Sunday was our best day yet and was a much-needed reminder of why we came out here in the first place. We smashed out a weeks worth of lesson plans on Saturday, which isn’t the most enjoyable way to spend half your weekend but it meant that the freedom on Sunday was appreciated even more. We decided to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex.
The complex is an important place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese people, coming to pay their respects to Uncle Ho. The area felt much different from the hectic streets around our neighborhood. Out here, just a 10-minute drive from our flat, the roads were wide, traffic was sparse, and it almost felt peaceful. Within the complex are Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House, the Presidential Palace, the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda. Unfortunately we couldn’t take a peek at Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body, as it’s ‘undergoing maintenance in Russia’ until December. Luckily we’ll still be around in the New Year to make our own pilgrimage!
The botanical gardens were a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of city traffic and street life. We didn’t realise how much we missed the green space and parks. Groups of locals gathered in the gardens, relaxing on the grass, playing in the park and taking refuge from the sun under the leafy tropical plants. It felt good to meander down the pathways without the looming guilt of unfinished planning lessons waiting at home.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum was a bizarre experience. The layout of the museum itself was slightly peculiar and very text heavy. It’s clear that Ho Chi Minh is a glorified figure, seemingly doted upon by everyone here. According to the museum, he saved Vietnam from colonialism and then went about solving all of Vietnam’s problems in a ‘timely and efficient manner’. Not content with this, he then helped defeat the evil imperialist Americans. To top it all off, he even had time to write beautiful poetry. Call us cynics but we both couldn’t help but think that Uncle Ho’s legacy had been embellished slightly. We had certainly noticed Ho’s presence in Hanoi, from framed photographs in the classrooms, his face plastered on billboards, and his smiling eyes staring up at us from the bank notes.
After soaking up all the Ho Chi Minh complex had to offer (minus the embalmed body), we made our way back to the Old Quarter for a coffee and massage. This was Lawrence’s first professional massage experience and he appeared nervous, as any ticklish massage virgin would. There are dozens of massage parlors that line the streets in the Old Quarter; desperate to entice tourists with offers and convince you they are your best option. It’s a little overwhelming but we decided the easiest way to decide was whatever was the cheapest! For roughly £10 each, we had a full body massage lasting 60 minutes. We soon discovered it might not have been the most professional ‘spa’ as we were taken upstairs into a muggy makeshift massage room. Our masseuses chatted away through the hour-long session, giggling to one another over the relaxation music CD. It was when Lawrence’s masseuse fell off the massage table that we realised we may not be coming back here again. The nimble Vietnamese ladies clambered all over us, pulling joints out of sockets, twisting Lawrence’s spine 180 degrees, but one misjudgment of footing and she came tumbling to the floor. Regardless, we felt great afterwards. The pains and aches our bodies had suffered over the past couple of weeks from teaching had eased and we felt replenished!
To end a pretty dandy day, we had dinner at the Hanoi Social Club. It was recommended in the Lonely Planet guidebook and is a notorious ‘Westerner’ hot spot. But we didn’t care. We both ate burgers, drank cocktails and IPA, sharing a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. We love the Vietnamese street food, however it’s nice to know the comforts of home can still be found amidst the chaos of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.