8-9 September 2011
The next morning, I intended to find Hang Be Market, which was close to my hotel, before I moved on elsewhere. Sadly, I wasn’t feeling great so I instead spent the morning in bed in front of the National Geographic Channel.
That morning, I was set to leave the Hanoi Style Hotel (which I had been staying in as part of my tour to Ha Long Bay) and move back to the Hanoi Astoria Hotel. After checkout, the monsoon rain hit, so I splashed out on a taxi back. Thankfully, and yet unfortunately at the same time, it was so cheap that the driver didn’t have change for the note I passed him so I had to run and down the street, in the rain, looking for a working cash machine. I was very relieved when I finally made it to my room.
After a quick rest, I headed off to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and, en-route, found the War Museum, which, like the War Remnants museum in Saigon, had many distressing images of the victims of Agent Orange. As I left the museum, I wandered around the flag tower and over to the statue of Lenin, which were situated nearby.
I only stopped for a quick photo at the Mausoleum as hunger started to set in. I couldn’t see anywhere nearby that I fancied so I caught a taxi over to Dong Xuan market – or at least, I tried. As I hopped in the taxi, the driver started chatting away and beeping his horn continuously. This didn’t concern me much as drivers beep all the time in Vietnam. However, I then noticed that every time the driver beeped, the meter jumped. We hadn’t gone far but the price was rising quickly. I asked him to pull over and, for some reason, paid the price on the meter as I got out instead of having an argument. I was still pretty far from the market but I wasn’t going to risk another taxi so instead I set off on foot.
A while later, I finally arrived at the market and picked up a couple of souvenirs before finding myself down by the Lake Hoan Kiem. I ducked into the first restaurant I found and treated myself to a chicken sandwich. Just as I finished, the heavy rain started to fall again. I waited until it started to clear a little and made a dash for it, only for the heavens to fully open again. In that moment, the crowds of locals instantaneously changed into their waterproofs – kind of like Superman – but sadly I wasn’t quite so prepared and got drenched.
Later, I emerged again from my hotel for a tasty dinner of grilled pork and rice, back at the lantern filled Quan An Ngon, where I had been on my first night. Again, the restaurant was heaving with tourists but I was still served pretty quickly so I still had time to head back to the lake and get a Pina Colada at the Little Kitchen before it was time for bed.
The next day was the day I was due to set off on my guided tour through Laos and Thailand. After a breakfast of eggs and bread, I checked out of the Astoria and headed over to yet another hotel – the Anh Hotel on the other side of town. After yesterday, I was hesitant to get a taxi so I hiked for about 40 minutes with my bag on my back, weighing me down in the heat. I finally made it to a slightly deserted area of town. It seemed quite far out but my room was nice so I wasn’t going to complain.
I headed out for a lunch of fried noodles in the restaurant opposite, which came complete with Burberry-style tablecloths, before walking around the big lake close by and a pagoda covered in Buddha statues. There was also a little temple/shrine which I explored before heading back to the hotel.
Finally, it was time to meet my tour guide and the rest of the group that I would be joining. The large group had started the tour in Bangkok, travelled through Cambodia and up through Vietnam until they had reached Hanoi. I wish I could have joined it earlier. Altogether, we headed into town and I learned that only four of them would be continuing onto Laos – the rest were finishing in Hanoi.
We all divided up into taxis and met at the Water Puppets theatre by the lake. We never saw the show but apparently it was quite weird and yet quite popular. The traffic had reached another level on this Friday night and I felt rather sorry for the nearby warden. We headed for dinner at the Little Hanoi which was followed by a return trip to the lake where we found an ice cream parlour called Fanny’s which, once a month, held an all-you-can-eat ice cream buffet night (yes, you read that right) for a mere 110,000 VND (about £4). Conveniently, this month, that night was tonight.
There were a multitude of flavours of both ice cream and sorbet and, if you found yourself still hungry, there were further options of fruit and pancakes. The night descended into a competition which came down to a battle between two members of our group. The winning number of scoops was 30 and the loser was left sitting on a small stool with his head in his hands and a bin at his feet that thankfully did not need to be used in the end. I tapped out at 10 scoops, which was a poor show on my part. I generally have a pretty hearty appetite, so I assumed I could eat until closing time, but I was too confident. In hindsight, I should have had a better strategy, but at least I still got my money’s worth.
After our taxis dropped us off back at the hotel, for 60,000 VND – it had only been 40,000 VND on the way there – we hung out for a little while before bed. The next morning, we would be heading off for Laos.