The Lonely Planet tour takes us through the numerous narrow streets of the Old Quarter and the many vendors and their merchandise. We pass by stores selling bamboo furniture, tin-crafted cutlery, mirrors, Buddha statues, propaganda posters, plastic household items, souvenirs, home decorations and countless more. At some point we pass by the Old East Gate (Cua 0 Quan Chuong), the only remaining one of 16 gates that used to provide access to medieval Hanoi. Throughout the trip Katka is taking pictures of almost everything we come across. It takes her almost no time to transform from a cautious “to be or not to be” photographer to a regular paparazzi. I guess that’s the effect all of the new and exotic sights have on a person. Fascinating sights like this impressive bit of electrical engineering, for instance:
At some point we reach a huge open-air market, where you can find everything from flowers to seeds to all sorts of fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit, pastry and most food you can imagine (plus some that you can’t even begin to). Since photos speak louder than words, or something along those lines, I’ll let the curious among you enjoy these market sights on Katka’s Flickr page, to which I link at the end of every Vietnam post.
We make our way back to the hotel via the “Blacksmiths Street”, surrounded by clanging noises and a multitude of articles and contraptions made of metal. Lonely Planet points out some hidden temples to visit, but they turn out to be so well hidden that we’re unable to find them (and the one we do find is closed to be renovated). As we get close to the hotel I spot a vendor selling knock-offs of typical Viet Cong helmets and I decide I must own one, even though I have no affiliation whatsoever with Vietnamese or any other military. As I try to get the helmet on my head I manage to cut my finger on the strap’s buckle. I’m a whiz when it comes to unintentional self-inflicted injuries of all sorts.
Katka insists on using the disinfectant we brought with us on my “wound”. Sure, it’s just a scratch, but we didn’t bring that disinfectant with us all the way from Denmark to just let it sit there! Back in the hotel we have a snack with the fruit we got earlier and let our clothes dry. Then we set out on an evening stroll to check out Saint Joseph Cathedral and get some proper dinner. By now we have gradually aligned on a natural division of responsibilities. Katka is in charge of tourist attractions, map navigation and photography. I am the official negotiator and street-crossing expert.
On the way to Saint Joseph’s Cathedral we stop by a small, dimly lit park, where a young mother is playing with her daughter. We have a break and Katka takes more pictures. We finally find the Cathedral and make an invisible check-mark in our figurative “must see” list. Next stop – food! We head to Blue Butterfly, which was recommended the night before by the lady in our hotel. We do a few circles around the same streets and somehow miss the restaurant every time. When we finally find the place we realise that we’ve actually passed it a few times during our earlier Lonely Planet tour. Typical!
The restaurant is pleasant, staff are nice, the food is tasty, but the whole experience is somehow easily forgettable. On the way home we decide to treat ourselves to a cyclo ride. Essentially it’s a bike with one driver and two passengers at the front. The cyclos are usually parked on busy intersections, yelling out to passers by and offering sightseeing rides around the city. This time we just want a ride to our hotel, so we come up to one of them to arrange it. Making some advanced and utterly wrong calculations in my head I arrive at a price of 50,000 dong for a ten-minute ride to Rising Dragon III. I will later find out that this is how much a two hour sightseeing tour normally costs. When I name the price the driver is so excited that he almost starts cycling away without us. So much for being chief negotiator.
It starts raining as we get into the cyclo, so it actually works out quite well. We make our way slowly through the narrow streets submerged in darkness. I am lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the cyclo. Both of us are exhausted when we get back to our room, so we head straight for bed. Tomorrow is the first “proper tour” of the trip. By this I mean it’s organised by someone other than ourselves and involves a local guide. Perfume Pagoda awaits!