The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Capital Often Overlooked

**I am going to try something new with the photos on my blog, making them bigger in the first place so you don’t have to click for a larger image. Please let me know if you prefer this or the previous way I did things**

Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. Even though it is also the second largest city in the country, few people seem to come to Hanoi for little more than to escape to either Ha Long Bay or Sapa, or both. There are plenty of museums(none of which I actually went to) and things to see, but the two outer excursions tend to overshadow the city.

I found myself drawn into Hanoi as a place to relax before and in-between my trips into Ha Long Bay and Sapa. And with the help of an iPod app, I managed to meet a couple really cool guys to hang out with on my down time.

If I were to compare Ho Chi Minh City with Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh would probably come out on top for things to see within walking distance. However, Hanoi had its own little charm. My favourite would be the large lake, Hoan Kiem Lake, just south of the Old City where most hostels and hotels are located. The lake is a major focal point of the city, with tourists and locals alike walking along the boulevard. And, regardless of the day of the week, brides and grooms would be on the trails as well, having their photos taken.

The lake is also home to two temples/pagodas, only one of which can actually be visited. The one that you can visit, Ngoc Son Temple, is a small temple accessed by a beautiful red bridge. It’s actually free to go all the way across the bridge to the island that houses the temple but to actually visit inside the temple grounds you have to buy a 10,000 dong ticket on the “mainland.” This temple, along with the isolated one in the middle of the lake, have connections to an old legend that talked about giant turtles reclaiming a magical sword that a Vietnamese king had been given by the gods to ward off the Chinese. The isolated temple is said to be on the spot where the giant turtle swam to the depths to return the sword to the gods.

Much like the rest of Vietnam, the war in the ‘60s is a major part of the collective history. Hao Lo Prison, commonly called the “Hanoi Hilton” by American POWs, is an old French prison in the heart of Hanoi. Only a small portion of it is actually open or even left standing. It’s a small museum and I managed to go through it fairly thoroughly in about 45 minutes time. There’s very little in the way of information about the prison when it was used as a POW camp, but plenty for when it was used by the French to house the Vietnamese Freedom Fighters. Death Row was exceptionally creepy.
A little known area of Hanoi also houses a small memorial of the last air raid to take place over Hanoi. The air raid was a failure for the West and an immense victory for the Viet Cong as it became a major turning point in the war. The memorial, a stone pillar in a small lake housing the remains of a B-52 bomber, is extremely hard to find. I was one of only three tourists there at the time. I found it via geocaching while the others only knew about it because of a short clip on a New Zealand travel show. It took them longer to find it than me as even locals were unsure as to where it was.

Outside of the war though, there seems to be few things for people to see. The above mentioned temples are a start, as well as the One Pillar Pagoda close to the Ho Chi Minh museum. The pagoda, while awesome that it was free, was surprisingly quaint and small for being on the top of many “city tour” tours. Honestly, I’m glad I didn’t pay a tour to go see this as I would feel a slight bit gipped.

As I stated above, I had ended up using a cool little IPod app to meet a couple guys. It is a bit embarrassing to admit that I use Grindr but I think I’ve mentioned before how hard it is to meet other gay guys while traveling. Unfortunately, most of the guys that message me are locals just looking for an opportunity to have sex with a white guy. But luckily, I got to meet a couple people(not locals mind you) that had much more depth. The first was Gavin, a guy from Scotland. We managed to hang out for a couple days just relaxing and walking around. I love Scottish accents, especially when he made fun of my height by continuously calling me “wee lad.” He was a great guy to hang out with. Sexy too. Like, crazy sexy. Slightly disappointed he didn’t find jeans he wanted to try on.

Then there was Duminda, a Sri Lankan living and studying in Singapore. I ended up extending my time in Hanoi just to spend more time with him and join him on his tour to the Tam Coc cliffs. Just look at the picture of the two of us and tell me we aren’t the cutest couple ever!

The tour to Tam Coc was a full day affair which first stopped at a couple pagodas devoted to a couple ancient kings. The whole area was the former capital of Vietnam centuries ago, nearly the same size in area as Ho Chi Minh City. The pagodas were very pretty and were situated right next to a few limestone karsts.

Tam Coc is also renowned for it’s similarities to Ha Long Bay, and it is actually called the Inland Ha Long Bay. Duminda and I got a boat together with two paddlers who took us down the river and through some caves. The only downside(besides being unable to snuggle with him on the romantic cruise) was the number of other boats in the water with people constantly trying to sell you something to drink or souvenirs or photos. If you ignore that, it’s gorgeous.

When he left for Sapa the next day, I began my journey back south. Hanoi was a great little city, but it was time to move on.

1 comment:

  1. Nice pics Corey! But... at the beginning you say that you'll be posting BIG pics right in the blog (so we'd not have to click on the larger version), but... the pics here still seem pretty small (~ 3"x2"), indeed, they even seem SMALLER in the blog now that what I remember in past posts. So I'm just wondering...