Saturday, May 18, 2024

Hanoi, Vietnam: Unveiling Urban Wonders and Timeless Culture

From Ha Long Bay to Hanoi, our journey unfolded with anticipation (HCMH, Angkor Wat & Siem Reap), culminating in our arrival in the bustling city by 8.00 pm. Dinner was in a local fast food joint, known for its renowned Pho. However, as a vegetarian, I had to pass on the beef Pho that seemed to delight my fellow travelers. Instead, I savored a different dish, catered to meet the dietary preferences of myself and the other vegetarians in our group. The Beef Pho received widespread praise, with many enthusiastically approving of its flavor. For those Indians abstaining from beef, the Chicken Pho failed to impress. After dinner, some opted for night shopping, while I chose to unwind in my room before calling it a night.

The following morning brought an early start as we gathered at the crack of dawn to join the snaking queue for entry into the hallowed grounds of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Despite the biting cold that sent shivers down my spine, the anticipation of what lay ahead kept me warm. As we inched closer to the entrance, the stringent rules governing our visit were laid out before us: no cameras, no phones, no bags, and absolute silence once inside. With our belongings screened and our hands obediently at our sides, we solemnly filed into the mausoleum, guided by the unyielding gaze of the stone-faced guards stationed throughout the halls.

Inside, the atmosphere was hushed, with the only sound being the soft footsteps of tourists to see Ho Chi Minh, lying in state before them. The encounter was brief, lasting mere minutes, yet it left an indelible mark on my memory. As I walked out of the mausoleum, I couldn't help but ponder the significance of the experience. Was it truly the revered leader himself lying before us, or merely a waxen effigy? The strict protocols surrounding our visit left me with more questions than answers, yet the opportunity to glimpse into this pivotal figure of Vietnamese history was one I wouldn't soon forget.


Continuing our exploration, we headed to the walking distance Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace, a testament to the life and legacy of the revered leader. Immersed in the artifacts and settings of Ho Chi Minh's existence, from his humble living quarters to his iconic car, we gained insights into his governance and the widespread admiration for his leadership.

With the Presidential Palace behind us, our sightseeing led us to the One-Pillar Pagoda, a marvel of Vietnamese architecture. Amidst the bustling crowds, we ascended the narrow staircase to the main altar, albeit amidst a chaotic atmosphere. Though the experience was less serene than anticipated, the pagoda's symbolic significance as a beacon of hope and health remained profound. 
Our next stop, the Temple of Literature, greeted us with a flurry of activity, as an event honoring education filled the air with excitement. Dedicated to Confucius and honoring Vietnam's intellectual elite, the temple offered a glimpse into the country's scholarly heritage. Amidst the throngs of visitors, we paid our respects before swiftly moving on, cherishing the cultural richness of our journey.

Up next was another lunch, marking our third encounter of its kind - amidst a bustling buffet lunch scene, where buses of tourists converged for a hearty meal. The food area was a hive of activity, with some diners jostling impatiently in the queue while others hurried as if afraid the dishes would disappear before their turn. Amidst the chaos of back-to-back tables and chairs, navigating the dining area proved to be a challenge.

Despite the frenetic atmosphere, the array of dishes was a feast for the senses, offering limitless choices to tantalize our taste buds. From savory delights to indulgent desserts, there was no shortage of culinary delights to explore. Personally, I couldn't resist sampling some of the new and unfamiliar Vietnamese desserts, indulging in these sinful pleasures as part of my ongoing quest to savor new flavors and experiences while traveling.

After lunch, we had four hours allocated for shopping. While some eagerly explored the stalls on the streets, shopping wasn't my priority. Instead, I joined two fellow travelers at a stall, where we relaxed with coffee and lively conversation, biding our time until dinner and our return to the hotel.

The next day marked the conclusion of our Vietnam and Cambodia tour which started in the morning for sightseeing in Hoan Kiem Lake/Ngoc Son Temple. Like a must-do if you are in Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake/Ngoc Son Temple is a historical site due to the tortoise legendary story.

We crossed over to the other side of the road to begin our rickshaw ride. Rickshaws were lined up, with two passengers per vehicle, but I found myself alone before the ride through Hanoi's bustling streets began. Maneuvering through the main roads, weaving between buses, cars, motorbikes, and other vehicles, I initially felt nervous. However, my rickshaw driver's skillful navigation quickly put me at ease. Despite the chaotic traffic, I enjoyed the adventure, taking in the sights of roadside stalls, shops, and bustling activity. The ride ended promptly, but to my surprise, the driver demanded more than our agreed fare. It seemed to be an unspoken practice in Hanoi and I found out others encountered the same as well.

After finishing our lunch, we headed to the airport for our flight back home. When my husband asked about my trip, I had plenty of amazing stories to share from Vietnam and Cambodia. But there were some things on my mind - like whether we should tip our Malaysian guide, especially since we'd already been charged a tip fee. Some travelers seemed overly generous with tips, while others, like me, preferred to give from the heart. Plus, our local guide wasn't very attentive, often missing when we needed assistance. It made me think about the lessons we learn while traveling in a tour group.

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