Free access again!
In Hue and Hoi An I couldn't access my blog for some reason, but I'm in Saigon now, so all is well again - except that I have a hell of a lot to try and remember and I only kept a sporadic written journal. Anyway, here's what I can remember:
The rest of the time in Hanoi: When I got back from my meal I started chatting again with a Canadian woman I'd talked to before going off for the drink and meal and we hung out together the next day, both proudly wearing our brightly coloured tents - er, I mean raincape things. Now I have to add that these are ALL the rage in Vietnam and I intend to arm myself with 8 or so to take back to Tokyo. (They're cheap and crap quality and fall apart, but will be perfect in the Japanese rain).
We went straight to see Uncle Ho in all his pickled glory in his Mausoleum. Except that we approached the compound from the wrong end and had to walk a very long way round and not step on the grass. We kept getting waggled at by the guard. We queued - in 2's, then in single file - to go through xray. I was allowed to keep my bag (which even after xray was searched a further four times), but had to surrender my camera whilst in the Mausoleum. We kept getting told where, on the ridiculously wide pavement, exactly to walk. Seemed unneccessarily pedantic, but I guess that's how you keep people employed.
Entering the mausoleum we had a red carpet to walk (silently) on. We all traipsed past the rather eerie pickled ex-president, complete with hands in a very unnaturally bent position, wrinkles and all. I did wonder why they didn't just replace him with a wax model instead of re-pickling him in Russia every year, but hey! From there, and after picking up my camera, we followed the dictated route around the grounds and saw the Presidential Palace, Stilt House, One Pillar Pagoda, Don Hieu Pagoda and the Ho Chi Minh Museum (all in the rain, by the way!).
The museum was a bit odd - a very eclectic mix of modern art and historical documents, photos, things belonging to Ho Chi Minh, etc. We left feeling a bit baffled but figured we'd learn a lot more at the History Museum, which we ended up not going to. We didn't make it to the Prison Museum either or the Cathedral - but I did see the cathedral all lit up the night before.
After thoroughly doing Ho - ie it was 11.30 so everything shut - we went to KOTO. I'd not expected it to be so big. The food was wonderful though, and so was the service so I do recommend it. From there we staggered over the road to the Temple of Literature (now, I'm not going into the history of all the sites I saw on my trip on here. If you're that interested, look in a Lonely Planet guide, or Google it). It was interesting in being the first university in the country, but not so interesting, in my opinion, otherwise.
Time was marching on, and so did we. I brought my Hue to Danang train ticket, once we found the right station - and we also found a lovely hidden courtyard and temple through an archway - very old and not very well cared for - lots of old statues of horses and elephants that were once bright colours, but now rather faded. There were also bright yellow tigers, a white Buddha, mozaic effect pebbled turtles and dragons, etc (in white) . Really, really lovely.
We'd already decided we didn't want to do anything else in the sightseeing line, so headed back to the hotel, after a beer in the rather UNatmospheric Kangaroo cafe.
My foot had started to hurt somewhere along the line in the afternoon so I was limping a bit. After a short stop, we left the hotel again and went and had a wonderful body massage in a beauty salon in the Old Quarter near the Little Hanoi Restaurants (a few streets over from Hang Ga). It was wonderful! Then, after a bite at one on the Little Hanoi restaurants we headed back to the hotel, where I set my alarm for 4am!
The next day I flew to Hue. As there was no option, I flew business class. Well, it was a grand total of about US$10 more so not such a biggie. Although it did mean I got to check in without queueing, got to use the business lounge and eat and drink all the freebies, got to board last and have a nice wide seat, get a table cloth, lots of hot towels (the flight was only one hour), a stack of drinks and little breakfast nibbles. I took a window seat - I usually have aisle seats but figured this would be more fun this time. We also got bussed to the terminal in Hue - a total of about 15 metres. VERY funny!
The drive to the airport was nice. I got up at 4am and left the hotel at 4.30am. Around the hotel, in the Old Quarter, it was really quiet and the streets were almost empty. As we moved further away I saw handfuls of people outside restaurants, washing vegetables and rice, talking, gambling. Further on, just before the highway was totally different: clusters and clusters of people - dozens of them going about their (very) early morning business of moving things around, setting up their stalls, buying and selling foods, standing, talking.. There was a real buzz about it.
Okay, I'll try and get Hue, Hoi An and my first Saigon day typed up tomorrow.