Saturday, 20-12-2014 & Sunday, 21-12-2014
Days 122 & 123
The first order of each day we were in Hanoi was to hit the free breakfast buffet at the Hanoi Diamond Elegance hotel. And what a buffet it was. In addition to a wide variety of buffet options, we could also have eggs, pancakes, and pho cooked to order (and at no additional charge). For us this has become the gold standard of included hotel breakfasts, and all four of us really looked forward to it each morning.
Day 122: Self-Guided Hanoi Tour
Magic Turtles, Backpacks, Street Scams
First we headed off to the nearby Hoàn Kiếm Lake, which had an interesting story about the emperor losing his sword to the turtle that lives in the lake. But he was cool with it, because he'd used it to beat the stuffing out of the invading Chinese army so he didn't really need it any more.
The lake's main feature is a small island where the Temple of the Jade Mountain was built in the 18th century. The temple is only accessible from land via a red, wooden bridge bearing the name Bridge of the Rising Sun. Okay so it's not the only way ... guess you could get there by boat, too.
We would be going on a guided tour of Hanoi in a few days that included a stop at the temple, so we didn't pay the fee to venture inside. Instead, we followed a map that marked out the route for a self-guided tour around the streets of central Hanoi. In addition to constantly buzzing motorbikes, the streets here are filled with shops that sell everything you need a lot you don't. There are restaurants, pharmacies, coffee shops, convenience stores (even a 7-Eleven), and plenty of tourist trinkets outlets, but especially countless small, narrow shops selling backpacks and shoes.
We walked around the streets for a little bit, and then, faster than you can say "con man," we were hit with one of the oldest street scams in the book. A woman came up to Frankie and before I could say anything, put a pole in her hands and popped a nón lá on her head. She looked cute (Frankie, not the woman), so, like an idiot, I snapped a quick photo. Another woman gave Jackie the same treatment, and, likewise, Sam snapped a photo. And that's when the fun began. The women started yelling and demanding 350,000 dong (about $16) for the photos. I immediately kicked myself for falling for such a scam. We did manage to negotiate down to 200,000 dong (about $9.50)—and at least they threw in a small bag of bananas and pineapple for our trouble. So enjoy these photos, they cost us more than most of our Vietnamese meals.
We wandered around a little more, stopping for lunch at one point and coffee at another. It's pretty amazing how much time you can eat up just by walking around a city. By the time we got back to the lake, the sun was setting, so we walked back to the hotel and made a reservation for the restaurant there because it was 1) easy and 2) well-regarded.
Day 123: A Much-Needed Slow Day
A Whole Lot of Almost Nothing.
After being on the go almost constantly in China, and since we got our bearings in Hanoi the day before (see above), we decided to take it easy for a day. We did manage to get out and enjoy a cup of coffee at some point, but other than that, we didn't do much aside from a little reading and catching up on a few things (you know, bills) until the sun started to go down.
That's when we ventured out to the Night Market, which takes over a few of the streets in central Hanoi on Saturday and Sunday nights. It was super-busy, jammed with people and motorbikes sharing the same narrow walkways around the market. There was a lot of stuff for sale, but a not a lot of what was being sold appealed to us. Every booth seemed to sell a massive number of smartphone cases and there was a whole selection of cheap-looking touristy goodies, as well as staples like underwear, clothing, and motorbike helmets. And of course there was plenty of street food.
We weren't really shopping for anything in particular. Rather, we were killing time and taking in the sights until we heard from Sam's oldest friend Jenji. She and her family were meeting us in Hanoi, and they were scheduled to land that evening. We eventually got in touch with them, but after flying halfway around the world and getting through the crazy Vietnam immigration system, all they wanted to do was get some sleep.
So we'd see them in the morning for our guided tour of Hanoi.