For the first time in four days we got our long sought after lye in, granted it was only until nine thirty, but it was a lye in nonetheless. The reason for our kind of early start, we had a lot of things we wanted to cram into our day, and breakfast was only served between seven and ten am. After breakfast we returned to the room and got ready for the day ahead. With James Breen by our side we left the hotel, where I once again played the role of navigator. We made our way down the hectic Hanoi streets, where to our horror, we saw a street stall selling dog meat. It didn’t look real at first, it looked more like a prop from a movie. If I had to describe it, it resembled a pig on a spit roast, only instead of rotating in circles, they were stacked on top each other like a corpse pyramid. The woman running the stall made it all the more terrible, as we watched her chop the carcasses down to size. With that image ingrained in our minds, we turned around and went an alternative way. It was quite a walk before we reached our first stop of the day, the one pillar pagoda.
This one was Sarah’s choice, so, after walking for close to an hour we arrived at the front gates. They were closed. The reason for this, the main attractions have a midday break between the hours of half past eleven and half past one. Regardless of this fact, we managed to capture images of the pagoda on camera from outside the gates. We considered the visit a success. The waters of the surrounding lake appeared to be polluted, either that or it was the fisherman throwing them back. Every so many yards we walked, we noticed dead fish floating on the surface. Not being able to do anything about it, other than feeling sorry for the wildlife, we walked to our next activity of the day, the Vietnam Military History Museum.
This was the one James and I were both excited for. It held many weapons and vehicles used during the Vietnam war. During our long walk to the building we were approached by a couple of women fronting as students. We were warned about this tourist trap by the lonely planet book. What happens is they will tell you they are studying English, and using their charismatic ways will sucker you in. They will then tell you some weak line about student fees, then ask you for a hand out. If you are naive enough to get your wallet out, they will then take it from you or demand more money. This is usually when a man (who is always standing nearby and in on the scam) will intervene and use intimidation tactics. We chose to ignore the girls and continued walking, besides, the guy with a scar on his face looked rather shifty and remained only five feet from the girls at any one time.
We were feeling a bit thirsty after having walked several miles, so we decided to stop in a restaurant en route to the museum. We didn’t stop long and only ordered soft drinks, as their prices were quite high for anything else. We continued to walk down the busy streets of Hanoi, with me as chief navigator, until we reached our destination, the history war museum. The entrance fee consisted of two separate prices 20,000 for one adult, or 30,000 for an adult plus camera. Not seeing any camera police around, we all chose the 20,000 dong option and snapped away regardless. At the front of the building were several war vehicles, a fighter jet, a tank, and some sort of missile launcher. I took some pictures on my iPhone before we entered the first room.
Inside the room were lots of detailed maps. Each depicting the distance ground soldiers had covered during the war. There was also paintings of clever weapons they used, one of which was huge wooden spikes. They used these under the shallow waters, so when enemy ships arrived their vessels would be penetrated and begin taking on water, leaving them vulnerable at sea. We didn’t hang around in each room for long, however, each one was very informative. Some rooms showcased weapons which were used or confiscated from generals, others showed pictures of soldiers and civilians during their time of turmoil. The most interesting room for me though was the one which showed traps used by the Vietcong. They were very clever in their guerrilla tactics, as they devised secret underground spike pits, ready for an unfortunate American soldier to stand on. They also created spike balls which would swing down from trees, and rows of grenades with their pins attached to string, both of which were set off when their trip wires were broken. If I am honest, in a lot of the rooms I didn’t bother reading the text for two reasons: 1. I knew Sarah would skim read and that her brain is like a sponge, it soaks up new information and she could easily relay the good stuff back to me later on. 2. There were too many guns that kept distracting me.
On the grounds of the museum were loads more vehicles, some were American planes which had been seized, others were decommissioned Vietnamese vehicles. The most eye catching one of them all was an aeroplane which had been manipulated and positioned to look like it had just crashed. Surrounding that were defused bombs, which would have been dropped from planes during the war. That was quite interesting to see, as one of them had wire meshing for it’s shell to show you what would have been inside. To my surprise, it was dozens of hand grenades. We all agreed that if it were to go off we would definitely be screwed, with that, we took some pictures and darted off. The next photo shoot of the day came when we discovered a hidden helicopter around the back. There was a set of steps allowing you access to the area soldiers would have sat, with a drop door at the back for loading/unloading. There was also some bullet holes in the front window, wether or not they were from the war or just for show I don’t know. We pretended to be pilots for a bit before calling it a day.
Next door to the museum was a little cafe, seeing as they had an Oreo milkshake on offer, I ordered one, while the other two had cake. During our time there we witnessed the same student scam going on across the street. Seeing as we had time to observe what was going on, James and I spotted several men working alongside the girls. We observed that the men would sneakily tell them which tourists to go and speak with, before turning away to avoid looking suspicious. There was one Japanese couple who paid the girls but were lucky enough to keep their wallets (probably because it was a busy area). When there were no more tourists for them to speak to, two scooters showed up and the girls climbed aboard to ride off into the distance. While the men working with them blended into the crowd and walked away. After our break at the cafe we decided to catch a taxi to Avalon (our new favourite restaurant), as we had had enough of walking by then. By chance, one pulled up in front of us before we even left the grounds. We agreed a price of 100,000 dong and climbed in.
Having been ripped off by a taxi driver before, I followed the guys movements on my map. He took all the right turns and ten minutes later we had arrived. James handed over the 100,000 note, to which the driver was quick to take and put in his pocket. He then turned around with a 10,000 note. We didn’t understand at first, but then the penny dropped, he was trying to claim that James had only given him 10,000. Adamant that I saw James hand him the correct amount I tired to tell him not to give anymore, however, because the driver kicked up a fuss, James doubted himself and handed the driver another 100,000. The cheeky driver then tried to demand another 100,000 each from Sarah and I. With that, we all angrily shouted “NO” and left his car. It was a very clever scam what the driver was doing, as some notes do look similar. I imagine he gets away with it quite a lot. Although it was only £3 extra he gained, it was the principal that he stole from us which left a bad taste in our mouths, and the fact there’s nothing you can do about it.
When we got to Avalon, James put my mind at ease, as I felt bad that I witnessed the guy take his money and couldn’t convince him what was going on. James told me it didn’t matter what I said as he wasn’t one hundred percent sure what note he gave the driver anyway. We both enjoyed a beer to help us calm down, and the three of us all enjoyed a delicious dinner before returning to our hotel. We all returned to our rooms for a couple hours, during which time we freshened up, watched tv and made Skype calls to our families. When early evening arrived we all ventured across the street to have food in another restaurant. The plan was to have some food then return to mine and Sarah’s room with some beers, and watch whatever movie was on the telly.
Sarah didn’t order any food as she was still full from dinner, I ordered a rice based dish, and James ordered kebabs. When it arrived, somehow, the conversation reverted back to the dog meat we had seen earlier that day. The second this happened, James suddenly lost his appetite and didn’t have a single bite of his meal. So, after I was done eating, we paid the bill and crossed the street to the local shop to buy some beer. The three of us then returned to the hotel. This plan didn’t last long, as James lost something else that night, his ability to stay awake. Within twenty minutes of being there, he finished his beer and returned to his room. Leaving Sarah and I to conclude the evening with an episode of Homeland, all snuggled up in our spacious comfy bed.