Well….. today was definitely full of the most surprises…. I was meant to have a my Hanoi tour at 9.30am and so was a little flustered when at 8.40am, when I’d literally just got out the shower, the local tour guide arrived to show me around! I hadn’t had any breakfast and had only just had time to put on deodorant and clean my teeth. In the rush I forgot to take extra money, lip balm and most annoyingly my camera…!! However, I would soon learn that enjoying a city for the first time without a camera in your hard is a very refreshing experience.
Anyway, the local guy showing me around was lovely and his friend came with us too, although they were slightly annoyed that I couldn’t always understand them- apparently the Americans had no problem with understanding their pronunciation! In the end I ended up telling them I was half deaf…. to make them feel better! I was thinking that most American’s they met probably hadn’t only been in the country for 24 hours… I would soon find that the Vietnamese are not scared to voice their opinions!
So…. we started with a trip to the Turtle Temple (Ngoc Son), by Sword lake,(Hoan Kiem Lake) in the centre of Hanoi. This is a Buddhist temple, open for visitors, where legend has it that if the giant turtle comes up to see you, it will bring you good luck and fortune for the day, or even the year. The Vietnamese get extremely excited about the turtle and have a big shrine to it… At first, I thought the turtle was the equivalent to the Lochness Monster, however I later found out that it is considered sacred by the Vietnamese, and there are only estimated to be four left in the entire world, it is an extremely rare fresh water turtle and it does indeed live in the lake in the centre on Hanoi. I was also told that once, during intense floods, the turtle was released into the river. Here, a big man hunt was started by police, to find the turtle before the local countryside people found it and ate it for their dinner! Luckily, the turtle was returned safe and sound.
Unfortunately, the turtle sadly died of natural causes in January 2016.
There is a legend that also surrounds this type of turtle, as it is believed that this turtle helped the King to defeat the Chinese over six centuries ago. Many Vietnamese people believe that it is the same turtle today which defeated the King all that time ago, and that this turtle will live forever.
The Buddhist temple was very nice over all, I think I might become a Buddhist!
We then went to St. Joseph’s Cathedral but left promptly because they were in the middle of a service, in French. I decided that the Vietnamese language was enough to be learning for one day.
We sat and admired it from a distance, (it’s very quaint and pretty), while drinking iced lemon tea, a classic favourite in Vietnam. The Vietnamese rarely drink hot tea or coffee…it’s mostly chilled and served with ice.
It was here that I used my anti-bacterial hand gel (as I had read in my guide book, it’s a good idea to have some) and when they asked me what it was I said it was to clean my hands and get rid of the germs. To this they replied “Oh… In Vietnam we use a sink, with soap and water…” This made me laugh, a lot.
We saw Hoa Lo prison, originally used by French colonists for political prisoners and later during the Vietnamese War, where the Vietnamese kept the American pilots and soldiers who were captured. There were loads of videos comparing how appallingly the Americans treated the Vietnamese and how hospitable the Vietnamese were to the American Pilots. I think this may have been a little one sided, but there was physical evidence and video footage for all of it, which I assumed was all part of the Propaganda.
There was a whole section on how brave the women of the North were during the war, and how they stayed loyal to communism throughout. We also saw the guillotine used for executing the prisoners, (yes, an actual, full scale guillotine) which still looked sharp. It actually made my legs go wobbly just looking at it.
Half way around the museum my tour guide turned to a very tanned Aussie man and asked if he was Indian… many Vietnamese have never, and will never travel outside of Vietnam. I was amused. I explained that I had not had any sunshine for about eight years (as I am English) and that the Aussie man had probably spent a lot of time on sunny beaches!
For lunch we went to a very nice restaurant, however I did find two dead flies in my drink, apparently this is perfectly normal in Vietnam. I would soon be picking flies out my food on a regular basis, without a second thought.
When I went to eat whatever had been ordered for me they said “It’s a bird, not a chicken, a small bird…” This was slightly off putting, but then they said “It’s called bony. It’s meat and bone” which didn’t add to my appetite. It tasted OK, but crunching the small bird bones between mouthfuls made my legs go wobbly for the second time that day!
However, they did serve CHIPS. I was amazed by this! I was not expecting to be eating chips in Vietnam.
I was told before I arrived that you are supposed to pass things to elders with your right hand, due to the toilet habits of the Vietnamese. I again took this to be a myth. However, apparently most male men have a long baby finger nail on their left hand to scoop out anything they can’t manage to get with their hand, after going to the toilet… don’t quote me on this!
Having been told this, I was very put off watching a man with a long baby finger nail playing with his girlfriend’s hair on the bus, parting it down the middle with his finer nails….
Finally, we went to a cultural museum about the Heritage of Vietnamese people called the Ethnology Museum (definitely worth a visit) and learnt about all of the different ethnic minority tribes who live in Vietnam. This was awesome because outside they had hand built copies of the types of houses that the local villagers used to live in, all on stilts high up in the air, like tree houses but much bigger. These were really cool. We then watched a water puppet show which had some brilliant puppets. Really good to watch and my daily dose of Culture for the day.
I was absolutely exhausted after my nine hour tour of Hanoi and I had my first Vietnamese lesson the next day.