Vietnam 2009 Travelogue

22 October 2009 – day 6 – Thursday – Hanoi, Vietnam

Today was our first full day in Vietnam, and what a day it was. We started out by taking a Cyclo tour, which is like a rickshaw. It was basically a bicycle where a man or woman is paid to do all the work. There is a small carriage seat in front where the passenger sits and the driver sits on a bicycle seat behind him and pedals and does all the steering.

The ride was one hour long and it was very fun. We saw many sites around town,

such as a church that looked like the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

and various statues.

The city was specially decorated for the thousand-year anniversary of Hanoi.

But the most fun part for me was just seeing daily life, people's jobs

and, of course, the chaotic traffic.

We had busses, cars, motorbikes and pedestrians zipping around us in traffic, in all different directions. Millions of people going millions of places. We saw motorbikes carrying everything imaginable. Overloaded to the max.

We saw motorbikes hauling 4x8 sheets of plywood. Others carried huge stacks of coal for cooking.

In Minnesota it seems pretty crazy to talk on the cell phone while you're driving. It's a major cause of traffic accidents. Here in Hanoi, some people talk on the cell phone while driving their motorbike with one hand! I saw this literally dozens of times and took photos to prove it.

We also saw motorbikes piled with a family of four people,

and even a motorbike hauling a huge Alaskan Malamute dog.

Many people here wear what seemed to be surgical masks. Lee told us there were two reasons. First, he said that the Vietnamese people think that pale skin is more attractive than tanned skin, so the mask protects them from tanning. Second, it's for the pollution, which I can easily believe. The air pollution is horrible here.

Outside on the streets is where day-to-day business is conducted.

All over the place, people are cooking in the streets, eating there, washing dishes there, selling things, fixing everything from shoes to motorbikes. We even saw a hospital where patients were being treated on the streets, if you can believe that. It brings new meaning to the word “outpatient.”

After the bicycle rickshaw (“cyclo”) ride we ended at Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum.

We got to see the changing of the guard.

Unfortunately, the tomb was closed for maintenance, so we couldn't get inside.

We walked to a nearby park-like area that had his presidential palace, a small car collection and so on. It was interesting.

Next, we drove to a small lake where there is a memorial to United States John McCain.

As a paratrooper, he parachuted into this lake, where he was immediately captured by the North Vietnamese army.

Eventually we ate lunch and after that we visited the “museum of ethnology”. The museum basically portrayed houses and artifacts of the wide variety of cultures indigenous to Vietnam. Amazingly, they had full-sized examples of the various houses and huts constructed by each culture. We were told that the museum actually paid the natives of each culture to build a typical house, then they transported the house to the museum grounds for display.

Many of these houses were build high up on stilts due to the flooding of the various regions where the natives lived.

Some of them had sexually explicit images meant to foster the fertility of the natives.

One of the buildings, from one particularly matriarchal society had wooden breasts at the top of the ladder. Lee told us—in all seriousness—that the custom of the natives was to fondle the wooden breasts when you got to the top of the ladder, out of respect for the matriarch of the family.

We went inside a few of the buildings, but they made us a little nervous because the floors looked inadequate for our heavy American bodies.

Inside the museum itself, photos were only allowed if you paid for it. I wasn't that interested in the pieces, so we only paid for Kathy to take photos.

The museum had some interesting pieces, however, such as a winter coat made completely out of wood.

I was more interested in the ancient manuscripts they had on display. I wondered what ancient Buddhist secrets they could tell!

I was exhausted by the time we left the museum, but our day wasn't over yet. Far from it!

The next stop was a big free-standing single-pillar pagoda. It was fun, but crowded with tourists.

Eventually the bus took us back to the hotel for some free time before dinner. Kathy and I took the opportunity to walk back down to the park near our hotel where there was a pretty lake. Lee told us that the lake once was famous for having huge turtles. As we walked through the park, we saw someone fishing and he snagged a turtle with his fishing line and pulled it out of the water. It was very small and I wondered what he was going to do with it.

A decorative bridge flanked by fancy gates and towers crossed over to an island.

The island was obscured by the gates and people were charging an entrance fee to get onto the island. My curiosity took over and I needed to find out what was on the island. We paid our fee and went in.

The island was pretty small. It had a few small buildings on it, and people. There were several men there playing Chinese Chess. One of the buildings had one of these huge (dead) turtles, stuffed, in a glass enclosure. This was probably the biggest turtle I've ever seen, rivaling even the huge sea turtle that glided under me while snorkeling in the Galapagos. It was a monster turtle!

The island didn't have much else on it, and we had to get back to the hotel for dinner, so we left and walked back, making a brief stop at a local convenience store for supplies.

After a very nice dinner at a restaurant called “A Taste of Hanoi” we were taken by bus again. The bus ride was about two blocks away and I thought it was a huge waste of time and effort to bus us to a place we could have easily walked. Our destination was the local theatre where they did special water-puppet shows. The live music was fun,

but a lady with big hair sat right in front of me, making it impossible for me to see. All I could see was her hair and it was very frustrating. I was so unhappy I took a photo of my view.

I think Kathy may have gotten some good photos of the show though.

The overloaded bicycles and motorbikes are the most amusing thing, at least to me. Every day we're getting great photos of these and I think I'll replace my “interesting observation of the day” with overloaded motorbikes of the day.