Today was a tourist day. We were met at the hotel by a very eloquent young lady who took us on a tour of Hanoi. The first amazing thing we found was that Hanoi has three quarters (not four as one would expect) – the Ho Chi Minh Quarter, The Old Quarter and the French Quarter. Where’s the fourth quarter?
We began our day with a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. There he lies in state, thoroughly embalmed through some Soviet process that gets renewed every year. He looks very peaceful! Jill mistakenly is of the opinion that he is really a product of Madame Tussauds. While in the Mausoleum, we had to be very careful to follow the rules of a ‘respectful demenour’ – no talking or laughing, no hands in pockets and obviously no cameras. Uncle Ho, as he is known to the locals is a respected old adversary.
We spent a few hours looking around his old house, which is well maintained, and his museum which is fine and astoundingly interesting if you can read Vietnamese. If you only know English, there’s not a lot to understand. Other sites for the day included Temple of Literacy – Vietnam’s first university which was established in 1070.
One other stop was to the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ – not the modern hotel which is only a block away from where we are staying, but the prison where American POWs were kept during the war. Like the War Memories Museum in Saigon, there is a definite Vietnamese slant on history with the news to most people that the local patriots managed to shoot down thousands of planes and captured hundreds of pilots. They were all treated very well in prison – so well in fact that the term Hanoi Hilton was a term of endearment for the comfortable place in which they were kept.
We spent a little while after lunch walking around the old quarter. Here there are 36 streets each named for the specialised products that were originally sold in them. It’s not quite like that now but there are areas of shops that specialise in common products – funeral supplies, toys, silk, hardware etc. Much more interesting than Doncaster Shopping Town.
Tonight we are off on the night train to Sapa. More updates to come.