What a relief to be back in Hanoi after the Halong Bay ordeal. The long ride back just capped it off and when we got off the bus, everyone just sort of slinked off making only feeble attempts to say goodbye. We found our new hotel, Rising Dragon, checked in and crashed onto the bed...so happy to be in a comfortable room and free to do anything we wanted including nothing at all. And that's about what we did...nothing. It was awesome. When we got hungry we went and ate down the street, and when we were done with that we returned to the hotel to commence doing nothing once again.
With one final day in Vietnam left, we got up early and headed out into Hanoi for a little sight-seeing. First and foremost on the agenda was seeing "Uncle Ho" who we'd missed earlier in the trip. We headed out to the Mausoleum by scooter; as in both of us hopped on the back of a motorscooter and a local guy drove us out there. It's the quickest and cheapest way of getting around town, it's also way more fun then the alternative.
The Mausoleum is strange. After you make your way through the stringent security and check your bags and cameras, you walk in single file (in silence) into the Mausoleum and up a set of stairs. There are armed guards posted every 10 meters or so making sure you're quiet and properly dressed. Finally you enter the chamber. It's dark, and cold inside. On the back wall are huge inscriptions of 2 flags; the Vietnamese (Red with Yellow star) and the Communist/Former U.S.S.R (Red with yellow sickle and hammer). As you walk around you get views from 3 sides of the embalmed corpse of Ho Chi Minh himself which is contained in a dimly lit glass box.
He's on his back with his head propped up and looks very pale and skinny. His goatee is still intact. It's a pretty eery sight. The walk lasts all of 2 minutes and then you're done. Apparently, "Uncle Ho" had requested to be cremated so the whole spectacle is contrary to his wishes and I can understand why; I certainly wouldn't want my dead body on display for thousands of people to come see every day. It's just weird.
With that behind us, we turned our attention to a few museums that had been recommended. The first was the Military History museum which outlined Vietnamese military leaders, weapons and conflict from 1000's of years back through current times. Of course, a fair bit was dedicated to the "American War" and while it was certainly biased and very Nationalistic, it wasnt so propaganda laiden as to be absurd. Probably the coolest thing is the tower outside that you can climb which gives great views of Hanoi. There are a number of old US planes, choppers and ground vehicles on display as well.
We headed across town to check out the Opera house and then tried for another museum which was closed for lunch. To be honest, we weren't all that disappointed and headed over for some lunch of our own.
We went to the Hanoi Social Club, a popular spot with the ex-pat community and also recommended on Trip Advisor as a good spot for veggie fare. As before when trying a non local restaurant, we left a little disappointed and frustrated after it took an hour to get our food: a wrap and a salad!
We spent the afternoon back at the hotel on their computers booking in stuff for the upcoming Borneo stint, plus flights and what not for the Australia visit.
For the last meal in Vietnam, we wanted one last Phò to send us off. We went to a spot we'd been told about and I had my Phò, but G struggled mightily for anything vegetarian. Finally we communicated the situation to our waiter and he assured us he'd take care of it. She ended up with noodles and some broth, and although there was no meat, we weren't convinced the broth was not meat based. No problem though, G is getting used to getting by. In the end the meal was good enough and scratched the itch.
On the topic of phò, I must say the following: I had several good bowls of it during my time in Vietnam, but I have to agree with a kid we know in Melbourne who claims the phò on Victoria street in Melbs is better. As per Paul "Rudd" Saville: "Same cooks, same recipes, better ingredients." Well put, and I'm gonna go ahead and extend that adage to the Bay where I first was introduced to phò by the boys at Mountain Hardwear. Vietnam ain't got nothing on the Ranch 99!
The morning came quick as we had a car booked for a 6:30am departure to the airport.
And then, just like that the Vietnam experience was over. It'd been 3.5 weeks all up over both stints and we'd survived traveling it's entire length by ground. (Although I did throw up 3 times.) We met some real gems, both locals and other travelers and we met some real dirtbags. We learned to negotiate the harrowing and epic Vietnamese traffic of 2012 and learned a ton about the turbulent history which shaped a nation. It's been a lot of fun, its been challenging, at times downright infuriating. One thing's for sure: it has always been interesting.
Vietnam; never a dull moment!