Day 3 Thursday 18 December 2014

Good and varied breakfast in the Movenpick, but avoiding the local delicacies on offer we stick to a continental breakfast as we have a busy day in Hanoi.    Our first planned stop is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum but on seeing numerous school children in long lines our guide aborts this visit and we head off to the Temple of Literature.  Originally constructed as a school for Royal children, it was later extended to become the first University and major place of learning where in the fifteenth to seventeeth centuries the people who learnt here were very important with examination success being recorded on impressive stone tablets.  The teachings of Confucius (of whom there is a statue) and the three Kings responsible for extending education are honoured in the Temple.  Whilst some aspects of the teachings of Confucius might not match modern life they formed the bedrock of society here for a long time.  Despite the bustle outside it is a quiet and peaceful area.

Today’s photographs are at

We then return to the Mausoleum where we can see the body of Ho Chi Minh, although poorly – first tip here is that if you have reactolite glasses they look like sun glasses so the (armed) guards politely and silently request removal.  Not a problem unless like my wife and I you can see not a lot!  Surreptiously putting them back on and off and not missing a step (you need to keep in step you know) as you pass the great man is quite a struggle for both of us.

Back in the open air we rejoin our guide and enter the remaining complex where we are outside the French colonial head quarters built for the Governor of French Indo-China.  The whole of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand were controlled from here and indeed the country boundaries were redrawn by the French which has ed to many significant changes in the separate countries as becomes clear in Cambodia later in our journey.

We hear more detail of the French colonial period which was effectively ended by Ho Chi Minh.  The French were in control from the middle of the nineteenth century until the Japanese took control.  At the end of the war in 1945 Vietnam declared independence but the French returned seeking to take back control.  They built  a massive garrison at Dien Bien Phu in a deep wooded valley from which to control the Vietnamese.  However the guerilla tactics adopted by the Vietnamese – building narrow paths to the top of the surrounding hills under cover of mists prevented French aerial visibility and the narrow valley enabled supply lines to be cut easily.  Eventually the French suffered a massive defeat and as a result of a peace treaty Vietnam was divided into North, controlled by Ho Chi Minh and South Vietnam which was still linked with the French.

At one point Ho Chi Minh sought assistance from the USA but in that period it was isolationist and would not assist, so not surprisingly help was sought from the Russians.  It makes you wonder how different history would have been in this part of the world if the USA had helped?

Ho Chi Minh would not take up residence in the fine ex-French colonial headquarters preferring a much simpler house nearby which we can see from the outside.  This was temporary but the replacement house on stilts, which of course is common in Vietnam, was no more luxurious.  A man of and with the people who did believe “that we are all in this together” had very modest accommodation.  Adjacent was the effective “cabinet room” alongside a massive bunker which could be used when bombs were being dropped by the Americans from South Vietnamese airbases as the “war against communism” developed in the late sixties and early seventies.

This is however all in a beautiful parkland setting (or at least it is now) with a lake, trees and now well maintained grass.

In 1989 we may recall the fall of the Berlin Wall.  What I did not know was that in the same year (when we married – so I do have a wife on these travels) was that Communism was being reformed in Vietnam and Laos.  The new communism may not entirely match our political choice, but individuals have far more freedom and can travel abroad freely.  They buy and build businesses and land and we are struck everywhere in Vietnam (and later Laos) that there seem to be plentiful supplies of food and clothing.  Hanoi may be much different to the countryside, and I will write about Laos later, but certainly in the capital there seemed to be no shortages on anything.  And my wife (well she deserves a comment) notes how clean it is all seems compared to our trip last year to India.  Here streets are tidy and clean and unemployment is very low, with people no doubt employed to maintain this state of affairs.

Leaving this central area we go the Museum of Ethnology where the 54 different ethnic groupings within Vietnam are represented.  They have many different languages and backgrounds as they reflect moving populations, invasions and economic and social changes and the museum seeks to reflect this.

However in the grounds of the Museum is a small restaurant which works in the same way as “Jamie’s Fifteen”.  It takes youngsters and trains them in cooking, waiting and management skills and we have a very tasty lunch – more Hanoi soup first.

There are settings conveying the different living and working practices of the different ethnic groups.  Outside the main museum there are samples of various buildings from around Vietnam showing different types of construction – one of wood, one of bamboo, one with a thaatched type roof, some on the ground and others on stilts from those living on or close flood plains (perhaps we should adopt this in the UK!).  We did not take photos in this area but I can refer you to .  Strongly recommended for a visit.

We return to the City Centre for a light hearted trip (after the sight seeing) in a tuc tuc – man powered, not motorised – around the Old Quarter which is essentially a huge market.  The streets are teeming with food suppliers, clothing, shoes, jewellery, cafes etc.  Equally interesting was the street traffic.  Mopeds loaded up with boxes, goods for delivery or families (4 on a single moped was the largest number I saw.  Managed a photo of three.  Walking around there are still many ladies delivering in traditional style with a pole and baskets on each end and a pointed straw hat, although the numbers are declining as the population modernises.

Finally time for dinner and a huge step change tonight.  “San Ho” is an expensive fish restaurant which is almost opposite our hotel.  So no major exercise.  Food very good, but expensive by comparison with anything else and yet nothing to make us go “wow”.  Our choice but might have done better to go back to the same place as the night before!