You have to admit, the similarities are uncanny.
I’m writing this on the train from Hue – Vietnam’s imperial capital – to Da Nang and Hoi An, where we’ll spend a few days before heading on to Saigon.
Despite the mercury pushing 95 and high humidity, we’ve had a great first week in Vietnam, certainly helped by frequent breaks for ice cream and iced Vietnamese coffee. Initially, we had planned to split our first few days between Hanoi and Sapa – a scenic hill station in the country’s northeast – but liked the capital so much, that we decided to stick around (it was also a nice break from rural life after Laos). We stayed in the historical center of Hoan Kiem and really liked the city’s energy and overall feel. Slightly less fun was crossing streets without lights and in the middle of traffic, but we eventually got the hang of it (walk straight, move at a constant speed).
No unexpected moves
Despite the widespread lack of indoor A/C, we still managed to hit up the major sites including Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the Military Museum, the Temple of Literature, the Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton), and a show at the acclaimed Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. The Mausoleum was particularly interesting as we made the arguably poor choice to go on a Sunday morning. Apparently, a visit to “Uncle Ho” makes a popular outing for a non-negligible portion of Hanoi’s population and we waited in the sweltering heat for over an hour to get a 30 second walk-by glimpse of his preserved body (at least he gets A/C).
Took us almost 20 minutes just to get to the start of the line
Breaktime for Ho's guard
At the sites dealing with the Indochinese war(s) – against the French, and the US – it was especially interesting to see the Vietnamese narrative. The below relic from the fall of Dien Bien Phu was pretty representative. Still, outside of these sites, both wars seem pretty far in the past.
(Caption reads: Evidence of the failure of the French)... Guess they should stick to fine wine and museums
Not sure what this would imply about US aircraft manufactuing
As usual and with my “digestive problems” behind me, we also managed to take full advantage of the food on offer in Hanoi. Of particular note were the street stall specializing in bun bo nam bo – grilled strips of beef, served over noodles – at 67 Hang Dieu Street, amazing homemade ice cream at Fanny, and ex-pat hangout, Puku. Also worth mentioning, even for this non-coffee drinker: café sua da (Vietnamese ice coffee), with just a bit of condensed milk has become a new drink-of-choice.
After Hanoi, we spent a couple of days in Hue, Vietnam’s imperial capital. If possible, the city felt even hotter and we’d be sweaty and drowsy from the moment we stepped outside. Despite the malaise, we made it to the Dong Ba market and the Citadel. Apparently, the heat kept most other foreigners away as we had the sites largely to ourselves. We also rallied for the second cooking class of the trip. Worth noting: the uniforms definitely make you feel like you know what you’re doing.
Sunset over the Perfume River
That’s all for now – Happy Travels!