For our last full day in Hanoi, we planned to have dinner and drinks in the evening with the other G Adventures group who we had kind of shared our journey with, and it was the first day that The New Guy would be joining us. (Throughout the remainder of the trip, even though he introduced himself by a short form of his first name, we all referred to him by his full name. First Name and Surname. Didn’t matter if we were calling the poor guy over to see an exhibit in a museum or if we were retelling a story from earlier on in the day, always First Name and Surname. For this reason, whenever I refer to him, I will use the name “New Guy”. This may get old pretty quick for you the reader, but it will amuse me every time I type it, and there are 18 other people on this planet who will also find it quite hilarious. I can only apologise for this childishness in advance…)
So, in the morning we took an incredibly long walk through the city, along the railway line that runs through Hanoi to the Ho Chi Minh Complex. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I was told there was a mausoleum with his embalmed body in it, but it was not the immense concrete block that was staring at me across the sea of locals and tourists alike. Reminiscent of the Acropolis in Athens but without the sunlight shining through the pillars, this impressive structure has been named one of the world’s ugliest buildings according to CNN International, and it is not difficult to see why. It’s over 20m high and 40m across and set on a stage of stone, secured by guards in white uniforms. I think there were less locals in the complex, because on Monday, it is not possible to go inside the mausoleum to see the body.
A short walk further brought us to a much happier looking building – the Presidential Palace. True, it may have just been the fact that this mansion, built by the French in the 60’s, was painted a lovely bright yellow, but it seemed like a much calmer relaxing environment with lush greenery and no motorbikes.
On exiting the complex, a few of us decided to visit the Temple of Literature, which is Vietnam’s oldest university. Inside, there was a massive temple devoted to Confucius and his four main disciples. There were also a vast amount of stelae, which are large stone headpieces attached to auspicious turtle bodies. They were engraved with the names of those who had graduated since 1070, when the university first opened. Students lived and studied here until Hué became the capital city in 1802.
I was kind of expecting a library, or a collection of scriptures or something that would make the place feel more like a sacred ground of learning, but there was nothing of the sort. I came to the conclusion that the parts of the temple that were open to the public must not be all of it, and there must have been underground halls or chambers where students would have slept and studied. I was a little disappointed that the place was so full of tourist souvenir shops full of overpriced Buddha statues and an old man producing calligraphy scrolls for a fee. Within 30-45 minutes, we were done and headed off to another G Adventures-affiliated training restaurant. It was still quite early on in the day, but they served coffee with fresh milk and the dessert menu looked really great. I ordered the dark chocolate orange cake and it was so good. It was rich and creamy and was served with the tiniest cubes of dragon fruit on a swirl of chocolate sauce. And the coffee was alright too.
Coffee is one thing that thing part of the world doesn’t do very well, in my opinion, and that is fascinating to me because this is where the coffee beans are grown. Our CEO had told us that the two things we would remember most about Vietnam were great coffee and the insane motorbikes. Well, one out of two isn’t bad, I guess.
In the end, we didn’t have dinner with the other group, and it was probably for the best. We went to a place with the number 69 in its title, and on asking about certain items on the menu that were “69 style” and receiving the answer “oh, it’s our special spices”, I for one steered clear of anything that had that number in its title! In all honesty, my food was incredible, but a lot of others had disappointing dishes. There were two ladies in our group that occasionally went off the beaten track when it came to meals, and they’d historically had great food. Since it was our first night out with The New Guy, they decided to stick with the rest of us. Sitting at opposite ends of the table, they both ended up having the same meal and they were both a bit cheesed off with the fact that the food was cold, not particularly tasty nor plentiful. I think that is the definition of irony, right there. It also took us approximately 12 and a half hours to pay the bill. Okay, so that was a gross exaggeration, but honestly, it took a really long time. When we finally made it out of there and went to the bar that our CEO recommended, despite the fact that the drinks were really expensive, we had a great time with the other group, hijacking the foosball table and saying goodbye to our new travel buddies.
It was soon midnight, and with the thought of flying with a hangover struck most people, the group got considerably smaller. The stories we heard the following day though were really quite something. Apparently, the bar’s sister nightclub had some good offers on, free shots and the suchlike, so off they traipsed down the river to locate this new place. Affectionately named “the blowjob bar”, believe me when I say you do not want to hear those colourful stories…