After our beautiful trip on Halong Bay, we drove four hours to Hanoi to check in to our beautiful Movenpick Hotel. It is close to everything and provides a perfect opportunity to see the crazy Vietnamese drivers, with motorbikes fighting for space with cars and buses. Since traffic lights are merely a suggestion, vehicles continue through intersections as if they still had the green light. Even on our bus, it was death-defying to experience!
We started the day going to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. It is visited by tourists, school children, and locals alike. Ho is still revered, “resting” in a building built by Russia. The architecture is pretty stark compared to the elegant French architecture prevalent in Hanoi. From there, we walked to the grounds housing the former King. It is quite beautiful but unused for many, many years. His cars are still in the garage, but he lived a very simple life personally, choosing to sleep in a house on stilts. His bedroom and office were upstairs with the dining room downstairs. The wood used everywhere is rosewood, a beautiful reddish wood that holds up well in this climate.
On to our next adventure, taking an hour-long drive on a rickshaw through the old town, two people in each vehicle. The cart is pushed by a bicycle and has to maneuver the narrow streets, dodging cars and motorcycles. The rickshaw drivers are fearless. Each block specializes in a different item, like party supplies, pots and kitchen supplies, clothing or sewing supplies. No time to stop, but you wouldn’t want to. It is just crazy.
On to another meal, this time a small restaurant in the old town. Our seating was upstairs, climbing a narrow stairway to get there. Many restaurants are in narrow buildings, requiring a second or third floor of seating. Since taxes are based on the footprint of a building, many of them are only 15′ wide, with the residence of the owners on the upper floors and a store or other commerce on the street level. The food was a little different than the food in the south. We had a creamy pumpkin soup, stir-fried bok choy, a chicken dish and a pork dish and fruit for dessert (the typical dessert).
We had a short break before going to the famous Water Puppet Show. This 45-minute show is accompanied by a musical ensemble of very typical Asian instruments, but very foreign to most of us. There were two female singers, plus a drummer, all playing percussion.
The puppets are in front of a bamboo curtain, hiding the puppet masters who guide them with poles under the water. Each vignette has a story. Sometimes, it is about farming, fishing, battle or phoenixes. There are two water puppet theaters, with many shows each day. And, each performance is full. There were no children at our show, which I thought was strange. The audience was almost all tourists. It was interesting, but not something mandatory to see.
Since it was still early, Jim and I were joined by Judy and Stephanie to walk to the central lake area, only a 15-minute walk. It is near the old town and puppet theater and seemed farther when we went there by bus earlier. Easy walk. There was a kiosk-like restaurant by the lake, which looked like it had a limited menu, to only serving ice cream or desserts. However, the surprise was that they had a huge menu with many offerings. We shared a cheeseburger and fries (needed our Western food fix), as dinner did Judy and Stephanie, which was a wonderful change. We treated ourselves to a dessert of ice cream with Bailey’s on top and four spoons. It was great!
Next, we decided to walk around the lake, which is many blocks long. There was loud music playing, great beat, with about thirty people dancing zumba. We joined in. A little further, more music, this time Latin, with couples dancing salsa. Supposedly, salsa dancing is very popular here. A bit further, more music and a group line dancing. Every bench was filled with families, young people, and some tourists. We were enchanted. The temple on a little island in the middle of the lake, reached by a charming bridge, was lit and reflected in the water. It was absolutely magical.
Time to explore some shops near the lake. Jim hit the North Face stores in search of a lightweight jacket (either was heavy or too light) and I stumbled upon a Louis Vuitton crossbody bag, totally authentic of course, for $27 US. It is real leather and only a few people would know the difference. I was pleased.
Sadly, we had to return to the hotel. FYI, there is a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store across from the hotel. It was a good and busy day.