Yes we both squeezed in there!
Flight last night was good. We chose Vietnam Airlines over Laos Airlines as Laos do not publish there safety records... erm...?? Also we met an Irish guy called Marc who been a pilot with Vietnam Airlines for the last 3 years and he said whilst there maintenance isn't quite european standards they do have relatively new planes. We were also faced with 24hours on a bus or 1 hour flying.
We arrived at Ha Noi airport and a guy had our name on a piece of paper from the Hotel we'd reserved. We hadn't booked a transfer but it was same cost as taxi so we took it. Very enterprising are the Vietnamese. On arrival at hotel they didn't actually have a room for us but took us next door (room was perfectly adequate but on 5th floor up an inordinate amount of stairs! Ben was complaining of altitude sickness :-)) This morning we came back to the Viet Anh Hotel for a free breakfast and then checked in! And they have free wifi! I'm happy! Getting all photos uploaded to flickr and blogging.
Had a very yummy dinner last night - Vietnamese food is very similar to Thai but less spicy or not spicy at all. The food is so much fresher and crisper than the greasy oriental rubbish we are served back in Europe. The meat though is below average and given the veggies are so delicious I'm sticking to vegetables and rice most of the time. We overdosed on western cafe food in Vientiane so happy to be back to asian food here in Ha Noi.
This morning after sorting out our plans for the next few days (Halong Bay tomorrow for 2 days, then we fly to Hoi An for 3 days then fly to Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon) we jumped in a taxi to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The definition of Mausoleum is "a large burial chamber usually above ground".
Quote from Lonely Planet..."In tradition of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh is a glass sarcophagus set deep within a monumental edifice.... Ho Chi Minh's embalmed corpse gets a three-month holiday to Russia for yearly maintenance..."
For those that are unfamiliar with Vietnam's history...and this is entirely my interpretation so don't quote me... in roughly 1880 France colonised Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh (this is a man) founded the Vietnam Revolutionary Youth League in 1925. During WWII Vietnam was able to resist Japanese occupation due to the Communist-dominated Viet Minh (Ho Chi Minh's forces). At end of WWII Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam independent. The French tried to retake control which led to full-scale war in which the American's got involved in 1965. A cease-fire agreement was signed in 1973 which included total withdrawal of US troops and release of POW's.
So the people (again my view) see Ho Chi Minh as being the person who got them independence but for all his efforts and against his wishes (he wanted to be cremated) the guy has been pickled and stuck in a glass case for locals and tourists to gawp at.
For the rest of the blog when you see HCM its short for Ho Chi Minh.
Our experience at the HCM Mausoleum was chucklesome but also disconcerting. We checked in our bag but kept our camera as there are lots of other buildings in the complex in addition to the tomb. We then queued up with lots of other people, asian and western, and went through a metal detector and I was given a red bag for the camera. We then filed out of the security room and we made to stand in two single file lines. We were then walked, still single file, across the complex to another hut where we now had to deposit the cameras. More single file walking to the front of the Mausoleum. Ben was holding his hands loosely behind his back and a army-looking type with a bayonet (aka gun with a very sharp knife on the end) told him he had to have his hands by his side (mine already were). We then maintained the two lines as we walked 3 sides of a square around the glass cabinet housing HCM.
We went to the Bodies exhibition in Frankfurt years ago (the one where bodies are preserved and cut in various ways) so this wasn't remotely gory by comparision - just looked like a wax work. He looked at peace, asleep. The spooky thing about the place was the regimentary staff. Staff is the wrong word as they appeared military people but maybe that's just the socialist/communist way. This is the first South-East Asian country (been to Thailand and Laos) where I've felt I a serious need to conform. Thailand and Laos are much more laid back.
I collected the camera and we wandered around other buildings but only from the outside: palace, house-on-stilts, museum.
We then took the Cyclo-Rickshaw ride to the Old Town and went for lunch... I've come full circle.