Monday, May 24, 2010

Hanoi Part 2 - A Familiar Face

The following day, we were really excited to meet up with Erik and Mita as we have really missed seeing a familiar face and were really stoked that we had been able to make our travel schedules match up. Erik and Mita only had 2 nights to stay in Hanoi, so we were determined to make the most of the one and a half days we had together. They were due to arrive in Hanoi around mid day and we planned to meet at 2pm at their hotel which was near Hoan Kiem Lake. That morning, Jenni and I spent our time wandering around the Old Quarter. During our stroll (if you could call it a stroll, more like a game of dodge ball, trying to not get by bloody scooters on the street), we were stopped and asked for directions by a lovely Irish lady called Sheila who had gotten herself lost that morning. Even though we didn't really know the area, we at least had a map on us and could locate where we currently were and where she needed to go. She needed to head in the same direction as us, and to her relief we walked with her as she was being badly pestered by the local rickshaw drivers and people offering motorbike rides. The three of us ended up walking around nearly half the lake before parting ways.

After making our way around the whole lake, Jenni and I grabbed a quick bite to eat before going over to Erik's hotel to meet him and Mita. We joined them for a drink while they ate some lunch and then went to see the temple that lies on Hoan Kiem Lake. The Vietnamese say that a magical sword lies somewhere in the depths of Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of the Old Quarter, as a turtle god gave it to an ancient King to help defeat his enemies and was then returned to the turtle god in the lake. At the temple there is a large embalmed turtle in a glass case.

That evening, the four of us went to see the water puppets show at the theatre next to the lake. Each song played by the musicians, depicted a story or a scene that was acted out by the water puppets. Some of the scenes were fishermen catching fish, farmers chasing off foxes that were trying to steal their ducks and the ancient king returning the sword to the turtle in the lake. Even though we had read some things on the internet saying that it was boring and very repetitive, we all still really enjoyed it as it was very different. After the show we had dinner at a restaurant that overlooked the lake. The food was pretty bland, but the view was really pretty, so it made up for it. We finished the night off by going to the "Legend Beer" bar which was on one of the higher floors of one of the big buildings overlooking the lake and the busy intersection. There, to both Jenni and Mita's disgust, Erik and I treated ourselves to a 1 litre Legend Beer each, while Jenni and Mita settled for more sensibly sized drinks. Not only did we have a great view of the lake from our table, but we also had great entertainment while watching the traffic chaos going on at the busy intersection below. Taxis parked in the middle of the intersection, no road markings resulting in scooters and cars attempting to drive through in all directions, rickshaws trying their best not to get themselves and their passengers killed, ladies holding huge bunches of helium balloons for sale walking through it all and a bunch of not very adept rollerbladers, attempting to cross the traffic. Comedy gold!

The following day we all met in the morning and shared a taxi to go and see the temple of literature. Both the temperature and humidity that day was through the roof (we later found out it was about 39 degrees Cecilius). We all had to spend the whole day drenched head to toe in sweat, but tried our best to not let the heat spoil our fun. At the temple of literature we learned that this was Vietnam's first university. In order to gain attendance, students had to undergo a series of yearly tests. If they passed all of the tests up until young adulthood, they could attempt the final test that was set out by the Emperor himself. If they were successful in passing the Emperor's test, they had their name engraved on a plaque that stood atop of a stone turtle, with the highest achieving students' names carved on the shell of the turtle itself. 

After the temple of literature, we decided to walk in the sweltering heat a couple of blocks to the Ho Chi Min mausoleum and museum. To our disappointment, it was closed on the day we were visiting, but we were able to take a quick look at the one pillar pagoda which is next to the museum. We then jumped in a taxi to go to the museum of Ethnology. The bloody taxi driver, had rigged the meter to tick over really quickly and charged us over double what the ride should have been worth. We have learned here that you should try to avoid taxi drivers that attempt to pick you up or wait around airports and train stations, trying to get you to go into their taxi. They ALWAYS attempt to rip you off. Never agree to a fixed price for the journey before setting of in the taxi. Each time you get one, you need to make sure that the driver turns the meter on. If they claim it doesn't work, they are lying 99.9% of the time, so tell them that if they don't make it work, you will get out. Even if they do turn on the meter, make sure that you keep an eye on the distance meter. A lot of the cheeky buggers tamper with the meter so it ticks over distance quicker, thus increasing the fare (this is what happened to us). If you manage to spot this, tell them to fix it, otherwise you're getting out. Apparently some taxi companies are better than others here, but because there are so many of them, it is difficult to remember which ones are better to take. The safest bet to get an honest taxi is to get the hotel, restaurant or bar you are at to call one for you.

Getting back to the museum of Ethnology, we arrived around lunch time, but decided to go into the indoor exhibit before having lunch and then seeing the outdoor exhibit. The museum of Ethnology is a museum that houses a series of exhibits that explain the various ethnic groups living in Vietnam. The indoor exhibit is setup like a standard museum with each section dedicated to a particular ethnic group in Vietnam, explaining their origins, demographics, geographical spread throughout the country, cultural dress and way of daily life. Specific items used or created by each ethnic group were on display as well as little models of the houses that they live in. Due to a combination of the heat and hunger, all of us found it very difficult to take much in while visiting the indoor exhibit, so we made our way through as quick as possible so we could grab a bite to eat at Baguette and Chocolat, a cafe right next to the museum. (Baguette and Chocolat are part of a series of cafes and restaurants here in Vietnam that provide opportunities to disadvantaged teenagers as well as donate some of the profits to charity).

