Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dodgy day tour of Hanoi

THURSDAY 20th October 

The hotel was fine except for breakfast… the only food available was eggs or toast. They wouldn’t let me order Pho even though it was on the menu… and then two minutes later the staff were served Pho from the street stall across the road!  It was a series of little things… the toast was warmed, not toasted; the scrambled egg was full of tomato even though the picture on the menu was fluffy eggs with no tomatoes; the omelettes were overcooked - crusty and rubbery… definitely the least impressive of all the meals we had throughout the trip. And to top it off, the watermelon was over-ripe and slimy! Other than breakfast, the staff were friendly and the room was clean and pleasant.

We were booked in for a day tour with APT ... the travel agency that sent a driver with a placard for 'Alex Nicholson' to pick us up from the train station yesterday. The day tour was also badly organised. We were advised to be ready for pick up at 8am and the minibus arrived at 8:45. The first stop was the Trấn Quốc Pagoda, which is on the shore of West Lake.

The monastery is built on a small island
Trấn Quốc Pagoda is the oldest of all pagodas in Hanoi. It is a cultural symbol of Vietnamese Buddhism. Apparently the pagoda was built under the reign of King Lý Nam Đế (544-548) under its original name of Khai Quốc. It was originally built on the bank of the Red River. Then in the time of King Lê Kính Tông (1600-1618), the river bank was crumbling so the pagoda was relocated to the Kim Ngu Islet and renamed Trấn Quốc. But it was in the middle of renovations, so we spent 20 minutes looking through temporary walls and building site paraphenalia

We were stepping over building materials, trying to keep out of the way of the builders... no such thing over here as OH&S ...

Next stop was the Ho Chi Minh complex, including Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum – the final resting place of Vietnamese greatest father – Uncle Ho. The mausoleum is always closed in October so his body can be returned to Russia for embalming maintenance, so we stood around in the square and looked at the outside of the building for half an hour (boring) 

But then we walked over to the rest of the complex, which was much more interesting. This building is where he met with Heads of State.
He could have used it as a Presidential Palace, but he preferred much simpler quarters.
While he was living here, he designed his stilt house, where he lived from 1958 to 1969.
It is quite delightful... the building is elegantly crafted with lacquered and polished wood, following the model of a traditional communal house on stilts.
Although there are only a few rooms, they are all open to breezes and filled with fragrance from the surrounding garden.
The two upstairs rooms are a study and bedroom
while the ground floor level contains a meeting table.
There was an underground bunker nearby. Our tour guide didn't know where the bathroom was... or the kitchen...

The carp pond provided opportunities for fishing.

There is something so tranquil about looking out over a lake.
and the garden was beautiful, too.

At the souvenir shop a couple of musicians were playing

There were plenty of guards about.

The tour was then supposed to include Ho Chi Minh's Museum, but it was missed. About then we found out that we wouldn't be going to the 'Hanoi Hilton' Prison either, even though it was advertised as part of this tour. Hoa Lo prison is where many Vietnamese patriots were jailed, brutally tortured and murdered by the French. Then it was used to house American prisoners of war. The guide insisted the prison was not on the tour in spite of the fact that everyone thought it was – we were all grumbling that he took us to 2 places that were closed and wouldn’t take us to the one place we were all wanting to visit. None of us were impressed, but the tour guide insisted that it couldn't be done.

However, the next place was One Pillar Pagoda. The original was built in 1049. It was built after Lý Thái Tông dreamed of the Goddess of Mercy sitting on a lotus flower. Today there is only a small replica of the original building. The square pagoda sits in the centre of a square lotus pond like a lotus flower on its stem.

A narrow flight of stairs leads to the tower where there sits a gilded figure of Quan Am, to whom the pagoda is dedicated

 It would have been nice to have enough time to walk around the gardens.

After that we drove to the Museum of Ethnology. What a fascinating place that is ... dioramas depicting the customs and lifestyles of Vietnam's 57 minority ethnic tribes, complete with costumes and artefacts. There were many TVs showing documentaries explaining the exhibits in more detail, but we didn't have enough time to watch them. This is one place I will definately revisit - and make sure I have plenty of time to absorb it all. In the grounds outside the main building there are several houses and communal buildings built in the varying styles used by these tribes and we only got to see a couple. I was surprised to realise that neither Katie nor I took any photos here... next time...

Our next stop was Ngoc Son Temple (Đền Ngọc Sơn), or Temple of the Jade Mound. It is located on a small islet at Hoan Kiem Lake. The temple was founded in the 14th century but most of its current structures were built in the 18th century. Ngoc Son Temple was built to commemorate a few Chinese and Vietnamese legends, including famous Vietnamese General Trần Hưng Đạo who twice led the Vietnamese troops to fend off the mighty Yuan invaders in the 13th century.  It’s a small temple set in a serene environment…


This is the main building

Our guide on this tour was nowhere near as good as those we had elsewhere. He was very long-winded, and only a few of our group stayed around to listen till the end of each story...  like how this embalmed turtle came to be there.

