Hoian in a nutshell: interesting

20 Mar

After a 20 hour journey from Hoi An in part sleeper bus, part tumble dryer, we arrived in Hanoi. Vietnam’s capital had me humming Katie Melua’s “There are nine million bicycles in Bejing” from the moment I heard the stats. 6.7 million people. 6.2 million motorbikes. Each and every one of those whizzing through the streets while honking inanely, doing their best to keep up Hanoi’s dubious record of being the most polluted city in southeast Asia.

Hanoi is, if I may be frank, a city I doubt I would ever really like. But it pulls you in. I would probably be able to continually find it interesting. It’s not modern like Ho Chi Minh, pretty like Hoi An or charming like Can Tho. But, it had me staring from the moment I arrived.

Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum

The main attraction in Hanoi is also its most macabre attraction: Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh was the president of North Vietnam during the build up and part of the Vietnam War. Although he cultivated the image of the humble ‘Uncle Ho’, his wishes of a cremation was politely disrespected by the communist party who would rather continue cultivating him as a national icon. In the tradition of communist leaders, he was embalmed and put on public display. Most of the year, Ho Chi Minh is found in a horrendous granite mausoleum copied from Lenin’s tomb in Moscow. Though once a year he goes to Russia for maintenance.

Ho Chi Minh’s tomb is open most weekdays, and we joined the slow queue of several hundred people one day. It was first when we entered the building that it dawned on me what we were about to see. A 79 year old man, 44 years after he passed away.Frozen in time, Ho Chi Minh lays pale and frail in a glass sarcophagus. Despite the best efforts of his Russian embalmers and the warm spotlights on him to make him appear more lifelike, he resembles a vax statue. During the few minutes in his tomb, watchful guards occasionally pushed us onwards. Because you will want to linger. It is a mummified body after all.

Our stay at Hanoi Hilton

And yet – Hanoi was a welcome breather. We stayed with our Norwegian friends Tone and Jørn Petter, whose home was so packed with joy and treats we almost booked a flight back to Europe to get a home again of our own. We slept in duvets. The shower had hot water AND good water pressure. The coffee was an actual espresso and breakfast was glorious bread, cheese and jam. It was peaceful. And for a few lovely days, someone dealt with all of the normal journey issues for us. Safe taxi companies? (Taxi Group, ABC Taxi, and Mahlinh) Best travel agencies for trips to Halong Bay? (Vega Travel) Opening hours of the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum? (From 8 to 11 – though with the queues, you need to be there before 9) etc etc.


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