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Friday, April 26, 2013

Gooood Morning, Vietnam! (part 2)

(This second part of my entry from last year had to take a back seat for a considerable time since I had a problem downloading my pictures into my laptop.  But since this issue has been resolved, here it is.) 
We started the day late for our excursion the next day at the Ba Dinh district, but too early for the museums to open. The Ho Chi Minh Museum and Vestige at the Presidential Palace area opens at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. In the interim, we had another bout of caphe sua da and ice cream for my daughter, and a short visit to the One-Pillar Pagoda. This pagoda is one of the two iconic pagodas of Vietnam, the other one being the Perfume Pagoda. This pagoda was built by the emperor Ly Thai Tong who ruled in the years 1028 to 1054. The emperor, who was childless, had a dream where he met the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who handed the emperor a baby son while seated on a lotus flower. Ly later married a peasant girl and bore him a son, and in gratittude to the deity, he had the pagoda built in the design as we see it, which was similar to the image he saw in his dream. The pagoda is made of wood on a single stone pillar 1.25 meters in diameter. It is made to resemble a lotus blossom which is the Buddhist symbol of purity. The French had the pagoda destroyed in the First Indochina War, but this was later rebuilt.

The Ho Chi Minh Museum is a collosal structure, a marble behemoth, if you will.   In its quiet hours, the museum appears to be a popular backdrop for some edgy pre-nuptial and nuptial photos.  At the time we were there, there were two parties setting up for their respective weddings and snapping away when the place is the least crowded.

The Museum itself, however, does not house much, unless you get a kick out of the photographs and news clips of the communist party of the then USSR with no Uncle Ho in sight

even.  The upper floors though are filled with production designs of what the caves in which Ho Chi Minh would have lived in with splashes of his memorabilia in between, including canons, jeeps and arms used during their own party's struggle with the West.  All in all, it's not really a complete waste of time if what you're after is only a glimpse or a brief insight.  After the tour though, you emerge into a garden that surrounds the vestige of Ho Chi Minh, but which no one is allowed to enter, and this will lead you further out into this vast parking lot, or some kind of assembly area fully indoctrinated with the sound of Ho Chi Minh's anthem blaring from large speakers.

The Presidential Palace is a sight to behold.  It stands pretty in the garden, and its color

reminds me much of French vanilla ice cream - very buttery.  You will also get to see Uncle Ho's residential structures before he transferred to the Palace and makes for many a good photo opportunities.  Much of the furniture as originally used is intact and underlines the consistent fact that Uncle Ho lived a stark simple life.

And speaking of architecture, while we liked our stay at the Nam Hai Hotel, we could not pass up the opportunity to experience turn of the 20th century architecture of the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel.
So for our last two days in Hanoi, we booked ourselves there and experienced the lush and tranquil surroundings enjoyed by many known political personages and celebrities before us.  It was a good deal at US$125 for the the three of us, including a breakfast buffet.
Everything was well thought of, from the mattress to the sheets and L'Occitane toiletries, to the orchid, fudge and French macarons on your pillow before you sleep.  If this isn't heaven, it is certainly close to it. 

For more Hanoi eats, it's a must to go to Cha Ca La Vong.  It's literally a hole in the wall in Cha Ca Street in the Hoan Kiem District.  They serve only fish fillet that is marinated in their signature recipe and presented to you in a hotpot where you cook this yourself and eat it with rice noodles, herbs and vegetables.  Some people think it's a bit oily, but worth every ounce at VD170/person.
And your trip wont be complete unless you enroll in a cooking class.  I chose to learn more about Hanoi street food at the Hanoi Cooking Centre located at 44 Chau Long Street in the Ba Dinh District.  It's resident chef Tracey Lister welcomed our small group of four and was the one who conducted our market tour of Hanoi.  Indeed, while there is some similarity, if not huge, between the Vietnamese market and food culture with that of the Philippines', Tracey was able to add a few more insights and a different perspective on the Hanoi kitchen. 


Our kitchen classroom was well-equipped and each student was given an apron to use for that particular session, and our own work station.  The recipes were taught hands-on which afforded each one of us to appreciate every ingredient that goes into each dish.  My favorite was learning to cook the West Lake Prawns.  It reminded me of our own Ukoy, but instead of bean sprouts and other vegetables, the "cake" used were shoe string sweet potatoes.  It provided a good sweet balance with the savory-salty prawns.  After the kitchen session, we were directed to the cafe upstairs where we got to eat our own dishes along with a bottomless choice of their selection of wines, cola or juice. 


If you're a foodie, gourmet, or gourmand.  Hanoi should indeed be on top of your adventure list.  There's always something to experience first-hand at every turn of its busy street corners. Otherwise, just pull up a plastic chair from the street and set yourself up with their world-famous creamy-textured coffee on one hand, and a banh mih sandwich in the other ,and watch Hanoi peel its layers bit by bit.


  1. I've been living in Hanoi for 2 years now. Cha Ca La Vong is way overrated. I suggest you try some kind of "bun" or "my van than".

    1. Thank you for pointing this out. We enjoyed our trip to Hanoi and are raring for another opportunity to go back. We will take you up on your suggestions. Cheers!