Wed 31st Oct – Sat 3rd Nov
I wake up feeling pretty pants. Not only has the last 3 nights finally caught up with me…exhausted and with no voice, my toe is in agony and I have some infected bites! Maybe all this is a sign of pushing things to the limit but it’s now time to properly seek medical advice. The people in my hostel are great and tell me where to go. It’s only about a km away to one where they speak English so I decide to walk. The streets of Hanoi are the craziest I’ve seen in my life and it is by far easier to get around on foot than by any other means of transport. Cars get stuck in endless queues, mopeds come from every angle- even on the pavements where their either used as moped parking bays or people just pull up on them to buy something from the shop! There are now clear left and right sides of the road – it’s just find a gap and go. This is the same hit crossing the roads too – if u wait for a gap in the traffic, ull be waiting a bloody long time. U just got to walk out and keep going. They will slow down or move around u! Just be ballsy and go for it!
I get to the hospital at 12 – just as all the doctors have gone on their lunch break. They kindly give me a lunch voucher and I’m able to while away 2 hours with a free lunch in their canteen with my kindle. Finally I see the Dr. They can deal with my bites but he’s concerned about my toe and thumb following the waterfall incident. I’m reluctant to go for the X-rays due to cost but needs must and all that.
The x-rays confirm my toe is broke but my thumb isn’t (but it still bloody hurts) and my bites are infected. Toe strapped, bites seen too and a load of medication received and all for the measly sum of £55!!!
I leave feeling better for having been checked out but feeling rather sorry for myself.
Back at the hostel I decide I need some proper R&R and a dorm room isn’t going to cut it so I find a nearby hotel, with a bugger it attitude to cost and check in there. I have a massive bed and a lovely balcony and this will now be my home for the next 4 nights.
Apart from hospital visits, of which there are 2 more, I do very little except laze in the sun on my balcony
and pop out for food. Having been on the go for a while I also have time to catch up with family and Jen. It is whilst speaking to Jen I realise I’ve run out of steam. After nearly 10 months of non stop travelling, I’ve hit a wall and I’m exhausted. Im also realising that to cover the rest of Vietnam and Cambodia with a broken toe is going to be extremely difficult…I am going to have to cut corners, miss things out etc which I don’t want to do. Jen tells me there’s no shame in coming home but that def isn’t going to happen. I wd rather come back and do V&C again properly, full of energy and not incapacitated. It is from here I decide to knock this part of my trip on the head and just go to some beaches to chill out for the reminder of my trip.
With my ex colleague Dave living in Phuket and one of my oldest school friends Ernie coming in for Muay Thai, I book a flight to Phuket to catch up with these guys and decide it’s time to just chill out.
With only one day left in the city and in Vietnam, following my last hospital appointment I feel I shd hobble around and see some sights of the city. Whilst waiting for the Dr, I plot a few things I want to see and a route from the hospital. Lucky a few things are quite near.
First on my list is the Quan Than Temple. It was built to honour ‘Tran Vo’ the ‘God of the North’ which was beloved by all local Taoists and used the tortoise and snake as symbols of power. The name Quan Thanh therefore represents the temple’s meaning as it translates to ‘Place of the Gods’. To protect Hanoi from bad spirits and influences they built four sacred temples in the four wind directions of the city of which Quan Thach temple is the protector of the North. The other three temples are Bach Ma (East), Kim Liem (South) and Than Linh Lang (West). There was a small entrance fee to enter which I didn’t bother with.
Next I wander up to the Tranquac Pagoda on West Lake which dates back to the 6th century. It has undergone many changes over the years including name and location. It stands at almost 15m tall, spans over 11 levels and is the oldest of its kind in Hanoi. I believe it’s free to enter the islet where the pagoda and other buildings sit but I just look on from a distance.
The streets are bustling with ladies in beautiful dresses and carrying big bouquets of flowers. I ask what is the occasion and I’m told it’s just because it’s the weekend. We should do more of this at home…celebrate and dress up for nothing other than it’s the weekend!
Not far from here lies the Presidential Palace, the One Pillar Pagoda and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
There’s a lot of French flags flying but I think that’s because the French President has just been in town…I don’t know why else when they’re happy to have been liberated from them…
I’m unable to walk past the palace or the mausoleum as there’s some change of the guard activity or something and it’s all taken very seriously! I therefore have to walk miles around the perimeter to get to the mausoleum entrance. Then it dawns on me that I’m not dressed appropriately to enter!
It’s another shame in a long list but as I plan on coming back, it’s ok. The mausoleum is in a key position in Ba Dinh Square.
This of note because this is where the revolutionary leader declared the country’s independence after many struggles with France and the USA on 2nd Sept 1945. He was widely viewed in North Vietnam as the father of his country and often referred to in his later years as Bac (Uncle) Ho. Apparently he wanted to be cremated but upon his death in 1969, government officials went against his wishes and decided to give him the full Soviet leader treatment – embalming his body and putting it in a granite block – just like Lenin.
I plough on and walk past the Military Flag Tower which was an observation post to the Hanoi Citadel built in 1812. Unlike many other structures in the city, it was not destroyed during the French invasion.
Next on my list and one I’d really wanted to see is known by tourists as ‘Train Street’.
It’s one of the narrowest streets I’ve seen, full of hustle and bustle – even cafes and shops. Then all of a sudden locals start ushering people inside or stand back. There’s a red line painted either side and everyone posing for photos on the tracks is told to move pronto as a train is coming. I wasn’t aware one ran now, thinking they were later in the afternoon but nope, around 11am, stood behind the line, a train almost the same width as the street comes hurtling towards us and it goes on and on.
This is part of the line that connects Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. As soon as it’s gone, people fill the street and the track yet again posing for their photographs and for the locals it’s just back to bau!
Heading back towards where I’m staying I wander past St Joseph’s Cathedral
and on onto the Hoan Kiem Lake that is a focal point in the city and The Old Quarter. Famous for housing Turtle Tower which commemorates local folk hero, Le Loi, who had freed the Vietnamese from Chinese forces back in 1425.
It is one of Hanoi’s most iconic attractions, it was constructed on a small island in the middle of the lake in 1886, symbolising the patriotic pride of the local population. According to legend, a Dragon King helped Le Loi achieve his victory by secretly gifting a mystical sword, which gave him the strength and power to rally his troops against the Ming army. The blade of the sword was found by a fisherman in his net while its handle was discovered in a banyan tree by Le Loi himself. Shortly after the battle, the folk hero travelled through a lake by boat, where the Dragon King reclaimed the sword in the form of a turtle. As a result, Le Loi named the lake Hoan Kiem, which translates to Lake of The Returned Sword.
Lastly, in the same lake is the Ngoc Son Temple which sits on Jade Island and is accessible by the iconic Huc Bridge or Rising Sun Bridge.
The temple was built in commemoration of the 13th century military leader Tran Hung Dao who was renowned for his bravery in the battle against the Yuan Dynasty. This is one of the busiest tourist sites in all Hanoi and is completely swarmed with people. Although it is much more tranquil on weekends as the streets surrounding the lake are closed off to traffic and are full of kids playing etc.
I’ve managed to walk a fair few kms on my broken toe, even passing a wedding
and now I’m absolutely beat. In need of lunch and I sit down, I find somewhere to eat then it’s back to my hotel to chill for the afternoon and pack.
Hanoi is a fascinating city and Vietnam a massively interesting country. I’m gutted to not be doing and exploring more but I would rather come back and do it justice than do it half-heartedly.
Once I’ve saved up enough money, both Vietnam and Cambodia will be my main and next choice if holiday destinations. I look forward to my return.