Another early rise as I had to get to the Blue Dragon to meet Van who was going to show me around Hanoi. One of my two regular motorbikes drove me up for 9:00 and Van arrived shortly after. We decided on a rough route and then set off.
Our first stop was to be the My Dinh National Stadium which lies somewhere to the north of Hanoi. On the way we drove past the older pagoda in Hanoi (Tran Quoc) which I hope we get a chance to stop at the next time.
After maybe 20 minutes, we arrived at the stadium. The road in front is a huge open space. Van assured me that when a national match is on the whole area is rammed to the gills with fans, only a fraction of whom will have a ticket. When we were there, however, the area was barren lending it an almost spooky feel. The arches over the top remind me of Bolton’s ground.
I had only intended to see the ground from the outside, but Van drove up to the guard’s shack to see if we could go around. He was told that we couldn’t as there were “staffing issues”. He called the information line and was told this wasn’t the case. His reasoning is that it’s because I’m a foreigner and the stadium’s in an awful state internally. Apparently the building was given to the highest bidder – a Chinese firm – who cut corners left, right and centre. As a result, despite it’s impressive opening it has fallen into a scary amount of desrepair over the last year or so.
This, as I said, is only a theory. He did say he’d find out if there was likely to be a game there while I’m in Hanoi – in which case we can get tickets.
I managed to get some snaps of the outside, and also of the National Swimming Stadium across the plaza. Again, we weren’t allowed to even drive around the building. Ah, well.
Van then asked if I wanted to stop for a drink in Hanoi’s largest superstore. OK, different! It’s called “Big C” and Van used to go there to study on weekends as his university library was closed then. It is pretty big by Vietnamese standards – in fact it’s just large – but compared to placed like the Metro Centre it’s small fry. It is larger than most out-of-town supermarkets in the UK, though. And they have a shop that does smoothies and fruit drinks which gives it the edge.
Refreshments drunk and bottled water in hand, we cycled off towards the zoo. I’ve heard some horror stories about Asian zoos, including Japan surprisingly enough, but Hanoi’s isn’t as bad as I was expecting. I would best describe it as similar to the UK’s zoos maybe 25 years ago. Far too many cages, not enough free space for the animals and just that little bit too mucky.
The animals themselves seem to be in moderately good health (except the ostriches, two of which seemed to be regrowing half of their feathers after being near-bald), but the enclosures simply weren’t big enough by today’s standards. Also, there was no policing of people feeding the animals so I’m sure they’re not getting the right diets. Sadly, this is going to be typical of any country with more pressing monetary concerns.
Passing through one of the areas where Van used to live as a student, we stopped for lunch. I’ll let you guess what we had! Afterwards, we drove to the Museum of Ethnicity. As Van put it when we paid for the tickets, “espensif”. 20,000d to me isn’t a great deal, but when other places are as cheap as 2000d, 5000d or 12000d it is comparitively pricey. However, it is well maintained and large. Allow 90 minutes to an hour if you ever go. Inside, there are many exhibits of tools, weapons and the like used by many of the ethnic tribes, plus a large section about the years during which Vietnam was essentially run on food stamps.
Outside, however, are the best exhibits. Hand-built houses, meeting halls and funeral pyres crafted using proper materials and methods. These are all full-sized and can be climbed into and walked around. Van gave me a lot of interesting information about the farmhouse as he was born and brought up in one!
The heat was beginning to get to both of us (it was 40 degrees C) as we biked back towards the Old Quarter and the Temple of Literature. This isn’t a huge structure, but is beautifully made and laid out – in great nick considering it’s around 1000 years old. It also houses the first Vietnamese university and statues dedicated to all the doctors who graduated from it over the centuries.
It was after we’d been there that Van confessed he wasn’t feeling too well, so we cut the day slightly short. He’d been off work for a day or so but hadn’t wanted to let me down for the day out! He took me back to the hostel and headed home for a rest as he’s away in Hue on business later in the week.
There were few people around when I got back – quite a few had been dragged up to Barracuda to watch Australia destroy South Africa in the rugby. Eamonn doesn’t even like rugby that much and he came back… merry. The less said about Mike (Aussie co-owner) the better!
Before they returned, though, I popped out to lunch with Beckie – an Aussie from Brisbane. She only got out of bed around 3am with a hangover and a cut in her foot she didn’t remember getting. She managed to force down three milkshakes and a serving of lasagna while I demolished a chicken burger and chips. And some beer. Just to annoy her. She went back to bed when we got back, surfacing only to retrieve some pizza from the fridge.
Two other English girls, Louisa and Laura (I think!) from Brum, had arranged to go for drinks with the two Danish girls. Eamonn and I tagged along and we did the usual route: City View, Bia Hoi and then hostelwards via the street market. With Sunday morning and football looming, I opted for an early night.