Having been dropped at the station and saying goodbye to Phu Duc and Mr Long, we bought some beers and later swopped them for colder ones on the platform.
The train was about 15 minutes later arriving than its scheduled 4.28pm departure and we were grateful for the privacy of our own compartment once we had scaled the steep steps onto the red rust coloured carriage number 10 of 11.
We soon barricaded ourselves in once we had satisfied the guard that we had possession of all four of the seat tickets necessary to secure the sole use of compartment 1.
Several glasses of wine and a shared pack of la vache qui rire cheese later we were rocked to sleep under duvets and on sheets provided.
At 4am I woke and thought we were already in Hanoi such was the size if the city we were going through and I nearly woke Heather but luckily made the right decision and stared out into the darkness through rain splattered windows instead.
5pm and to the tunes of the Hanoi song which would be a shoe-in for the indochinese song contest if there ever was such a thing and we were leaping down the 6ft or so drop luggage in hand into the damp dusty platform of Hanoi central where Sunny (by name and nature) was smilingly waiting to greet us.
We then went on an early morning tour of the flower market, heading in to central Hanoi afterwards for a delicious Pho chicken breakfast at a small street cafe where we ladled red chillies gingerly into a sweet and sour broth with soft white rice noodles and a variety of green leaves along with slices of chicken breast.
Easing ourselves from the low stools we headed for a vietnamese black coffee right in the centre under the puppet theatre and not far from our hotel, watching the city gradually gear itself up into the whirlwind of scooters and commuters that buzzed incessantly all day.
Off for some serious tourism now before checking in – Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum where after queuing an hour or so in pairs – a game the Chinese don’t seem to get at all, we all filed slowly past the waxy but peaceful looking body of the famous communist leader and “uncle” to the people.
Having asked in his will to be cremated, we wondered about how he might have felt about becoming such a celebrity sight to thousands of people daily and the inevitable indignity of being sent away to the Russians every September for a cosmetic make over?
His houses were indicative of the simple values of the man who is so revered in Vietnam by young and old and we found learning about him was fascinating as sunny peeled back the layers on the complex history of the region from the Vietnamese perspective. “History is written by the victor” someone said and nowhere is this truer than here.
The white guards jauntily marched bouquets of flowers to their position in front of the feng shue designed building and Chinese tourists squabbled with each other to get photos taken in every possible location around the site.
Then the one pyramid pagoda – an impressive reconstruction of a very old building and after that the visit to the Ethnological museum. 51 different groups and we met them all… Fascinating and yet too much to digest. One of those cases that once you know how much there is to know…
Lunch was Ban Cha – barbecued pork patties in a sweet and sour broth. My favorite dish of the trip so far. Sunny laughed with the owner about one of her previous charges washing his hands under the fish sauce tap. Only in Vietnam would they use the sauce so extensively that they actually pipe it in.
Kept her in fits of giggle thoughout the lunch while we enjoyed spring rolls and a local beer.
After lunch the old university (1040) temple and Buddhist, Tao and Confucian influences could be seen and explained. Left leg in, right leg out. We hoki kokied around the graduating students who made the earlier Chinese look amateurish when it came to taking photos – well it was a special occasion for them so understandable.
Back to the hotel to wash and change before settling in to watch the water puppet show where the best part was sitting next to a young Chinese or Vietnamese boy who got so excited by the antics in front of him that he fell off his chair.
Then a cyclo tour of the old town before getting my shoes resoled and cleaned for £7. The young lad did well…
Dinner at Little Hanoi was pleasant and we slept well in our luxurious suite at the Church Hotel despite not being able to turn the lights off.