Friday, March 11, 2011


I much prefered Hanoi to Saigon. It is quieter (though not quiet), has more character, it seems more friendly and the best thing is that I am not continually asked if I need a motorbike taxi (or yelled at as was the case in Saigon). Here I stayed with Angus who I met on couchsurfing and had an interesting evening trying to find him. My phone does not work in Vietnam (roaming is supposed to work but doesn't) which makes organising things that bit more difficult. After trying unsuccessfully to use a phone in a call centre to call Angus, I thought 'maybe I will just head over there and hope to bump into him'. This would be quite dumb in normal life but strange things like that seem to have happened to me while travelling. Anyway after walking around his street and realising that I was not going to bump into him, I walked a few yards down the road and bumped into 3 very nice Australian ladies who offered to let me wait at their friends house and use their phone to contact him. This tea turned into wine, which turned into whisky, so I was quite merry by the time I did catch up with Angus. In any case it was a very nice evening and staying with someone who knows the city a bit is immensely better and less aggravating than staying in the backpacker hotels with endless tours being shoved down your throat. Thank you Angus, it was good to get to know you and a very refreshing break from Vietnam in general!

While here I visited the embalmed corpse of Ho Chi Minh (the much celebrated leader who brought communism to Vietnam). It was rather spooky and we were led on a silent procession through (no stopping or photos allowed). He goes to Russia once a year for 'maintenance', even more spooky. I went to the temple of literature which was rather crowded with tourists so I did not get to enjoy the landscaped gardens too much. I had a walk around the Old Quarter with all its amazing markets selling frogs (freshly skinned for cooking), herbal remedies and strangely door handles. You cannot move around here for motorbikes and cyclos and a few times I nearly had my toes run over. I spent a good while reading a photocopied book (rip offs are to be found everywhere in Vietnam) in a lovely restaurant called the Ladybird (dinner for less that one pound!) where I came back several times. I found a swimming pool which was freezing but refreshing before the night train to Lao Cai (Chinese border) and then to Sapa rice terraces. Oh yes and the other thing, communism and Vietnam, hmmmm. Officially they have a communist government but everyone is selling mad, you could not get a more capitalist population if you tried.

I also found out that there is a lot of pressure on Vietnamese girls to look 'white' and more western. They use creams that contain bleach to whiten your skin.

Funny tortoise cemetry stones

The temple of literature

Streetscape by the lake

A traditional old merchant's house, now a museum

A traditional old merchants house

A traditional toilet, though updated slightly today, the principle is still the same. Group toilets with gullies are certainly an interesting experience.

The old East Gate to the city walls

A nice lamp shop

The history museum in a French and Chinese style

Crowns worn by the emperor in imperial times

A real gold book used in imperial times

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