Sunday, August 12, 2012

Summer 2012 - 8th Stop: Hanoi

And so on to Hanoi, the latest place to suffer from “Capital City Syndrome”, we just never learn… At the time, I didn't think it was too bad, nothing amazing, though certainly adequate. But sitting down now to write the blog, and looking back over the photos, it actually wasn't that good at all. I think the only reason why we still have some fondness for the place was down to our accommodation, Tu Linh Palace, and in particular, the staff there. Tim and Kim really couldn’t have been more helpful to us, and their hospitality is probably the only thing saving the city from a wholly unfavourable review. I wouldn’t recommend spending time in Hanoi by any means (unless you’re en route to Sapa or Halong Bay), but if you do wind up here, stay at Tu Linh Palace!

As I mentioned in the last entry, we arrived in Hanoi in the middle of the night, fresh from (or rather, stale from) a day of solid travelling. All we wanted was a place to collapse, but at 3am, we didn't know how likely that was. We weren't due at the hotel until the next morning, but seeing as we had nowhere else to go, that's where we headed. And right from the get-go, they won our hearts! When we arrived, we had to wake the night staff who, not only weren't annoyed, but apologised for not having a free room to give us. Instead, they paid for a taxi to take us to another hotel, where we got a half-price room for the night, free breakfast and a free taxi back again the next morning! A nice way to end a rough day!

As for Hanoi itself, we were still a bit worn out the next morning, so we just took it easy for the day. We walked around the Old Quarter, down to Hoan Kiem Lake, had a couple of ostrich steaks (as you do...) and just took in the scenery. The lake was probably the nicest part of the city, away from the chaotic traffic and narrow streets, and I guess the Old Quarter was interesting too in its own way.

And while Luang Prabang gave us countless robe-clad monks to occupy our lenses, our main focus during our time in Hanoi was people wearing those cone-shaped hats (and preferably those double-basket-stick things too...)! That was always my stereotypical view of Vietnam, and surprisingly, it was actually quite an accurate one, not just in Hanoi but all over, in the cities and the countryside. They just can't get enough of those hats!

That afternoon, we also sorted out the fine details for our next two destinations, and again, the hotel staff did everything for us, booking our train tickets up north to Sapa, and also arranging our tour around Halong Bay. We were originally planning to spend only one night on Halong Bay, but the fine people at Tu Linh convinced us that it was definitely worth an extra night (and they were right too!). That decision also meant that we'd be spending a day less in Hanoi (double bonus!), but it just highlights the kind of selfless service the hotel offered - sacrificing a night from our booking just to make sure we had the best holiday possible. Kudos to you, Tu Linh Palace!

The next day was again none too eventful. First, we went to the water puppet theatre, which was mediocre at best. It was just like a regular, poorly done puppet show, but on water! After five minutes, you'll see all you need to see, don't expect too much more. They did have a traditional Vietnamese band though providing musical accompaniment, they were probably the best thing about it!

And then in the evening, we resorted to our 'holiday plan B' when we've nothing else to do, we got pizza and went to the cinema! For some reason, it's always much more fun going to the cinema in foreign countries, I don't know why. And way cheaper too! We saw Brave, the latest Pixar release, which was very enjoyable, all Pixar films are though.

On to our final day, in the morning, we went to the highly recommended Temple of Literature, which paled in comparison to things we had already seen in Hoi An, and then on to the Ho Chi Minh Mauseleum, which was just a big grey, blocky block!

We didn't even go inside. I think they have the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh in there, I'm sure we'll get over not seeing it. We also walked around the grounds of the presidential palace, again, nothing special. (I hope this isn't terribly boring to read, cause it's a nightmare to write! Hanoi just didn't do anything for us!).

Actually, the most interesting thing we saw that day technically wasn't in Hanoi at all, but in the skies above. There was some kind of strange rainbow swirl going on around some of the clouds, I don't really know how to describe it. I still don't really know what it was! If anyone out there does know, please tell me! I've never seen anything like it!

That evening, we just went back to the hotel (which we had checked out from that morning), where they gave us free drinks and a free room to hang out in until our train to Sapa that night. They also paid for our taxi to the train station! Seriously like! And just so you know, this wasn't even some swanky, high-end hotel, it was quite cheap! I should have just named this entry "Tu Linh Palace" instead of Hanoi. It really was a shining light in a sub-par city. Anyway, bye bye Hanoi and off to the mountains of Sapa we go!

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