Okay, so today was my first full day in the wondrous world of Vietnam. My room doesn’t have a window, and the one downside to that is that 9am looked exactly like 9pm in the room! Ah well, it’s cheap and quiet! The alleyway I’m staying on is quite popular among Vietnamese for food and a small market, which is cool.
Anyways, I ate breakfast in the Old Quarter before wandering back over the the lake I mentioned in my last post that has this neat Chinese pagoda in the middle, which I visited. I should note that there’s a lot of Chinese influence here…go figure we’re really close to China. Anyways, the pagoda was a bit odd compared to what I’ve seen in Thailand. It didn’t really seem like a Buddhist thing at all. Instead it had statues of what I think was Confucius. It was pretty neat though.
Come to think of it, I can’t say I’ve really seen any Buddhist temples anywhere here. It’s not like in Thailand or Laos where there are Wats everywhere! Granted, Vietnam has a different school of Buddhism. Thailand and Laos are Theravada Buddhists and Vietnam has Mahayana Buddhists. It’s a bit odd not seeing Buddhist monks everywhere…a very common sight in Thailand.
Anyways after the pagoda I caught a Xe Om (motorbike) to the Temple of Literature that was several kilometers away. I’m putting my bargaining skills to work with these Xe Om drivers, who usually first ask for relatively outrageous prices, like US$1 or $2…when I’ve been paying between 5-10,000 dong (its 16,000 dong to the USD).
Right, so the Temple of Literature was built nearly 1000 years ago and later became Vietnam’s first university, teaching the teachings of Confucius, who is quite the important figure here. It was a really cool Chinese-style complex with large, beautiful courtyards. The texts that I believe the students studied by are still there, on large stone slabs (in Chinese script) that are on the backs of large stone turtles. It was really cool and peaceful.
I had lunch at this place Lonely Planet recommended which was called KOTO…it was a bit more expensive but its for a good cause, as they employ underprivileged teens, giving them training as well. And I might add that it was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had. I can’t say that I’ve had a single Vietnamese dish I didn’t like, which I can’t say about Thai food…Vietnamese is definitely my favorite!
After lunch I walked over to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum Complex. Yes, much like Lenin, Uncle Ho, as he is called here, is preserved in a glass sarcophagus in this enormous stone structure that somewhat resembles a Greek temple, with this sort of neo-futuristic look to it. Unfortunately, it is currently closed while his corpse is in Russia for maintenance, but the security in the area is pretty tight. They have armed guards at the doors that do not move a muscle, plus a painted line on the street (that is closed to vehicular traffic) that marks the restricted area around it, which they are very keen on making sure you don’t cross.
Also in the complex was a large structure known as the Ho Chi Minh museum. There’s only one word I can use to describe it…bizarre…really, really bizarre. Supposedly it is a museum of Ho Chi Minh’s life, also indicating the future. But these weren’t shown through your standard exhibits. They had a few object’s from Ho’s life and copies of many letters he wrote, but the bulk of the exhibits consist of symbolic representations of things. I wasn’t really getting any of it, but about halfway through I realized that I had to think of it as a modern art exhibit! It really was kind of like that. For example, and this isn’t a joke, there was a display that was supposedly the cave where Ho hid out in for years after World War II (when the French returned to Vietnam) that was represented by what was supposedly a human brain! Dead serious…it was weird. And I can’t say I learned anything new about Ho’s life. This doesn’t come as a surprise at all, but it was kinda cool to see that (obviously) their perspective on what they call the American War (what we call the Vietnam War) wasn’t exactly positive towards the Americans, understandably so. I was totally expecting this, but it was still interesting to see.
Anyways, after the museum I wandered around the complex (at least what I could wander around) and saw One Pillar Pagoda. The name is kind of self explanatory. There’s a pool with a pillar sticking up from it, and at the top sits a Pagoda! Kind of cool. You could also see this traditional Vietnamese stilt house that Ho lived in for a while.
What I see here that I didn’t see in Laos, was a bit more idolizing the revolutionary. By that I mean the status at which the Vietnamese hold Ho Chi Minh (much like how the Soviets idolized Lenin). He is everywhere, but aside from his communist views, he did bring the Vietnamese independence from the French. But there’s also a few more communist signs here too. You do see the hammer and sickle symbol quite frequently, with Ho’s face in the image as well. There’s even a statue devoted to Lenin here.
But much like Laos, there is public enterprise, and obviously there are people of different economic backgrounds, which makes me wonder what the communist aspect actually is. As far as I can see is that the difference is only in name. That and the fact that I suppose they don’t exactly have a democratic system.
Right, so after I’d seen enough Ho Chi Minh paraphenalia, I took a Xe Om to the train station and booked myself a ticket for a train to Sapa for tomorrow evening. The train takes me to Lao Cai, right on the Chinese border and from there I can take a van to Sapa, some 30 or so km away in the mountains. It’s a sleeper train, which should be an interesting experience. We get there at 5am…may not sleep much. Hey, it’ll be an experience though, right?
After a quick stop at my guest house to relax a bit, I headed out to the Water Puppet Theatre (a Vietnamese staple) and got myself a ticket to see the show in the morning. Should be fun. For dinner I tried to Pho, which is supposedly the epitome of a Vietnamese dish…a rice noodle soup with meat and veggies…really good. Afterwards, while I was sitting in the park by the lake, some Vietnamese guy approached me wanting to practice his English. We talked for almost an hour, and the most informative thing I learned was that he only made US$60 a month! He was hoping to study in India and then return here to make more money, hopefully.
Anyways, that’s all for now. Aside from the Water Puppets, I’m gonna try for a few more museums tomorrow before my evening train ride. Hope all is well! My apologies for any spelling errors…this browser is funky and I couldn’t use spell check!