Seeing Another Side of Vietnam

Day 1

I arrived at the Hanoi train station without a ride, and had to practically beg a taxi driver to take me to a hostel nearby. It was 5 am and I was desperate for some more sleep and a little kindness. Was it really so hard for the taxi drivers to do their job and taxi me to a destination? The answer should be simple, but the truth is anything but, and reinforced my hatred of taxi drivers at airports, train stations, and bus stops. By the time I found the hostel I was looking for, I probably looked like I walked through hell, and was greeted by an overly energetic girl who ushered me inside, took my passport, and told me where to store my pack until a bed in the dorm opened up. I couldn’t check in until noon, so I took a nap on one of their couches and ate some breakfast while I waited. I was more than happy to get settled in and shower by the time I was given a key to the room and a bed to sleep in.

After my shower, and a little lunch, I grabbed a map and went for a little walk. The only thing I saw along the way was St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which was right down the street from where I was staying.

DSCN2965After my little excursion, I found my way back to my hostel and spent some time meeting my roommates and eating dinner. It hadn’t been a perfect day at all, but I was still just happy to have a place to sleep.

Day 2

I woke up the next morning to find that it was raining outside. So much for making the most of the day. I grabbed some free breakfast, and enjoyed the early morning bustle of the hostel. It would be raining until early afternoon, so I spent another day cooped up inside. When the rain did finally subside, I made my way to the Hoan Kiem Lake to visit the Ngoc Son Temple.

Although I had been looking forward to seeing this temple, and its embalmed turtle (weird right?!), I was surprisingly disappointed by what it had to offer. I walked through the entire temple in less than 10 minutes and found myself walking one large circle around the lake taking in the scenery, and the small shrine in the middle. By the time I made it back to the hostel, a new girl named Niki had moved into the room and soon I found myself out with a small group of people grabbing some beers and dinner.

Day 3

Niki and I woke up fairly early and headed off for the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  It’s only open during the morning, and we were surprised by the amount of people standing in line waiting to get a glimpse of the great Ho Chi Minh. There were thousands of people snaking around the large property the Mausoleum is situated on. We found the end and got in line hoping we’d make the days cutoff. Now, I named this post seeing another side of Vietnam, because the moment we stepped into line, the friendliness of the Vietnamese people disintegrated. We were yelled at and pushed by the guards, treated like scum by the people selling scarves we were told we needed to cover up our bodies, which were really no less revealing than the thousands of people in line around us, and just overall treated like we weren’t wanted there. It was disheartening.

After waiting in line for over an hour, we finally made it into the air-conditioned building where Ho Chi Minh is housed. The guards inside are even more serious about their positions and the formation of the line than the ones outside, and not even a whisper could be heard as you walked passed Ho Chi Minh himself. I have to admit that it’s a little strange to see an embalmed person on display, even weirder than seeing an embalmed turtle, but what makes the whole carnival that surrounds Ho Chi Minh so interesting to me is not to man himself, but rather the fact that he didn’t want any of this at all. He was a simple man, and even refused to live in the government palace for a long time, so it’s no surprise that before he passed away he asked for a simple burial. It didn’t happen.

I guess you can’t really blame a nation full of people for wanting to keep him as alive-like as possible so they could all pay their respects to him on a daily basis, but what I still can’t understand is why they couldn’t abide by his wishes and still find a way to respect him for the great man he was. Any way, once we had been through the line we went to see the Governors palace,Ho Chi Minh’s stilted home, and even his car collection before finding the One Pillar Pagoda and leaving. We had made friends with a couple while standing in line, so the four of us went off in search of some lunch.

Next we all decided to make our way to the Temple of Literature. What should have been a simple walk, turned into us getting hopelessly lost. We saw a lot of interesting things along the way including some closed temples and one that looked abandoned and forgotten. When we finally made it, we bought our tickets and spent a decent amount of time walking around reading about the history of the school that used to be there. It’s a pretty interesting place overall, and with the sky getting dark and the hour slowly passing us by, we decided to make our way back to out respective hostels.

I had been traveling the longest out of the four of us, so when we found ourselves walking down a street with a marketplace, they got overly excited by the bright baskets of fruit and the piles of fish lying around, while I looked at it the way most people look at a grocery store. I had seen so many markets, and although I love going to them, they aren’t as exciting as the first few I found myself walking through. Once the excitement had died down, we hailed a cab and went on our way.

Later after we came back, Niki booked her trips to Sapa and Halong Bay, and I tried to get the company to change mine to her, but was stuck with the dates I was given. Later that night we went on a pub crawl, which wasn’t much of one, but we had a great night and came home early in the morning.

Day 4

I spent the day with Niki and 4 other lovely girls from my dorm room shopping and just enjoying life. I needed a pair of shoes for my trip to Sapa and a small pack for all the hiking I would be doing. Luckily, I found both after encountering some of the rudest sales people of my life. One lady refused to allow me into her shop because I was white, and a few shoe places refused to find me sizes of a pair of shoes I was looking at, so I was more than willing to spend my money with the ones that were nice to me.  We spent the day together getting lost (this is a recurring theme in my life), and eating delicious food. By the time we made it back to the hostel, we were all tired, a little cranky, and frankly still hung over from the night before. It was going to be my last day in Hanoi, and I was ready to leave.

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