Our tour group of 24 people arrived to Viet Nam from Houston on June 11th in the afternoon. After a 36 hour journey we took a nap, had dinner, and had only one night to rest up and prepare for an eventful day in Hanoi – the capital! Writing this post, I am amazed how much was accomplished in 1 day with such a large group! If we could do it, you can definitely explore Hanoi in 1 day! It was my first time traveling with a tour group through a travel agency and I definitely have gained new appreciation for having a travel MC to keep everyone worry free and on the schedule.
I had to change the format of this post a bit just to be able to fit in all the pictures. This is just part 1 of my Asia travel stories, so keep an eye for more posts and pictures coming soon!
HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM
At 7:05 am on a Sunday in June, our tour group of 24 people loaded up on the bus and headed to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. When we got there at about 7:35 am, even our guide was speechless – the queue to see Uncle Ho was of unimaginable length. The 1990 Russian Guinness record McDonald’s queue is not even comparable. My best guess would be that the queue was 5-7 city blocks long and 4 people wide. The mausoleum doesn’t even open until 8:00 am and closes for lunch at noon; either way, there was no way we were going to make it inside.
I missed seeing Uncle Lenin in Russia, and now missed Uncle Ho too.
No biggie, “I see dead people” is not something I want to tell my friends anyways.
The guide explained that since it is summer vacation, many local people from villages travel to Hanoi for vacation. I mean, just look at this craziness. I probably captured only a quarter of it too.
Instead, we headed to the Literature Temple. Our guide, Hung, spent about 30 minutes standing in 1 spot, in the heat, telling us the history of the temple. The temple was originally built in 1070 and was the first national university. Hung mentioned that education was valued far beyond wealth in the 11th century, and the temple was used for students to learn Chinese and other subjects.
SIDE STORY: It was at the temple that two teenage Vietnamese girls came up to me and asked to take a picture with me. At first I was taken back thinking they confused me for a celebrity, then I thought they must just like my dress or something…. it wasn’t until later when others in the group started receiving similar offers that I realized that getting a photo with a white person, was basically…cool. The black girl in our group was even more popular with Vietnamese and since Obama’s recent visit to Viet Nam, they would all tell her how cool they think he is. Anything that is Western pretty much has a cool factor in Viet Nam. Our guide, Hung, explained that the people wanting a picture must be tourists from nearby villages because Hanoi residents see plenty of tourists every day and are now used to it. Either way it was an interesting experience at first and later became the norm.
We then headed to the Presidential Palace, which was built by the French and later Ho Chi Minh resided there, but in a Vietnamese-built stilt house.
ONE PILLAR PAGODA
The morning concluded with the visit to One Pillar Pagoda. The original was built in 1049, but was destroyed by the French in 1954. It was later rebuilt by the new government. It’s a quick stop, a short walk from the Presidential Palace. There are few steps, but they are steep and have no handles, so climb at your own risk.
LUNCH – LA LUA WILD RICE
For our lunch break we went to La Lua Wild Rice Restaurant. The food was very fresh and they served their version of a crepe, which was made with rice flour (rice pancake). All meals we had in Viet Nam were served family style, which was perfect because we got to try so many different things. Oh, and fish sauce comes with everything and it actually does not taste as gross as it may sound!
Even though our stomachs were full, there was no time to relax and we headed to Hoa Lo Prison Museum (Maison Centrale). A pilot suit of John McCain is displayed here, but the prison was originally built to house Vietnamese rebels against the French. It was always overcrowded and many communist leaders had spent time here. There were a few tourists here, but it was not busy.
HANOI CYCLO TOUR
Ok, now we can rest and relax a bit and enjoy the city via Cyclo Tour. Unfortunately I don’t know the cost of these activities since everything was pre-paid by the travel agency, but either way, your money definitely goes a long way in Viet Nam! Cycle tour was an awesome way to see the city once you get past the “OMG! I am going to die!” feeling while your driver navigates through the city traffic.
HOAN KIEM LAKE
The cyclos dropped us off at the Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake) where we spent a few minutes gazing at the Thap Rua (Turtle Tower). Wish I had brought my telephoto lens to take a better photo of the Turtle Tower. The park is very relaxing, but beware of the street sellers – once you show even 0.01% of interest, they will not leave you alone until you buy something!
WATER PUPPET SHOW
You’d think the day must be over at this point?! But we still had time for a Water Puppet Show at Thang Long Theatre. I am not sure if it was exhaustion, jet lag kicking in, or the dark and peaceful set up of the room, but most of our group fell asleep or fought really hard not to. It was difficult to stay awake and on top of it, we were in the first row right in front of the performers. I am pretty sure I heard someone snore a couple of rows behind us though. Either way, it’s one of those “must do” things while you’re in Viet Nam. Just keep an eye on those unicorns, they look a little different in Viet Nam.
HANOI CERAMIC MURAL
After the show on the way back to the hotel we passed by the Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural (Hanoi Ceramic Road). The wall is 2.5 miles long and the art is beautiful!
DINNER – HOME VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT
It’s time to call it a day and recharge with some calorie consumption. Our guide took us to Home Vietnamese Restaurant. It was very traditional looking on the outside, but very cool and chill on the inside. The food was delicious! Unfortunately I was too tired to remember to take pictures, but thanks to my travel mates for scrambling and getting these pix to me of the menu. From what I remember, my favorite were the prawns and the spring rolls.
Have you been to Viet Nam? If so, I would love to hear your story! Comment below or send me a link to your blog!