After feeling rejuvenated after our lunch in the fan cooled cafe, we ventured to the outdoor exhibit of the museum. This was spectacular as life sized replicas of the housing models we saw in the indoor exhibit have been constructed by villagers from the representative ethnic group. We were able to go inside the houses and explore the interior. Each house included replica items that would typically be found in the house. Even houses which were elevated high in the air included fire pits suspended from the floor. Due to the hot day, many of the groundskeepers and museum staff were lying down inside the houses, trying to stay cool. The most impressive house was built on stilts about 5m high and had a roof which reached about 20m in the air. Another house that really stuck out was one which had many statues performing lewd acts surrounding it. This house would have fit in very well at the sex museum we visited in Tongli, China.

We finished off our travels for the day by taking a taxi back to central Hanoi and walking through the French Quarter. Here we grabbed a couple of snapshots of the Hanoi opera house and some of the built up European style buildings, all the while enjoying the traffic chaos ensuing on the nearby streets. After a splitting up for a couple of hours so we could all have a well deserved shower and a change of clean clothes, we met up at dinner time and took a taxi up to Hanoi's West Lake to the famous Bobby Chinn restaurant. Mita and Erik were very excited to go here as they explained to Jenni and I that Bobby Chinn is one of these new age celebrity chefs with a cool attitude and funny sense of humour, kind of like Jamie Oliver. Jenni and I have never heard of him, probably because most of his shows would only be available on cable / satellite TV back in Australia and we never had that, but we were more than happy to take their word for it and go along for the fun.

Bobby Chinn's restaurant was setup inside an old multi storied house. From the outside, it wasn't much to look at, but the inside had been decked out. In all of the dimly lit rooms, the walls were covered with dark red silk drapes. In the downstairs cocktail bar area there were dark red couches and coffee tables with large flavoured tobacco pipes on top. In the upstairs dining area we found, candle lit, rose petal covered dinner tables. Even the toilets had a fancy touch, with rose petals floating in the bowl. We all spent a good 20 minutes attempting to decide what we were going to order, not just because all of the meals looked so good, but also because the menu had been written by Bobby Chinn himself, with very amusing comments and notes throughout. I cannot remember all of the best ones, but some of them were; "Non-smokers, please don't fart in the smoking section", "We have a children's menu and duct tape is also available" and "Smaller portions are available for anorexics and those aspiring". All the meals, cocktails and desserts we had tasted fantastic. We even all had a go ruining the rose petals in the toilet bowl on the way out :)

We finished the night of by heading back to the same location in the Old Quarter where we had a drink the previous evening, but this time went to the bar at the very top of the building to get a better view of the lake. Instead of large 1 litre beers, we settled for some of the fruit cocktails that are so readily available over here instead, probably a wise choice given how hot and dehydrated we were earlier that afternoon. Before parting ways, we took a stroll up Hang Dong st where the busy 1km long night market is held most nights here in the Old Quarter. About half way down the street, we bade Erik and Mita farewell as they had to catch an early flight back to Ho Chi Min city the following morning. Jenni and I really enjoyed the couple of days that we had with them as we enjoyed spending some time with some familiar friends. We hope that we can do it again sometime in the future.

After Erik and Mita left, Jenni and I found ourselves with 3 days remaining in our stay at Hanoi, so spent the next day catching up on the blog and booking various tours and activities for the next week. While returning to our hotel, we came across "Le Pub", a pub that was recommended in our Lonely Planet book. Scrawled on the blackboard on the outside of the pub was "Chelsea v. Portsmouth, 9pm". When Jenni saw it and pointed it out, I snatched my phone out of my pocket to check the date, it the 15th that day, a Saturday. Then it clicked; Chelsea v. Portsmouth; the Saturday, one week after the end of the Premier League Season; THE FA CUP FINAL WAS ON THAT NIGHT! Wwwoooootttttttt!!!!1!!!11oneoneone.

Jenni and I returned that evening and we staked out our spot. Usually Jenni wouldn't be that fussed on coming to watch a football match (real football that is..... with a round ball.... where you use your feet... not this egg shaped ball nonsense where you can use your hands and score points by missing the goal completely!), but she was fairly keen to get into the spirit as she knows that the FIFA World Cup starts in June and that I was planning on catching as many games as possible during the month it is on. The pub was not shoulder to shoulder full, but all of the tables and chairs were taken up by football fans from all corners of the globe. With the exclusion of 2 Chelsea fans, the entire pub along with Jenni and I were all rooting for Portsmouth to win. A mighty cheer arose when Portsmouth were awarded a penalty, but shortly after, followed by loud groans as the taker put it straight at the keeper's feet. The English bloke next to me put it best when he exclaimed loudly "My f**king Grandmother could have taken a better penalty than that... and shes been dead for the past 10 years!". More loud groans where soon to come as Chelsea's main striker, Drogba, blasted a free kick, through a wall with more holes in it than a block of swiss cheese, straight into the back of Portsmouth's net. When the game came to a close, with Chelsea winning 1-0, 2 lone cheers went up in the pub, everybody else just groaned and went back to their drinks. After winning both the Premier League and the FA Cup this year, there will be no living with Chelsea fans (like my good mate Reenz) after this season!


  1. So good to see you both looking happy and well. Lovely to have the blog back too. I miss my blog fix, have become quite an addict!!!:) Mum E x

  2. Hi Guys!
    Good to hear you are both on the mend :) Iv been sick over the weekend but that was self induced! ahhh good old mcdonalds is the best hangover cure invented!
    Exams are coming up quickly (3 weeks!)and omg Curtin is opening a school of medicine! they start building next year and it should be open 2014.
    Claire xox