After breakfast at our hotel, we gathered in the lobby. The group boarded 3 vans heading for the Bangkok Airport. After clearing customs and security we boarded our 2 hour Air Vietnam flight to Hanoi where we boarded our tour bus. Here is the group in the bus.
We were amazed at the traffic in Hanoi with all manner of things being transported by motor scooter.
and arrived at the lovely May de Ville hotel. Here is the Hanoi skyline from our hotel.
Hanoi is the capital and second largest city with a population of 6 million in the greater metropolitan area. 50% of Vietnam’s population is under 30 so the people are young and appear very lean and healthy. There are considerably more motorbikes, motor scooters and bicycles than cars. There are at least as many women as men on the road. We saw many, many of the people, particularly the women, wearing face masks supposedly for the dust and pollution. However our tour guide told us that now a big part of the reason is to protect their faces from the very powerful UV rays of the sun. The fashion here is to try and stay as white as possible and not develop more tan or get weather beaten skin. Many of the scooter riders also wore various forms of helmets, none of them very substantial. You have to look long and hard to find any motorbike or scooter over 150 cc. This is because fuel although priced about the same or even a little less that in Canada is very expensive given the very low wages of the average citizen. Many many city people are working for less than $10 a day and in the rural areas it is less than that. Although Vietnam has several large cities the vast majority of the population is involved in small farming operations of one sort or another.
We went on an orientation walk with our tour leader, Lee Trien and then gathered for a dinner at a local restaurant. The food is delicious with many small courses. There are often 2 or 3 appetizers followed by a main course which is always signaled by the arrival of a large bowl of steamed rice. You frequently will have both a meat and a fish main course along with a vegetable dish. This is all followed by desert. They serve bottled water with every meal. Alcoholic beverages are available as well. The local beer is quite good.
The next day we drove through the beautiful French Quarter to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum.
Hazel and Dave in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Visiting “Uncle Ho” as the people fondly refer to him, was quite an experience. The security was very tight and we were not permitted to even carry a camera into the mausoleum. We had to dress appropriately, of course, with our knees and shoulders covered and with no hats or sunglasses. We had to walk in two lines with our hands by our sides and once inside were not permitted to talk. There were soldiers every hundred feet or so all along the walk and at every corner of every staircase in the building. We all walked slowly up and around the stairs and into the main viewing room. Ho Chi Minh lies in a glass encased coffin with 4 soldiers posted around him. Everything is very quiet and respectful.
Once outside we walked all around the magnificent square and visited two small houses that Ho Chi Minh lived in and saw the building in which he worked.
Ho Chi Minh’s first house
The more traditional one he moved to several years later.
We left the square and walked past the Ho Chi Minh Museum
Ho Chi Minh Museum
We walked over to the Temple of Literature which is dedicated to Confucius and hosts the “Imperial Academy”, Vietnam’s first national university. Now is a time of graduation and we ran into a group of newly graduated medical students who were delighted to pose with an American Doctor – our own Dr. Bob.
Dr. Bob with newly graduated medical students
Golden Turtle in the temple – a symbol of good luck.
On our way to lunch we drove past the lake where John McCain was shot down in 1967 during the “American War”.
John McCain Memorial
Several of the streets in Hanoi are built on the top of dikes. Typical of the architecture of this region are the tall, narrow buildings which frequently have no windows on the sides.
Typical Vietnamese Building
After another wonderful multi-course lunch we headed to the Museum of Ethnology to learn about the cultural history of some of the Vietnamese peoples. We saw reproductions of 2 fascinating types of housing.
This long house
Would have been occupied by a family headed by a matriarch. The family lived and ate in the first part of the house. As each daughter married an addition was built onto the end of the house – so this house would have been for a family with several married daughters.
The tall house
Is typical of a communal house of the mountain people. It was built on stilts not to avoid flooding but to protect against insects and animals.
That evening we gathered at a local restaurant for another great dinner and our Guide, Lee, surprised Dave with a gorgeous birthday cake. Having all of our passport information they know our birthdates and it is an OAT custom to celebrate the birthdays of travelers.
Lee must have told our hotel about the birthday because when we returned the hotel management had left this lovely flower arrangement for him.
The next morning we were up and out for a tour of the Tho Ha countryside 20 miles north of Hanoi. On the way we stopped to explore a cemetary.
We stopped at a local market.
One of the vendors showed us how they chew the Betel nut.
We sampled Dragon fruit
Here are some more market scenes
Mom and child at the market
We continued on our way, left the bus and boarded this little ferry
This was our ferry driver crossing the Nhu Nguyet River to the town of Tho Ha.
Tho Ha is an interesting little town. Years ago it used to produce small ceramic caskets to hold the bones of people who had passed away. The tradition was that the dead were buried for a few years, then family members would dig them up and clean the bones and bury those bones in a much smaller ceramic casket which would then be placed in a cemetary. At one point they lost the contract to produce those ceramic caskets - so the town switched industries and started to produce rice paper. This is rice paper used for cooking and eating, not paper to write on. There were many, many of those caskets remaining so the ingenious people used them as building materials. Here is a wall made of those old caskets.
Wall of a house made of old ceramic caskets.
People in the town also make rice flat bread. It is made like a crepe on a hot griddle
Man making rice flat bread
It is them toasted over hot coals
Woman toasting rice flat bread
until it finally puffs up and looks like this:
Lee with rice flat bread
Most of the rice paper is made in long strips by a machine and fastened onto bamboo racks to dry. Every street and alleyway in the town had rows and rows of these rice paper racks.
Rice paper on drying racks
We visited a family who did not have a machine and made rice paper in the traditional way - much the same way the rice flat bread was made like a crepe on a hot stone. Here is Sue making rice paper at their home
Sue making rice paper
Rice paper drying in the courtyard of the house of our host.
We then sat in the main living area with our host to ask questions and learn about daily life in his village.
Main living room of the house in Tho Ha
As it turned out, our host was a musician and he agreed to play several of the instruments for us and sing some traditional Vietnamese songs. Can you imagine our surprise when we recognized "You Are My Sunshine" ? We all promptlhy chimed in and sang along.
Dr. Bob as the rhythm section as our host played.
Our host was in the North Vietnam army - being a musician his job was arranging entertainment and recreation actsivities to entertain the troops - and he was part of the group which marched south to take Saigon. He explained that they were told that the Americans had invaded Vietnam and the north Vietnamese were trying to free their countrymen from the invading army.
We walked next door to visit with a local "pharmacist and met some of the children of the family.
Children of the pharmacist
This is the cooking area in their home
Here are some of the herbs and natural ingredients he uses for his medicines.
We took another ferry back across the river to our bus. We were joined by local merchants taking the rice cakes we had seen being made to a local market.
We returned to the hotel and got ourselves organized for a great group dinner
We were to be on the road again very early the next day for our Halong Bay adventure on the junk.