BootsnAll Travel Network

June 6th: Hanoi

Wednesday June 6th, 2007

Hanoi Vietnam

Today there were a few included activities as part of the tour but after them, the rest of our time in Hanoi (approximately 1.5 days) was “free time.” Before out first stop, we had an included breakfast on the docket. This breakfast was at a place called Koto’s. Basically it was set up by a Vietnamese Australian who wanted to help disadvantaged and trouble youths and give them a chance to make something of themselves in a not so forgiving society. So he opened up two restaurants in Vietnam and employed kids such as these. The breakfast was delicious. It was a buffet style breakfast with baked beans, eggs, pancakes, fresh fruit and other good things. It is not everyday I get to eat such foods, so I have to take advantage of it when the chance comes my way, and it was free, which meant it tasted even better.

After breakfast the gang was off to our first stop. Our first stop was seeing Uncle Ho or Ho Chi Minh. He lays to rest in a huge mausoleum here in Hanoi. When we got to the place it was really hot and there was a long queue (line) of people waiting to get in to see him. There was one line for the Vietnamese and one line for foreigners. Apparently the Vietnamese wait longer to get in then the foreigners, but I was never told why that is, only that they do. Even though the line appeared to be quite long, it was constantly moving as there were guards pushing everyone along. Eventually we made out way in to the mausoleum, walked up the stairs and around and in to the room where Buck Ho laid to rest. It was a sober room, dim lighting with four soldiers standing guard around him. They stood below us, and Buck Ho himself was more or less at our eye level. I walked as slow as I could to observe him from every angle I could but eventually guards would just move you along to get out of the room and out of the mausoleum. That is how they kept the line moving, even though it was quite long. At one point I thought to myself “he doesn’t look real, he looks like wax.” I came out thinking that Buck Ho was fake, but when I asked Andy she kind of shushed me and said “not around here.” Andy quietly asked Quang our tour guide and then Andy said “Ask Quang what you just asked me.” So I did and he told me in a quiet voice that Buck Ho was in fact made out of WAX! I was right, which made me really excited for a split second, then I thought to myself “Oh man, he was fake, I thought I was seeing the real Ho Chi Minh.” “Oh well,” I thought to myself, and moved on. From seeing Uncle Ho, we took a few group photos in front of the huge mausoleum.

The next stop was going to the Royal Palace Complex. This is where Ho Chi Minh lived for several years while he was in Vietnam. For a long time Uncle Ho was abroad, but returned after 20 years to opened up the Socialist party that remains today. The complex was really nice. We got to see Buck Ho’s house, garage, and then we went to a museum dedicated to his life. After a while I began tired of walking through the museum and stuff and I had other plans that I needed to take care of on my free afternoon. Today I was on a mission to get glasses made. Apparently in Hanoi in the old quarter there are 36 small streets. Back in the day each street specialized in a certain trade; silk, tailors, food, clothing, and glasses. While its purpose is not to serve certain individual specialized needs, it seems to remain similar to its function in the past. So I jumped in a cab that Quang was able to hail for me and he negotiated the price. In Hanoi it is best to negotiate and pay first otherwise you run the risk that the motorbike driver, cab driver or whoever will increase the price when you arrive and give you a huge hassle. At first the taxi driver did not want to accept my price, so I said “Ok, I’ll just go to the next cab behind you,” and all I heard was “ok, ok, ok,” which usually happens. It is either take my money or someone else will. Harsh reality, but so is life.

I told Quang to tell the taxi driver I wanted to go to the street that he (Quang, my local tour guide recommended). He did so, and we were off. Traffic was light and the drive did not take that long. The driver asked me what number, but I just told him to drop me off at the corner of the street and I will find my way, and so he did. Before I could go to the glasses street which was called Luang Van Can, I had to find an internet place to get the prescription that Mom had gotten for me from my eye doctor. After wondering around towards the general direction of the glasses street, hoping to find some internet place close, I did. It was shady as hell. There was a guy standing in front of a sign that said internet and when I said “you have internet,” some lady came running out and took me through a series of hallways, upstairs and it appeared that I ended up in their house. They had one computer and during the entire time the daughter of the lady was staring at me, it was kind of creepy. Of course she overcharged me, but I was eventually able to get the prescription (thanks mom!).

