Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday, Feb 6th, Hanoi


We flew last evening from Siem Reap to Hanoi, were picked up at the airport, and 25 miles to the Anise Hotel.  Earlier in the day, we visited the National Museum in Siem Reap, after sleeping in and having lunch at the Blue Pumpkin.  The BP is a perfect local hangout for westerners, situated above a bakery, and serving the best ice cream and gourmet organic food.  I especially love the croissant hot ham and cheese sandwiches.

After breakfast today, we met our country tour guide and local guide in the lobby.  As the eight other members of our tour showed up, we introduced ourselves and our hometowns.  As usual, we’re surrounded by a couple of Americans (Seattle), and the remainder are Australians.  Most have traveled well, and several have been here before. 

Our country guide, Bec, is a young Australian who knows her logistics, and doesn’t want to compete at all with Duc, our local guide.  Her enthusiasm is great, and we know we can count on her to make sure we know exactly what is coming next, and what to bring.  Duc is in his 40’s, and is exactly what you want in a local guide.  He readily answers our questions, and refers some of them to when our itinerary and his script helps him better answer them.  Our driver, Nugyen, has us in good hands.  I would prefer that he not try to pass every other driver and motorbike around, and lay off the horn just a bit.  But that’s the standard here. 

We visited Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, and saw how lifelike the state of human preservation can be nowadays.   Ho has just returned from a tour of Peking, and it seemed like the entire Vietnamese army was dressed up and guarding him.  We then went on to the Presidential Residence, and saw where Ho spent his last days.  Next stop was the Ho Chi Minh Museum, described as the most surrealistic tribute to one man’s life ever constructed.  I could not believe how many photographs were taken of the guy, and how many hand-typed announcements and movement proclamations he authored.  Of course there were lots of videos to watch, but we only had about an hour before we were due at the Hanoi Hilton. 

The irony is that a big hotel (not the Hilton) has bought the old prison, and has used about 90% of the property for its new facility.  Leaving a small section to display example cells, stockade and torture illustrations, and plaques and photos of the prisoners.  I was surprised to learn how the prison existed for 60 years before John McCain occupied it.  The French built it to jail its political prisoners, and the residents included some of the most famous early members of the Vietnam Communist Party.  The section showing photographs from student demonstrations around the word in the 1960’s in support of the liberation of Vietnam included one of the July 5, 1970 San Francisco protest in which Pat participated. 

Next, we visited the Temple of Literature.  Dedicated to Confucias, and dating back to 1070, the temple grounds contain stone stellas and other records which chronicle the education and doctoral awards of 86 Mandarins who embodied and furthered the early dynasty educational system. 

After a great lunch at the Little Hanoi Restaurant (a bowl of rice, egg rolls, and four courses of pork, fish, chicken, and eggplant – for $7), we spent the afternoon at the Museum of Ethnology.  In order to understand and appreciate the 54 different subsets of the eleven main ethnic groups, the Museum has created informative displays using videos, photographs, crafts, clothing, and art.  We were also fortunate to arrive on the last day of the New Year's Celebration, and watched large crowds playing games, dancing, singing, and sharing their happiness.  I hope to put a short video on YouTube tonight giving you a taste of it.  I was successful, you can see it at: New Year's Celebration in Hanoi at the Museum of Ethnology

We’re on a free night, and we’ve chosen not to take a taxi back to the city center for dinner.  We’ll eat at the Hotel restaurant, and catch up on emails and blog work.  Tomorrow, we’ve a long day of driving to Haolong Bay for an overnight cruise.

For a look at the day’s photos, click on: Hanoi Photos

And if you want to see some really good photos of the Angkor Wat Ruins, click on: John McDermott's Photos

We'll be out of touch for a few days, sailing on Halong Ba (don't know ha long - tee hee).  Back when we're back in wifi range.


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