It was the end of another tiring week of teaching, but as we had about 11 hours sleep on Friday night, we were raring to go come Saturday morning. Lesson planning had been a gradual process undertaken throughout the week so we were finished by midday this weekend. It had been a stormy morning, but it didn’t deter us from venturing back to the Old Quarter for some sight seeing.
Our first stop was Bach Ma Temple, said to be the oldest temple in the city. It was originally built in the 11th century to honour a white horse that guided the Emperor Ly Thai To to the site, where he chose to construct his city walls. There were plenty of offerings of biscuits, fruits, and even beer, from those paying their respects to the legendary white horse. We whizzed round the gold-gilded temple in 5 minutes as it was about the size of our own flat and the sight of beer being sacrificed was too painful endure for any longer.
We then wandered to Dong Xuan Market, a large and relatively tourist free area of the Old Quarter. There are hundreds of stalls here, selling everything from clothes, household good, to turtles. Around the edge of the market, most of the food sold here consisted of sacks of dried mushrooms or live animals. The sight of 10 turtles floundering in a cage ready to be bought and boiled wasn’t particularly appetizing. There are some aspects of Vietnamese life we will never be able to adapt to.
Once inside, at first glance the market appears messy and jumbled. But on closer inspection it’s actually extremely organised. Everything is packaged tightly, neatly stored in perfect piles. We bartered like locals for Naomi’s new school skirt (as her original had vanished in the dodgy laundry service our flat provides us with).
After soaking up the market, we walked towards the Hanoi’s ceramic road. Song Hong dyke is a ceramic mosaic mural spanning almost 4km. The project commenced in 2007 and was completed in 2010 to commemorate Hanoi’s 1000th birthday. The colourful mural depicts various periods of Vietnam’s history and holds the Guinness World Record title for the largest ceramic mosaic on the planet.
Just above the ceramic road looms Long Bien Bridge, ‘a symbol of the tenacity and resilience of the Hanoian people’ according to the Lonely Planet guide. The bridge has been bombed on several occasions during the American War and was quickly repaired by the Vietnamese. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel (off of Eiffel Tower fame) and is used by mopeds, bikes, trains and pedestrians, including Lawrence and Naomi. We tentatively teetered along the rickety concrete slabs that made up the ‘pavement’ on the edge of the bridge, trying not to look through the cracks to what would have been our deaths below had a slab given way. Every time a mass of mopeds sped by, we felt the bridge vibrate beneath our feet. The sight of a train hurtling past was a heart-in-mouth moment. Braving the bridge did reward us with a vast view of the Red River, the second largest in Vietnam, flowing from South West China, through Northern Vietnam, to the Gulf of Tonkin. It was surprising how many locals thought this to be the ideal spot to sell bananas and vegetables, or fish that had been freshly caught from the river itself just moments ago. We could see them squirming in the baskets they were transported in to take them to the roadside. The colour of the river would make you think twice about ordering ‘Red River Trout’ if you saw it on a menu, regardless of how fresh they are.
We had been attempting to ignore the very ominous looking grey-purple cloud ahead of us, that had be spreading closer to the centre of Hanoi with each wobbly step along the concrete slabs. We decided to turn around at the halfway point of the bridge and within a few minutes felt the first drops of rain. This very quickly turned into a full-blown thunderstorm, the flashes of lightning encouraging us to get ourselves away from the metal bridge as quickly as possible. We found shelter under a tree/make-shift bar; naively hoping it was just a passing shower. It wasn’t. The downpour continued, the lightning cracked and the thunder rumbled directly above our heads. It was when the bar started flooding that we decided it was time to call an Uber. Our Uber driver unhelpfully parked across the street that now resembled a tributary of the Red River. We waded across before piling in to the car soaked from head to toe. His choice of parking space was reflected in his one star review.
Despite our soggy socks, we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon devouring a variety of deep fried Vietnamese delicacies and sipping on hot black coffee. Lawrence has gone from being a loyal tea drinker to a die-hard espresso man in 3 weeks.