Getting the prescription was the easy part. The hard part was trying to get the glasses people to understand what it meant since it was English. I had the bright idea of going to a hotel in the area and maybe having the people translate the prescription for me in to Vietnamese. I tried one hotel but after a few minutes of them talking amongst themselves, they could not translate it. I appeared to be stuck, but was like “I have come this far I might as well see what I can do.

So I walked down the “glasses” street and there so many shops on this small street it was incredible. I went to a few to show them my prescription but most either gave me a blank stare, a response in Vietnamese or pretended to understand, when in reality they really did not. After walking down almost the entire street I found one guy who appeared to understand me, or so I thought. After a while of us going back and forth, he took my English prescription to another guy at the corner, and after a little while, the other dude appeared to understand the prescription. He re-wrote it for me in the local language for the guy to make my glasses from the other shop. They even took out a whole silver briefcase filled with lenses and tested my eyes quickly. I put the tested lenses on and it was perfect! After we negotiated the price for the frames and labor, it would come out to be $18 USD for a pair of glasses! Ready in less than an hour! How incredible is that. They were nice Italian frames too, probably costing boat loads back in America. How the hell can this guy produce glasses in less than an hour and have it take like two weeks in America? They probably send my frames to Vietnam for them to be made and then shipped back!

I was really happy that I would be getting glasses. I had not had them for a few weeks now and was really starting to be bothered by the blurriness produced by my stigmatism. I could not just stop there. I figured that in the next few months I would probably lose this new pair and be forced to dish out a lot of money for another pair. So I decided to look for another pair. I took my prescription back from the guy, as he did not need it anymore and walked around. I came to this shop where some lady was watching television and the glasses maker was cleaning up his shop. Again after negotiation I got the price down to $15 USD for a nice pair of Rayban frames and this time it would only take 30 minutes or less! At this point my high could not get any higher. I would have two pair of glasses, both made in less than an hour, for less than what I paid with my insurance for one pair of glasses! Truly remarkable and I suppose a little lucky on my part.

After getting both my glasses, finding an ATM machine to pay both shops, I had new glasses and had worked up quite a bit of an appetite. I found the nearest café and went in. My decision was also made based on the nearest bathroom as I had to go number 2 and quickly. The café was nice, a tad expensive but not too bad and the food was great. I got a classic burger and fries with a bottle of water for like 4 bucks. After I digested my food and wrote a postcard, I then wanted to take stroll along the lake. It is a really nice lake, with plenty of places to sit and relax. This seemed perfect after a nice meal. Oh also before that I bought a t-shirt and some other things, it is so hard to keep myself from buying little things here and there, but I love it and have a lot of great stuff. I really regret not buying many things last year in Europe, but it was so expensive, choices were limited and my bargaining skills were no where close to what they are now. After spending numerous weeks all throughout Asia, I have become quite the bargainer. You have to be; otherwise you will be eaten up alive by the pesky vendors.

Anyway after lunch I walked along the lake until I found a good spot to sit and relax. I took out my little MP4 player, minus the memory card (darn!), and just relaxed. I snapped a few photos as well. After about 10 minutes this girl walked over to me and started talking to me. Now Andy had told us before that if people randomly come up to you, especially younger individuals, they are not trying to scam you like in Thailand or other places, they truly just want to practice their English and talk to you. So I took off my headphones and threw her a bone. I can’t spell or pronounce her name, but the girl was a student studying tourism at a university in Hanoi. Her family lived like four hours away on a farm, but she lived in a flat in Hanoi to do her studies. She had completed two years of university and had two left. Her English was not bad, but she had a tough time understanding what I was saying. I would try to say the same thing in a few different ways, but eventually she would understand, I think. We chatted for a while until her “classmate,” had walked away, she left and went off to find them, and that was my cue to leave. I packed up my backpack, put my stuff away and left the lakeside. My relaxation had lasted approximately five minutes. Not bad for Hanoi, five more minutes than I thought I would get here in this bustling city.

