May 27, 2016 11:52AM JST
Here I arrived at my hostel, refreshed and happy to be back from miserable trip in Ha Long Bay with terrible weather. Ready to immediately leave the hostel and explore the Old Quarter, I quickly packed up my backup and stored in the storage room.
Before venturing into the city, I started with food. There was a table full of people eating already. I went to the front and ordered a plate of pancakes. I waited at the table wanting to talk to people for information but I never really did because everyone was engaged in the conversation already and they were all finished eating. I ended up going outside and rested at the couch at the entrance. There, I met fellow travelers and started talking.
Interestingly enough, I recognized someone from my trip in Koh Tao in August 2015! It’s the Finnish (or Norwegian/Swedish) guy from Spicy Tao, the hostel I stayed while taking scuba diving lessons. Obviously he didn’t remember me since he was travelling slowly since then meeting lots of people. I was wondering what he was doing that day and he mentioned that he would explore museums with another girl. I sort of declined because I wanted to relax more and I really wasn’t interested in museums. I would explore museums if I had all morning or another day free. He was definitely a slow traveler and I was not.
After talking with initial people outside the hostel a bit, another lady joined us. (I believe) she was from France. After mentioning my plan to her after studying the Old Quarter map provided by the hostel, she decided to join me. I wanted to see structural buildings rather than interior views in the museums. I discovered that Old Quarter was not very far away and it was not very big to discover so it was perfect for the time remaining.
Before departing to our destination, we wanted to go to a local message. The French lady, the Canadian student, the British man (who wanted refreshment after having a hang over from the previous night), and I walked around but could not find a cheaper price as they were all similar and expensive in terms of Vietnam since the area was for tourists. We ended up going to the massage centre next to our hostel. The Midori Spa was for helping blind people. When we entered the reception, the receptionist was just everyone else. The man who guided us was an albino. After discussing our plan, we quickly made our choice (I don’t recall what we picked but three of us picked the same one – I think it was called Midori message package). Because I had terrible experience getting massaged as my left arm will be painful thereafter, I told my representative, who was blind, to go easy on me. She did and she immediately could tell that my stomach is weak. I did not realize until the French lady mentioned it after the massage. These massage people are interesting – the Canadian student was also surprised at another time in her life when she was having massage that her massage representative could tell that she was on drugs – well, just one day prior to that session. We paid taxes to help these disabled locals to support their life, which is very cherished.
After the massage, the French Canadian was on her own, while the British man and the French lady and some others were looking for food. Both British man and I disliked the local noodle restaurant they picked so the French lady and we went to a more expensive restaurant across our hostel. After our late brunch, the British man decided to take nap and get ready to meet us in the night to see the New Year’s Celebration in the centre of downtown, by the main lake.
And so, the French lady and I set off on our journey.
Hanoi used to be colonized by the French so many buildings were of those times. The streets we walked here many buildings like those with local houses of Vietnamese design.
Our destination was northwest of the hostel, where the famous mausoleum was located. I had to buy a new SD card before going to the destination as my memory card was almost full. After purchasing the SD card which was not cheap, we walked towards our destination until we saw a park with many people that seemed to have an event going because it was close to the New Year. Since it was still bright, we decided to go inside the park.
We had no idea what was inside the park – whether it was local park or tourist attraction. There was virtually no foreigners – it just Vietnamese people celebrating New Years. There were booths surrounding the main green area, advertising different local organizations. There was a historical building called the Temple of Literature in the middle of the park, just behind the central green area. I wanted to go into the building but didn’t realize that I had to pay to go in, so I decided not to tour the temple since it didn’t seem to be very big and there was not much daylight left in order to tour the rest of this part of the town.
We found a gathering area where children were making craft. As we approached, we saw that they were folding bamboo leaves. Curiously, we stepped inside and discovered that they were making bamboo cranes! Delighted, we settled down and two teenager volunteers taught us how to fold the bamboo. It was not easy. I eventually forgot the steps and my instructor ended up making it for me. It was like folding paper to make origami. It was much better than origami since the bamboo leaves were from the nature and it was very sustainable.
By the time we finished folding the paper, the sky was almost dark. The bamboo cranes hitchhiked on my orange backpack. We followed people towards the exit of the park. There were shops lined up. The French girl toured the shops while I was taking photos. There was wall paintings representing the history that seemed to appear right there in real life, but it was just on the wall, so whenever people took photo with the paintings, it seemed that they belonged together.
After leaving the park, we noticed that there was a historical war watchtower beside the park. We didn’t go in but we both loved the sight of it, peeking out from its surrounding fence.
We next walked to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. I didn’t understand why it was named after Ho Chi Minh also known as Saigon, which is located at the opposite south of the country. In fact, I didn’t even know that Ho Chi Minh is actually a person’s name. How silly. Ho Chi Minh is the Communist Party Chairman who helped Vietnam declare independence in 1945. No wonder the capital was named after him.
Because it was late, there was no one at the attraction site, just a plenty who, like us, wanted to see the night view of the building while not hot. It was indeed quite a site in the night, with lights ablaze. I just wanted to see the famous structure and took photo with it. As an Asian, I was reluctant not to take photo of me to show that I was there. As always the case with the Caucasians, the French girl skipped photo.
After the quick tour, we followed our map and went to One Pillar Pagoda. Since it was dark, we did not really know if it the right way. We reached a gate patrolled by a policeman, and thought we could not get in. We went along anyway, and discovered it was not closed after all. We walked around and looked around. We didn’t know where the pagoda was. We found a small pillar-like structure after a short walk and later realized that it might be the Pagoda. We asked two girls behind us if it was the one but they claimed they were not from there so didn’t know. But, eventually, we learned that it was indeed the Pillar.
On our way back to the hostel, we stopped by a cafe with beautiful paintings that depicted of war. The employees were dressed like those served for the war. Well, the location comprising the park with the Temple of Literature and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and their surrounding environment all seemed to praise the Declaration of Independence. The coffee we had were a little pricey for the price in Vietnam – the price was very similar to western countries. Taste was just awesome – I haven’t had such yummy coffee for a long time. I would say the quality of coffee was equivalent to my favourite Peet’s Coffee & Tea chain in the United States. My coffee was mocha infused with coconut-flavoured slush. Her coffee was Latte. Best coffee ever, but since my main goal for travel is not food, it was good experience of tasting foreign food for limited time during my short 3-week travel.
It was not difficult to get back as we remembered landmarks. It was tricky to get back to our hostel though. Through the zigzagging mini narrow streets in the main part of the town, the ‘Downtown’ of Hanoi, with cars, motorbikes/scooters, and people everywhere, it was difficult to navigate. There was a stage with dancing girls celebrating New Years and we made a quick stop and watched until the dance sessions we were watching ended. We eventually found the way to our hostel, finding an isolated street with not many people.
Before we went off to the Celebration, since it was still early and two or three hours away from midnight, the French girl went to her own hostel which was on the same street as our hostel while we took shower and rested. It seemed that her own hostel was lacking fun so she decided to visit our hostel and joined our company. Realizing she still had my orange light rain jacket, I decided to go to her room later. While waiting for her, I went to the movie room across the road from our hostel, which was part of the building. A couple of others joined us and decided to watch the Brifish comedy ‘Inbetweeners 2’ (I watched the first one back in Koh Tao back in August 2015) until the DVD had some problem and we gave up watching. Two couples of 5-6 people group seemed to be real couples but they claimed that they were not couples – they met during their travel, somewhere else prior to Hanoi. This is too common for a solo traveler, where one can enjoy romantic travel while the time persists.
After I went back to the French girl’s hostel (yes, it was really deserted), we met fellow travelers and waited for the Montreal girl, British guy whom I talked the first day, and the French girl and off we went to the New Years fireworks location, while many hostel people spread to their own parties and probably a large percentage went to the masquerade party at the other Vietnam Backpacker.
I brought my backpack with me as I had to move to another hostel (I somehow did a mistake booking the room and I missed by one day) that night. Before watching the fireworks, we went looking for my new hostel.
Looking for my hostel was confusing as the direction given by our hostel receptionist was clear on the map, but we could not locate the actual hostel. Walking around the streets for about 3-4 times, we tried one last time. We eventually found the hostel with blue lights and indeed it was the Hanoi Rocks Hostel. I quickly went off and squeezed among the cigarette crowd and looked for the receptionist. The area was full of smoke and it had a terrible smell since I do not smoke. I hoped the air would clear up later and I could actually sleep. Apparently, I arrived too late and all rooms were full. Fortunately, she said I could stay for free and just sleep on the couch somewhere. This was good news.Quickly dropping my backpack off in the storage area, I joined my fellow friends who were drinking while waiting for me.
The street was packed with people. Interestingly enough, yes, it had many people on the street, but it was not that crowded as we could easily move along the street. Because there were many people on one of the roads, we decided to detour around and moved to the next street. Yes, there were not many people there and we could easily go to the front. We ended up being in the back of the main stage where dancers were performing. We heard fireworks after the Countdown but it was behind the trees so we did not see much. Since we got there at something like 11:45PM, we did not expect much, since none of us wanted to party that night as we avoided the rest of the masquerade party’ers.
The fireworks was short, for maybe like 10 minutes. Movement of crowd was quick too – dispersal was fast. After saying goodbye, I went back to the new hostel. The hostel still had some people drinking and smoking outside. The inside, however, lacked people. Wanting to go to the washroom, I quickly asked for direction. Oh man, the trip to the washroom was a disgusting experience. There was no air ventilation. The hall was full of evident smokey appearance. The washroom was dirty too. It was understanding that everyone was partying but this was definitely not a recommended hostel unless one is honestly a heavy smoker.
While lying on the sofa trying to sleep, which I, of course, could not sleep. Some drunk guy wanted intimacy and he smelled horrible. I just said I wanted to sleep and leave me alone. Well, this is the life of New Year’s Party, something expected but since I don’t really celebrate New Year’s, I was still new to the aftermath environment.