Coming to the end of the alphabet now, and V is for Vietnam, a country we visited as part of an Indochina tour in March 2013. We visited too many places to put them all in one armchair travel blog, so I’ve concentrated on Hanoi, the capital of the north, and with a very different vibe from most of the rest of the country. So when you think of Vietnam (or Hanoi), what do you think of? Maybe something to do with this:
The mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh dominates the city as does his legacy. But let’s start off with something a little gentler. The first thing we saw in Hanoi was an out-of-town water puppet theatre, in the village of Dao Thuc.
Puppeteers work behind the stage and under the water to bring their stories to life.
It all feels like the product of a very innocent age. The puppeteers are all local farm workers, who put the shows on in order to keep the tradition alive. At the end of the show we give them a round of applause.
And they applaud us back. After the show we were invited to go “backstage” (as it were) to see the puppets for ourselves. And, as always, they take on a sinister appearance when they’re not on stage.
Back in the city, we visited the 900 year old Temple of Literature, a Confucian sanctuary and historical centre of learning.
We also visited the Museum of Ethnology, a park containing replica buildings, textiles, musical instruments, etc, showing the diversity of people who make up the country of Vietnam.
At night, everyone seems to gather around the Hoan Kiem Lake, to engage in all sorts of pastimes. Tai Chi, exercise classes, rollerblading and breakdancing, all to a Michael Jackson soundtrack! Not what I would have expected from Communist Vietnam.
The following morning we were ready for The Big Sight. Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. There’s a museum devoted to him of course, but the queue was too long for us to join.
The same applied to the mausoleum! These people are queueing to get in.
There’s no doubt it’s architecturally outstanding – in a very Soviet way.
It’s located on a vast, but otherwise empty, square, just to make it stand out. And you can’t stand too close to the building. Come back you two, you’ll get into trouble with the police!
Nearby is the more modest, and more classically attractive, Presidential Palace.
You can’t linger here either. But you can at the One Pillar Pagoda, an attractive wooden pagoda originally constructed in the 11th century, standing in an elegant lotus pond.
Before we say goodbye to Hanoi, let’s just meet some of the people. Boys will be boys, right? You just know they’re up to no good.
Everyone relies on motorbikes.
And dining is informal, taken wherever you can.
The mausoleum is patrolled by men in smart uniforms.
But farming is the heart of the country.
Much to our guide’s horror, I took a photo of a protest. He was furious, saying the police would rip the camera from me and we’d all get into terrible trouble.
We didn’t. But it was a fine example of how Hanoi had a very anxious and tense feel that the rest of the country didn’t. Instead, envy the children, who aren’t yet too worried about things!
If you’d like to read about our visit in greater detail, I wrote a blog post at the time that you can find here. Now that lockdowns are (hopefully) a thing of the past, it makes sense for this to be my last Lockdown Armchair Travel post. However, if we’re all confined to barracks again, I expect I’ll go back to the letter A and start all over again!