Vietnam 2: Hoi An, Huế, Hanoi
From Saigon, I headed to Hoi An. This is a beautiful heritage town filled with old buildings, most of which now house custom tailors! These are places that will make you any sort of garment, usually overnight. Prices are good but sadly quality isn’t, so I didn’t get anything made. Instead, I wandered around the alleys, rode out to the beaches (Cua Dai and An Bang), and took a boat to one of the nearby islands to ride around there. That was an easy way to get off the tourist track – there were a few streets with shops selling local crafts, but once I got out of "lazy walk" range, it was just me and the locals: farmers farming and school children on the way home yelling "Hello! Hello!"
I took a few photos, which are here, but overall found it hard to get good photos of most of the old buildings…
Huế was next.. it’s a great place too. Robin and I took a motorcycle tour around some of the sights. We saw a roofed Chinese bridge way out in the countryside and a museum of farm tools then headed through farmland (and past a river full of ducks) to an old WWII bunker (also used in the Vietnam war) and then a mausoleum. There are a few of these in the Huế area.. the one we saw was built for King Tu Duc, who lived there for about 15 years of his life and then was buried there. A lot of effort for one guy! After that we saw the Thien Mu pagoda, a symbol of Huế. At this place, there’s also the car driven by Thích Quảng Đức, who self-immolated in Saigon to protest of the repressive government. Finally, we visited the Citadel in the heart of Huế, which was mostly leveled in WWII.
After Huế, onto Hanoi. We tried to see Uncle Ho on our first morning but the site was closed by the time we found it. We also tried to find a downed B52 in a lake, but ended up being directed to the B52 museum, which was closed. Then we walked across town for lunch at KOTO, a restaurant dedicated to training former street youth for work in high end hotels and restaurants. It was across from the Temple of Literature, which we toured next, before walking to Hoan Kiem Lake, the site of a famous Vietnamese legend wherein King Le Loi returned a sword used to defeat the Ming aggressors to a turtle in the lake. We capped off our busy day by seeing the water puppets. These are pretty awesome.. they’re controlled by underwater rods and cables by puppetters behind a screen.. so all you see are the puppets!
The next day we got up early and did manage to see Uncle Ho.. that’s what they call Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. He’s now embalmed and kept under glass, and you can go in and see him for free… creepy. No photos allowed though :( Then we headed to the Hoa Lo Prison, complete with an old guillotine… also creepy. For the rest of the day, we just wandered around, mostly in the Old Quarter. This is a series of twisty lanes with names like Hang Bong – each is the name of whatever is being sold on that lane (I don’t remember what a "bong" is, but it has nothing to do with smoking.) So, for example, there’s a lane dedicated to herbal medicines, and another to electrical supplies. Every shop sells the same things, usually identical products even. I don’t know why.
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