At this point I was getting a little tired, the heat kills me. It just drains the life out of you, and since I don’t drink enough water, because that would then require me to have to go to the bathroom a lot, which are not readily available I end up feeling like crap and dehydrated. I am trying to work on that drinking water thing, I am getting better at it. I took out my business card of the hotel and found a motorbike home. I negotiated a price as usual, and the driver took me and acted like I had stolen his child or killed his dog. They try to rip me off, so I will return the favor, and in the end I will usually prevail because I need to get somewhere and they need money. And that is the way the world works. Money talks, otherwise I’ll walk.

I got back to the Victory Hotel and went up to my room. I just needed some time to relax and that is exactly what I did. I put the tv on for a little while, caught up on some things, I enjoyed the air conditioned room. Oh and I had another massage. It is so hard to resist when it is cheap and they are great for relaxation! After that, I came back to the room, Morrie had returned from his free half day, we chatted and then he told me the rest of the gang was meeting at 630ish to head to dinner. I said perfect, took a quick shower and got ready to go out.

630 turned in to 7 but eventually we were off. Elizabeth and I each got motorbikes and the rest jumped in to a taxi. Elizabeth wanted to head to this Italian restaurant she read about in her Lonely Planet Guide. I cautioned her that it would be significantly more expensive then places we have been going too, but she insisted it would be fine “how much more could it be,” she said, and I said “ok, we’ll see.” Well I was right. The place was called Al Fresco’s and people if you are in Hanoi, don’t go, it is expensive. The food is good, at least the pizza is and the daiquiris aren’t bad either, but man is it expensive. All the prices seemed to be at least triple of what the local street price was. I mean really expensive for Hanoi and Vietnam. 125,000 Dong for a medium pizza, I mean come on people! Well after I got my “I told you so,” out of the way, we just decided to bite the bullet and stay since we had all paid to get to the restaurant. I had a medium pizza and a liter strawberry daiquiri. I was feeling like a bit of a splurge after my fantastic afternoon; glasses, good food, great local interaction with people and the massage! The food was good and the drink was equally as good, but again just a little out of the price range. I think I ended up paying 18.50 for the meal. That is the third most expensive meal of my trip; the first two are both in Hong Kong, which will be part of my awards at the end of the trip. I had been brainstorming possible categories and have come up with some traditional and non-traditional ones. I am just hoping I can remember them all, I guess I should start to make a list.

After dinner I was really tired for downing the daiquiri really quick. I have not drank that much on my trip. While I might write about drinking a few beers here and there I have only had a few big nights out, less than five, which is fine. Plus being around people twice and triple your age I’m sure does not help with the motivation to go out. I mean my roommate goes to bed before 10, 11 at the latest! I had a decent night sleep. When we got home the end of the Vietnam Indonesia Olympic Qualifying game was finishing up and what a shocker it was. Vietnam was up 1-0 virtually the whole game dominating the Indonesians and in the end Indonesia scored in the 88th minute to tie the game, silencing the Vietnam fans in Hanoi and reviving the faithful traveling Indonesian fans who had made the trip to Hanoi. In extra time, already 15 seconds past the initial 3 minutes given, Vietnam made one more push towards the goal and suddenly there was a kick. A kick made by a forward or midfielder (I really don’t know) from about 35-40 yards away, definitely way outside the 18 yard box. The kick took a skipping bounce right in front of the goalie, over his shoulder and in to the back of the net! Vietnam had scored with virtually no time left on the clock in extra time sending the team and fans in to a pandemonium. The announcers were screaming in Vietnamese, and the stadium was rocking. It was one of the best finishes to a game I have ever watched in my soccer history. Morrie and I were even going a little nuts in the room. We were both shocked. So after that and being a little charged up, I passed out and had a pretty good night sleep. Since the following day was our last day in Hanoi, and being a free day, neither of us were in a rush to get up. I tried to get Morrie to get up past 730, but in the end after going to bed at least for me, before 11 I was up before 730 anyway.


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