We’re staying in Ecopark, a little outside of Hanoi. We’ve been feeling a little removed from the reality of the city, so we made it a priority to begin to explore central Hanoi this past weekend.
We were paired with a set of guides from Hanoi Free Walking Tours, who will match you up with a college student (or two, in our case) willing to show you around Hanoi in exchange for the opportunity to practice English. We registered for the Old Quarter Walking Tour, but between our rambunctious three-year-old and our lack of preparation for the freezing weather, we ended up less seeing sites and more wandering around trying to stay warm, fed, and sane. With the help of our very adaptable guides, we accomplished all three of these – along with a wee bit of sightseeing!
We started at the Museum of Vietnamese History, which houses artifacts from prehistory to the 1945 revolution. The museum triggered Theo’s current fascination with violence, death, and dying: he made inquiries about why the teeth and bones on display had been removed from people and animals, what different weapons were used for, and whether and how various statues had died, including several statues of Buddha. It was pretty hilarious. However, after about 45 minutes of remarkably good behavior, Theo was less interested in discussions of death and more interested in sprinting around the museum, so we wrapped up the last few rooms quickly and headed out.
It was FREEZING (not literally, but very close!) on Sunday, and we were woefully underdressed, so after the museum we went for hot coffee at Cong Caphe. Well, we four adults had hot coffee. Theo had ice cream, since he follows the philosophy that all weather and hours of the day are appropriate for frozen desserts.
After coffee, our guides helped us bargain for coats and led us to a vegetarian buffet. Thus far, I’d say Vietnam has been the hardest country to find non-breakfast, non-dessert meals resembling vegetarian food at restaurants or street stalls. The food at the buffet was good, though!
We wrapped up the tour with another small bit of sightseeing (thankfully, with our new coats) at the bridge leading to Ngoc Son Temple. The sacred turtle who lived in the lake very recently died, but this didn’t lead to additional extended discussions of death, only because Theo was too busy peeking over the edge of the bridge to hear our guide mention it.
Sans guides, we also went to the water puppet show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. This was definitely the highlight of Theo’s day, and immediately after the show ended he asked if we could come back. Given that it was beautiful, with live music, and cost less than $5 per person: we probably will.