July 11, 2007

Having caught the sardine bus company’s premier cramp model bus to Hanoi, Sam and I were pretty peeved when we arrived in the Old Quarter. A tout came up and said that he could take us to a good hotel.

We didn’t care what the deal was, we were so grumpy and tired that we could sleep anywhere. We crashed out in our air-con room we also devoured the mini-bar of its beverages.

The bus from Dong Ha had been 12 hours of misery. We had paid for a sleeper bus, but we got a “cattle class” local bus instead.

When we awoke we discovered the room was substandard. The air con pumped air from the bathroom into our living room and the exhaust air was also pumped into the bathroom. Yes, you read that correctly.

This meant our living room never got cool, and taking a shower in the sauna like bathroom was a waste of time.

Clearly we had to find somewhere else to go.

We gathered our thoughts and read the Lonley Planet. It mentioned another hotel not far from where we were. We talked to the manager there and he said that we could book leave our bags at his hotel the next day. At the same time we booked a city tour through him too.

We stayed over night at the orignal furnace hotel and checked out very early. The manager became irritated with us not staying longer and decided to rip us off hard. In Hanoi, hotels don’t advertise prices on the mini-bar. Bottled water was, in the manager’s view, now $6 each.Coke cans now $5. He also quoted the price in $US dollars as we paid in Dong.

Again ripped off even further with a bad conversion rate. That is one thing I would recommend anyone going to North Vietnam: watch how they convert between US dollars and Dong.

Another point to make is that once you have Dong, you can’t change it back in town. There is only the black market. We needed to change our money back into US dollars to get into Laos, but it was impossible in this city. Later in Sapa we used the black market and got badly ripped off.

Still very surly that morning we arrived at 8am to our new hotel for the standard Hanoi City tour. We departed at 8:15 am by mini van. We began our day by visiting Uncle Ho,at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

The security there was super tight , more impressive than at L.A airport. Unfortunately Sam and I had left our cameras in the mini van, so we didn’t snap any pictures. When we entered the Mausoleum, it was strict silence, no photos, and to show respect to President Ho Chi Min.

Not far from the Mausoleum was Uncle Ho Chi Min’s Presidential Palace, we took a look around there for 20 minutes, nearly getting lost in the process. Next stop is the nearby Temple of Literature. The site of Vietnam’s first University, built-in twelfth century, to teach the royals the Confucius theory. As you can see it was tick-the-box tour of Hanoi. We had seen enough in one day.

Water puppet show in the Old Quarter Another thing worth mentioning was the Water Puppets show. That was an interesting show, although ‘touristy,’ as we were denied once because the show was fully booked.

The puppets float on the water and are attached to bamboo armatures that pull and manipulate the puppets across the water. The puppeteers are concealed behind a low bamboo curtain. It was something different.

Later on we booked a tour with Hand Span Travel. This company offers a three day tour of Halong Bay staying one night in the bay onboard the Junk boat. The second day we would kayak and that night sleep on Cat Ba Island. Read more about this adventure here.

 Getting map markers...