Hanoi has the same hurried and hectic feel of Saigon but with more charm. The traffic circles buzz with motos and cars moving in organized chaos past sidewalks lined with buildings of French colonial architecture. We stayed at the Hilton Opera Hotel (not to be confused with the Hanoi Hilton – an ironic name given to the prison where POWs were held during the Vietnam War) on the edge of the Old Quarter, right next to the impressive Hanoi Opera House.
For dinner we sought out Western comfort food at a French-owned restaurant called the Green Mango. Three amazing entrees and a couple rounds of drinks put us back…gasp… USD$44! A similar dinner in the US would cost $150-200 easy. The value made me want to order two entrees but I somehow managed some self-control. Next we visited the Don Xuan Night Market on our way to the Funky Monkey: a bar that Lonely Planet assured us would be “wild” on a Friday night.
As it turns out, “wild” is four Australian retirees in a corner booth and six Asian tourists on the dance floor. Since the bar was so empty we were able to get in some quality time with the waiter, Duc. After visiting the War Remnants Museum in Saigon we were interested to hear a local’s view on the war and on Americans in general. Duc patiently explained that he could care less where we were from so long as we were friendly and open-minded. We were also curious if there were any hard feelings between North and South Vietnam in the decades following the war.
Zach: “How is the relationship between the north and the south these days?”
Duc: “What, you think we are still separated?! We are one country! Wake up!”
Duc taps his index finger twice on Zach’s temple as he says these last words and walks away. I think he misunderstood the question, but the answer was still clear. He’d moved on.
The next morning we had four hours to fit in some sightseeing before Michael had to catch his flight to Singapore and return to work. First stop, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Who wouldn’t want to see an embalmed communist leader? Especially one who was embalmed against his will (he wanted to be cremated) more than 40 years ago (he died in 1969 before the war ended) and who draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year (when he’s not being “touched up” in Russia October through November). The visitors appeared to be a mix of locals paying their respects to a national hero known as Uncle Hồ and foreigners trying to understand what the spectacle was all about.
Next stop, Temple of Literature. This temple was dedicated to Confucius in 1070 and later became Vietnam’s first university. One of the courtyards houses many giant tombstone-looking things (stelae according to LP) that honor certain men who have received doctorate degrees. The architecture of this structure was outstanding. After a 30-minute tour in mid-day heat we were ready to find a cab and head back to the hotel.
Here’s where we encountered scam cab #2. This one had a meter that moved 40x faster than it should have. Half way back to the hotel we noticed the meter read 600,000 Vietnamese Dong. The ride there was just 60,000VND total. Zach asked the cabby about it and he pretended not to understand. So Zach told him to pull over and gave him 20,000VND, which was more than enough to cover what he’d driven. The cabby followed him yelling, “Give me MAHNEEY! FOOOK YU!” After about 10 steps the cabby returned to his car and left, probably hoping to find some tourists that were slightly more naïve than us.
After walking the rest of the way back to the hotel we sent Michael off in a legitimate cab called by the hotel concierge. Zach and I were so sad to see him go (and pretty exhausted from the 100°F sightseeing) that we just moped around the Hilton until it was time for our next adventure: Fansipan night train to Sapa.