We awoke reasonably early in order to explore this new country and city but first up was breakfast. You had to go up the stairs to their ‘dining room’, which followed the ‘rough around the edges decor’ of the rest of the hotel. I had noodle soup once again and again it was both really nice and filling, an excellent way to start the day. Once filled up we went downstairs where we spoke to the manageress who then rung us a taxi, one of the few firms who could be trusted to not rip us off too extortionately.
The first site we wanted to visit was to be Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Like a lot of communist places – the buildings, statues and the like – the mausoleum is somewhat austere and foreboding. On this occasion though, the outer decor actually well matched the interior of the mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh still lays in state in the building wearing a suit, laying in a glass case and Liz seeing this was quite taken aback by the body which actually looks quite yellowy in hue and the skin has quite a waxy look to it. When you are there the ceremonial guard makes sure that those standing in line are respectful both in how they are dressed and act as well. In the gardens you can also see the Presidential Palace which is a large yellow building with shutters but you cannot visit this building. Then we went to Ho Chi Minh’s actual house, compared to the other buildings was quite small and understated, though as it is made of wood is very much in keeping with nature and the surroundings of the garden and the ponds. In front of his small wooden house there is One Pillar Pagoda which again is made in dark wood and contains a small shrine. As with everything in the complex, the Vietnamese actually make a pilgrimage to the buildings and the queues to see everything are extensive and usually well mannered. Of all the buildings though, probably as we are Westerners, the strangest one we visited was the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
This is full of communist iconography – statues, paintings even photographs – and as such, some of it is a bit difficult to understand especially through Western eyes as it seems so at odds with anything we could relate to. Also, the museum is all about Ho Chi Minh and his life but as the viewpoint is quite biased it is really difficult to get under the skin of the man and that is a shame as there is no doubt whatsoever that he is loved by the entire country.
Once we had been round everything we then stopped at the cafe outside for a bite to eat. I ordered more noodle soup as the stuff is almost addictive. Once we had eaten we took another taxi and we were soon back at Hoan Kiem Lake and Temple which was not a million miles from our hotel. The lake is really nice and picturesque in the middle of the city surrounded by the millions of speeding mopeds that is the common form of transport in the city. The temple is on a small island in the lake which can be reached by a little bridge. The temple is once again all dark wood and often with all such temples and shrines has incense sticks both outside and in. The place seems quite surreal in the midst of such hustle and bustle but it is a veritable oasis.
After the day’s events we decided we deserved a drink or two so after the trip to the lake we then took a walk round the area of the hotel and found ourselves a little place to drink. At the little bar we got chatting to an Australian couple – Clint and Tess – who had been in Vietnam for a while and visited a place called Sapa which they highly recommended. So we took these thoughts on board. After the drinks we went back to our room for a bit of a sleep to ready ourselves for the night time.
At night we went to the Water Puppet Theatre which was also in the same locale as the hotel so just a short walk. The show was thoroughly entertaining though quite different to anything we had ever seen before. There is a stage, as usual in front of the assembled audience and the orchestra was to the left of this, then the water pool was in front of the staging area. This is where the action takes place, many of the stories are based in the sea or sometimes flooded rice fields and dragons often play a part but this works for me.
Each story is told to music and singing and the puppets swing back and forth to it and it is all really quite quaint if the melodies used are just a little bit piercing in places. After the show we met up with Clint and Tess again to eat with but it was a bit difficult as no-one had any idea of where to eat so we ended up somewhere which was not very good or very fulfilling either so although the night had been a bit of a damp squib, all in all been a very good day in our latest country and we have great hopes for the rest of our stay. If we can now just get a hang of crossing the roads and the like.