Yes it’s true, folks. You have the privilege of knowing a couple of multi-millionaires (at least whilst we are in Vietnam). When travelling around south-east Asia, it helps to be carrying US dollars so that you can take them to money-exchanges in each country you visit – and it just so happens that the Vietnamese Dong changes at the rate of 21,000 per US dollar. This morning we changed $150 US dollars (about £100) for over 3 million Vietnamese Dong – yipee!
We flew into Hanoi in north-west Vietnam yesterday morning with Air Asia – winner of the Best Low-Cost Airline for the past three years. The city is absolutely manic yet, at the same time, good sport. The streets are filled to capacity with motor cycles, with only about thirty per cent of vehicles being cars, and almost no system of control at junctions. There is the constant sound of horns blaring. It appears at first sight that you have no chance of crossing roads and junctions, but in fact there does seem to be some sort of a system where everyone just pushes forward gently and everyone else goes round you, whether you are on foot or riding. It doesn’t look like it would work, but somehow it does. It’s a bit scary at first, but you just have to hold your nerve, walk steadily across the road looking oncoming drivers in the eye and they move around you – hopefully! Ha ha ha.
There are often three un-helmeted people or whole families perched on one small motorcycle and anything that is carriable is done so, in vast quanitities, including trees, animals, beer barrels – you name it, we’ve seen it!
As for seeing dead people – next up, was to pay our respects at the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, where poor old Uncle Ho is preserved in Lenin-esque style and on display for all to see, despite his last wishes to be cremated. Thousands of people go to visit every day and security is strict, with no cameras or bags allowed. We patiently waited our turn in drizzling rain and eventually we approached the red carpet leading inside the building. The entrance was guarded by soldiers in crisp white uniforms with red arm-bands and lots of gold braid. We made our way up a couple of flights of stairs and down a corridor and all at once we could see a glass casket with the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh spotlighted inside. You are expected to keep moving forward, walking around three sides of the body which is surrounded by a sunken water-less moat flanked by soldiers at each corner. One guard obviously thought I wasn’t walking fast enough and pushed me gently from behind to go faster. The same guard also tapped Michael on the arm and indicated to him that he should hold his arms to attention as he filed past the body. The whole procedure took less than two minutes. Apparently, the remains are sent to Russia for two months each year (November and December) for “maintenance“, learned in preserving Lenin’s body the same way, I guess.
Anyway, all of this worked up an appetite, so we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Hanoi, visiting St Joseph’s cathedral, and trying out different cafes to sample the delights on offer.
Last visit of the day was to The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu), site of the first university in Vietnam, founded in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius.