Hanoi

Well folks, I think I've hit the proverbial wall. A bit of "Killer Fatigue" as many an Amazing Racer has experienced. Vietnam is amazing, but also not so easy. Gregg has been sick, Valerie got sick overnight, and though I'm well, the constant movement & grind is a bit draining. I almost want to skip Saigon, but I just won't let myself, so I'm taking this afternoon to chill (sadly, not on the beach as it's a bit drizzly) & hopefully will be back on track tomorrow.

So, I think this malaise was coming on when I arrived in Hanoi, and it certainly wasn't helped by the cab/hotel scam we narrowly avoided. Luckily, I met a couple of other solo female travelers during customs in Vietnam (where the visa on arrival process was a bit slow, but fine), and we decided to share a cab into the old quarter. First stop was supposedly one girl's hostel, as a very helpful "hotel rep" let us know. It certainly wasn't, but luckily we made the cab wait for the first gal, so really, no harm was done, but it was unsettling. Also, the money is just insane & hard to get used to. $1 is just over 20,000 dong, so you're trying to understand how much change you need back from 400,000 dong and whew! It's all just a few too many zeroes! So, needless to say, I wandered around a bit and just had to get some pizza for dinner.

The next day was dedicated to cramming in as much sightseeing as possible. I did the whole Ho Chi Minh mausoleum complex, which was really quite odd. He is quite clearly their biggest hero, and there were TONS of Vietnamese tourists soaking up every detail. While his "house on stilts" was fairly interesting, the presence of armed guards everywhere, and signs everywhere that loudly stated "NO ENTRY" were really fascinating. So, there is a HUGE square in front of the actual tomb- which was closed when I got there- but the square is grassy with nice paths cut through so you should be able to cross over to get a closer photo/look. As I started to cross one of these paths, immediately I hear whistles & two guards are waving me off. Apparently, you cave to walk around the square, who knows why. Also, as I was leaving the complex, walking on a sidewalk in the direction the exit sign pointed to, more whistles, more guards waving at me, until I got off the sidewalk into the road. Super strange. I was happy to move on to the "Temple of Literature" down the way, which is actually just a series of lovely courtyards which were the oldest Vietnamese "university". Back in 1100ad, that's where all the doctors studied together, & documented their studies. Pretty cool, and a nice respite from the constant traffic & honking.

After a lovely roof-top lunch at a cool place that works to train poor & at-risk youths in the restaurant/hospitality industry - Koto, where I had fabulous bamboo-steamed beef- I had them call me a cab back over to the old town. This is the other thing about Hanoi: apparently half the cab companies will rip you off, and you're only supposed to used one of three companies. Eesh. Anyway, back in the Old Quarter, I mastered the art of real-life frogger, a.k.a crossing the street. It really is bananas. There are no rules, and all you have to do is sorta stare-down the next-closest moto to figure out if they're going in-front or behind you. They're used to dodging all sorts of stuff. Including little old ladies carrying all-manner of things in traditional gear. Awesome! I visited the lake's little temple, a restored traditional house, and tried to visit the oldest temple in town, but it was apparently closed. I also got some water-puppet tickets along with my train tickets (the agency's motto was to take the path less travelled!). After heading down one of the busier market streets, I was done, had a beer to calm my nerves, and headed back to the hotel to chill for a bit.

I had a FABULOUS splurge dinner (maybe $25, including wine) in a lovely courtyard before my long-anticipated water puppet show. So, the art of water-puppetry was created in Hanoi, and its a bit the thing to do. However, the fact that they had about 6 shows a day, and it was only about $5 should have maybe tipped me off to the fact that it wasn't going to be the greatest thing I've seen. It was cute I suppose, and of course interesting, but to say I regretted adding the photo-ticket for another $1 would be an understatement. That's not to say that it was a nice change, and some of the little scenes were charming (especially the twirling umbrella one).

Up next: my incredible two-day trip to Halong Bay!
(And I promise I'll try to get photos up soon. Like I said, Vietnam isn't the easiest!)