... so I researched it on the net and here's the story:

Around 10 am of June 2 1967, after being informed that some people gathered on the bank to see the rising turtle, some police officers were sent to the site to disperse the crowd so they would not be targeted by US aircrafts.  Police officers asked these people to break up and used a bamboo stick to drive the turtle back into deeper water but the turtle kept moving toward the shore. They saw blood on his shell and thought that he might have been injured when US aircrafts bombed Hanoi two days earlier.
Hearing that the giant turtle was wounded, a food company proposed to buy the turtle at the price of VND2.7/kg. When workers were carrying the turtle to a car, they received the decision signed by Hanoi Chair Tran Duy Hung, that asked relevant agencies to try their best to save the legendary turtle.
At the same time, speakers announced that American aircrafts were approaching and asked everybody to hide in trenches. Two police officers stayed to protect the turtle. At that moment, the car of a cultural attaché of the Russian Embassy passed by. Seeing the giant turtle, the diplomat stopped to take pictures.  After that, the turtle was brought to the house at No. 90, Tho Nhuom Street, a historical relic, for treatment.
“The turtle was treated with rare and expensive medicine, including a box of penicillin and eight blocks of ice. At that time, penicillin was more valuable than gold while ice was rare and very expensive,” said Prof. Duc.   Due to serious injuries, the turtle died at 2pm of the same day. 
After he died, the city authorities asked relevant agencies to do an autopsy. The turtle was 2.10m long, 1.20m wide, 250kg in weight, with a circular hole on his shell of 5cm in diameter and 6cm deep. The hole went through his lung, causing bleeding and was suggested as the reason for his death.
No bullets were founded inside the turtle’s body. There were five chubs 40cm long (thick bodied Europear River fish) and ten stones which were as big as chicken eggs in his stomach. The stones were tools to grind food, according to experts.
Experts defined that his age was over 900 years.
That night, police were instructed to investigate the death of the turtle.  According to investigation, two days before, a state-owned food company was fishing at Hoan Kiem Lake. This firm hired men to draw up nets. According to workers, when they drew up the net, they founded a big turtle in the net. They could not take the turtle out of the net. As the turtle was too big and heavy, it pulled the boat. A hired worker named Thu, from the northern province of Thai Binh, was afraid to lose the net so he used a crowbar to hit the turtle, making a big hole on his shell.  The man named Thu heard of the investigation and ran away. In the wartime, the case was not investigated further.
According to documents collected by Prof. Ha Dinh Duc, Ho Guom had four ancient turtles in the past. Two of them died a very long time ago. The third is now a specimen in the Ngoc Son Temple and the last is still alive. 

That's the one I saw a few weeks ago. The others on our tour were very interested to talk to me about it... most of them had assumed it was a myth, like the Loch Ness Monster.

The patio in front of the temple is very pretty and tranquil. People come here to sit and contemplate and relax.

This stunning water feature is an excellent example of the use of those rocks we saw from the Hue-Hanoi train.

It is well worth a closer look

After that we went to The Temple of Literature. It was dedicated to Confucius, when founded in 1070 by Emperor Lý Thánh Tông. In 1076, Vietnam's first university was established here to educate Vietnam's administrative and warriors class. Parts of the university date from this earlier time period although the large complex has undergone many changes over the centuries. But recent archaeological study indicates that the architecture of this site belongs primarily to the Ly (1010-1225) and Tran (1225-1400) Dynasties. The complex is in a tranquil park-like site in the heart of central Hanoi. The progression is essentially axial from the entrance gate to the central temple sanctuary.

 This is the entrance gate.
After you go through the gate, there is a long landscaped path.
Beautifully dressed girls were everywhere
The girl on the right was in our tour group. She's from Hong Kong.

How impressive is this gate??

We often took photos for other tourists. I took one of one girl as she splashed the water in a bronze vessel and captured the droplets of water in an arc that went over her head! Brilliant pic... shame it was on someone else's camera!!!
Check out the detail on this bronzework
some kind of a water dragon?

The timber buildings are quite beautiful
These two photos are the courtyards on either side of a breezeway - a corridor between two buildings that has carved timber folding partitions for walls.
That is a huge ancient bell in the distance.

golden turtle

statue of Confucius

souvenir shop

And so ended our day tour. We had been told it would finish up with an hour by cycle-cab (xich lo) around the Old Quarter, which would have been awesome, but that didn't happen, either. Like I said, APT travel were the worst tour company we came across.

They did manage to drop us off at our hotel, so that was something. We had a cold drink and a bit of a lie down, then went out to explore some more. We had used up all my phone credit, so we had to find a place to buy another phone card. Talk about the advantage of a bit of local knowledge... this little street stall was where we found what we looking for. Katie was gob-smacked. There is no way she would have known that these people were selling phone cards!

We made our way to Tandoor - the fabulous Indian restaurant I went to with Lynn and Des. This time we sat on the little balcony over-looking busy Ba Be Street and it was simply wonderful.
I remembered to take a photo part way through our meal -  a delicious combination of naan bread, pakoras, deep fried paneer (Indian cheese), samosas and Chicken Korma...

That was a lovely way to wind up day two in Hanoi. Tomorrow the cooking school -  really looking forward to that!

No comments:

Post a Comment