WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18, 2009 – 69/75 – HANOI, VIETNAM
Day two in Hanoi dawns just as overcast and dreary as day one had been. It looks like pollution, but we do not smell anything and Carolyn’s asthma is not acting up so it must just be haze.
After another nice breakfast including both traditional and oriental dishes for Dick and the standard fried eggs, bacon and heavenly French pastries for Carolyn, we leave the hotel shortly after 10:00AM in a taxi. The hotel doorman instructs the driver to take us to Bach Ma Temple and to wait while we see it and then to take us to Dong Xuan Market.
The Bach Ma Temple is the oldest building in the Old Quarter and is dedicated to the city’s guardian spirit, represented by a magical white horse. Bach Ma means “White Horse Temple.” The current building was restored in the 19th century. Buddhist temples are beginning to look like cathedrals in Europe to Dick; if you have seen one, you have seen them all!
Dong Xuan Market is a major commercial center in a three-story structure. It is the oldest and largest covered market in Hanoi. The French built the first building on the site of the even older East Bridge Market in the late 19th century. In 1994, most of the French building was destroyed by fire, only the façade of the first building is left. Even though the inside was new in 1996, you would think it dated from the 1950’s from the dilapidated looking interior. As has been the case in so many of the Communist cities we have visited this trip, things are broken and there is no sign of repair or maintenance to anything. In this instance, the escalators are broken and have been for a long time! Everybody owns everything; therefore, nobody owns anything and they don’t take care of anything.
The building is packed with stalls and strikes us as more of a wholesale market than a retail one but they do sell retail as Carolyn proves with the purchase of some wooden dragonflies she will use as Christmas tree ornaments. Nothing is priced so Carolyn thinks she will agree to a price of one dollar each and will buy five. She gets the equivalent of $5.00US in Vietnam Dong from Dick and charges in to make a deal. When asked, the woman says ₫5,000 each or a bundle of 10 for ₫45,000. At this point, Carolyn thinks she has a ₫10,000 bill or ~US$5. With that in her mind, she doesn’t even try to bargain and leaves. Dick wants to know how many dragonflies she bought and she says none. Dick asks why and Carolyn says the lady wanted to way too much; she wants ₫45,000 for 10! Well, Dick ,very calmly…at the top of his lungs, explains that Carolyn is crazy if she won’t buy 10 of the cute little hand painted and decorated things for ~$2.60US or $0.26US each. Carolyn actually has a ₫100, 000 bill, ~$5.73US, so she is now the proud owner of the 10 dragonflies plus one that the lady threw into the deal.
We now catch a taxi ride with a driver who does not know where he is going even though we have shown him the name and address of the One Pillar Pagoda, written in Vietnamese, and a map. After a bit of wandering, with the cab driver slowing and asking a pedicab driver how to get there, we arrive at the Museum and the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh and the One Pillar Pagoda. The fare is ₫79,000 and all Dick has is a ₫100,000 bill. The driver claims he doesn’t have change, Dick not wanting a scene just gives him the ₫100,000 bill. We should have just walked away and I bet change would have appeared!
There are about 20 tour buses full of school kids here today plus hundreds of tourist, what a crowd! We had not intended to visit the mausoleum but it is interesting to see and is a prime example of communist style, bigger is better, massive, ponderous, ugly architecture. Been there, done that, and did not buy a T-Shirt! In between these two massive buildings is the Pagoda. It is a tiny little thing sitting in the middle of a fish pond. Many people are showing their respect. Dick is less than interested at this point so we move on. After our last experience with the taxis, we start walking!
Our next destination is the Temple of Literature.This is the oldest and possibly the finest architectural complex in Hanoi. It was established in 1070 founded in hornor of the Chinese philosopher Confucius.There are five courtyards and a house of Ceremonies housing the alter of Confucius.But the real highlight of this venue is all the uniformed school children who want to speak to us in English and then clam up when they run out of words shortly after “hello” and “I am fine, how are you.” Dick takes photos of several groups of young boys and a few girlswho get a charge out of seeing their picture on the camera’s view screen. It is a pretty area, but today it was far from being peaceful or serene with all the kids.
Carolyn is now tired of walking and standing so leaving the “Temple,” we take a taxi to Hoa Lo Prison, aka “The Hanoi Hilton”, where U.S. Airmen were held prisoner from 1964 until 1973. Only one-third of the prison from that time remains as the rest was torn down to make room for a modern office and apartment building next door. The remaining portion of the prison is now a museum and is closed for lunch when we arrive. So, we walk around the corner to an outdoor café and get a drink and people watch until opening time. What a scene that is! The vast majority of the museum is dedicated to the cruelty of the French toward the “heroic” Vietnamese resistance between the 1890’s and the 1950’s with only two small rooms even mentioning the U.S. prisoners of war held here. One room contains a guillotine the French used and a glass case supposedly contains Senator John McCain’s flight suit and helmet. We take another taxi to a shop Carolyn was told carries quality embroidery but she is, once again disappointed and we move on toward the hotel on foot. It is getting on toward the evening rush hour and we take our life in our hands crossing the interections. The drivers only obey the signals when it pleases them. We just wait for a tiny break, take a deep breath and step out hoping that once again the motor bike drivers will sail around us and not through us! Yesterday, we saw a linen shop that appeared to be really nice near the Hotel. Dick goes on back to the hotel and leaves Carolyn to shop and make her own way back to the hotel. The shop has a few things, but the price is nowhere near as good as the prices four years ago in Saigon and there is very little to choose from. So, after two days of walking, shopping and site seeing, Carolyn has ten dragonflies and a handbag she found in Old Town…a total of $20US worth of stuff…this is a record! In fact, we have shopped and ridden taxis all over town for two days and have spent a total of $40US.
Back at the hotel we cool off and have a light supper, in the Cub Lounge, of dim sum and other tasty things with a really good French wine and then go listen to the string quartet in the Lobby before calling it a night.