Cafe, a small coffee shop located deep in an alleyway.

Rich and creamy Vietnamese egg coffee. Butter coffee better start taking some notes.

Around 9.30am, we reached the mausoleum. Unfortunately, Google lied to us. The mausoleum was closed. It’s only open on Tuesdays to Thursdays and weekends. However, as a consolation, we were able to witness the changing of the mausoleum guards.

The guards had been standing at “sedia” for a long time, so it was pretty amazing when they marched away “communist style” effortlessly.

Since we were already in the area, we decided to check out the Ho Chi Minh Museum, located just behind the mausoleum. Admission to the museum cost 40000 VND/2 SGD. The museum was interesting and, unique, although that word fails to properly describe some of the exhibits. Alongside exhibitions of historical events in Ho Chi Minh’s life were avant-garde art installations, depicting everything from the dawn of industrialisation to the communist struggle. The museum is a homage to the impact Uncle Ho, as he is affectionately known to locals, has had on shaping modern-day Vietnam. During the time we visited, there was also an exhibition documenting the lives of veterans both during and after the war.

Can art students enlighten me on how this sculpture somehow relates to communism?

With our history lesson at the museum completed, we headed for lunch nearby. We had some Pho at a small stall with air-conditioning. A short escape from Vietnam’s insane summer heat.

After lunch, we took a Grab to The Temple of The Jade Mountain [Đền Ngọc Sơn], located on an island in Hoan Kiem Lake. Inside the temple lay a taxidermied turtle: said to be of the same species as a mythologically important turtle in Vietnam. Admission to the temple cost 30000 VND/2 SGD, which was well worth it to catch a glimpse of the turtle alone.

A picture does not do justice to how BIG this turtle actually is.

Around 1.30pm, we headed back to our hotel to check out early. We were leaving our hotel a day early because Ngoc had so generously offered us a place to stay: finally, an escape from our room/sauna!

We arrived at her place around 2pm and she showed us around the house, which at the time of writing, was still undergoing renovation. Yet, it was already infinitely more comfortable than our former hotel room. There was air-conditioning! We helped her mom with a bit of cleaning up before lazing around for the rest of the mid-afternoon.

Our new abode for tonight!

At 4.30pm, we left the house. Ngoc’s mother was too generous: she offered to drive us to and around Tay Lake [Hồ Tây], also known as the West Lake. The West Lake area is popular with expats. According to Ngoc, it’s a generally more upper-class area, with many cafes and expensive apartments. After we alighted, we strolled along the circumference of the lake. Not the entire circumference though, as the circumference of Tay Lake is around 17km. No way I’d be walking that much.

Along the way, we spotted a swan boat ride in the adjacent and smaller Truc Bach Lake. Sam and I peddled the boat out to the lake, while Ngoc waited for us at a nearby ship-turned-coffeeshop. With a combined nautical experience of zero, Sam and I almost slammed into the coffee shop Ngoc was in. And that was our cue to return the boat and return to where we belonged: good dry land.

Nearly causing Titanic 2 made us hungry, so Ngoc recommended a place that served seafood bee hoon – Vietnamese Style.

After dinner, we headed to the area around the Hanoi Opera House to grab some ice cream from Kem Trang Tien. I got a taro popsicle, while Sam got a green bean popsicle. The area around the opera house was also home to a jazz bar that we planned to visit later in the night.

It looks nothing like your usual ice-cream shop. I’m pretty sure this is the ice-cream equivalent of a drive-thru.

Around 8.30pm, we entered the Binh Minh Jazz Club, located just behind the opera house. This small and intimate bar/jazz club serves up live jazz every night from 9pm. In a corner of the bar, there was an elderly man with “museum curator” glasses smoking a cigar. The musicians’ faces were illuminated only by dim spotlights and pink neon lights from the bar’s sign. The atmosphere inside was truly mysterious and strangely alluring, almost reminiscent of lounges from film noir movies.

We listened to jazz played by talented local musicians for about two hours before deciding to retire for the night. With that, we got a Grab and headed back to our new and significantly more comfortable accommodation. Thank you Ngoc once again for hosting us!

– Ryan

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