|From Vietnam 2009 Jamie|
Jamie and I had to check out of our hotel today, but not until noon, so we just slept in and rest in the morning before heading out for the day. We knew we were going to leave on a 9:00 train to Sapa, so we had 9 hours to spend in Hanoi. We weighed our options, and the day went pretty well.
Our first stop was to try the famous Bun Cha meal at a very local restaurant. Not too many tourist in there. The meal consisted of grilled minced pork balls (basically sausage) in a sugar/vinegar dipping sauce, rice noodles, twice fried spring rolls, greens, and some garlic and pepper for flavoring. Jamie and I didn't really know how to eat it, so we just watched some of the locals mix it all up so we'd have the proper flavoring. It was delicious and one of our favorite meals we've had in Asia so far. Jamie does an excellent job of describing it in the short video above.
After lunch, we walked saw St. Joseph's cathedral from just the outside and then walked along Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. We went to the Ngoc Son Temple on the island in the lake to see the grounds and the giant mummified turtle that is the legend there. As the legend goes...
According to a tale that dates back to the 15th century, King Le Loi, also known as Le Thai To, the founder of the Le Dynasty, found a holy turtle during a cruise on the then Luc Thuy, or green lake. The turtle told the King to return the sacred sword that had helped him defeat the northern Ming aggressors now that peace had returned. Le Thai To unsheathed his sword and threw it to the turtle. He later named the lake "Hoan Kiem" (Lake of Returned Sword).
Afterward, we found a small little ice cream place that was in our tour guide that was refreshing and headed out for some more walking in the Old Quarter. It was raining, so we dodged into a cafe to wait until the showtime of the Water Puppet Show.
I have a video that I am going to try and compile and upload of this performance. It is hard to explain, but the had 18 small performances using puppets on water. It was very interesting and definitely worth it if you visit Hanoi. The theater was crowded, but all seats were very good.
We went shopping and found some great deals on pashima cashmere scarfs and silk dresses for Jamie and some linen pants for me. We even bought 2 silk sleeping bags because we had been warned that the beds on the trains might not be too clean.
Dinner was at a famous (according to the guidebook and owner) restaurant that served only fried fish. It was good but not great, but certainly worth the walk up the street to check it out. It had a decent sauce that came with it and of course veggies and other condiments to complement it. Overpriced, but decent.
We were supposed to be picked up at the hotel at 7:30, but weren't until 7:45. We then waited around the train station while our travel guides wheeled and dealed for some tickets for us. Apparently in order to make a profit, they don't actually purchase your train tickets until you actually get to the train station. Then, they wheel and deal hoping to purchase them for less, and take the profit after you have already paid full price. Like scalping football tickets back home.
The train was nice and Jamie and I were actually separated at first, but a nice Australian gentlemen gave up his bed so we'd be in the same room. The beds were "soft" for Asian standards, but very clean and well kept. There was even a flat screen TV on the wall, although we didn't turn it on.
We chatted with our Isreali train mates for a few minutes before reading and going to sleep. When we awoke, the conductor was banging on the door because we had arrived in Lao Cai.