I’m on a bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh right now so it seems like a good time to catch up on some things. The bus is very bouncy, so this will either take a while, or I will vomit, or both…
Anyhow, Hanoi Kids is a volunteer driven organization/charity that arranges guided tour for you with students of sites in Hanoi. You call them up, set the date and an itinerary and they send over a few eager college aged kids to show you around and take you out for lunch. It’s free, you just have to pay for their entry into the places you go an buy their lunch…deal.
We met up with our guides at 8am which was a bit of a headache (literally) after the night before. We had arranged for them to take us to the Temple of Literature and Hanoi prison, known to most as the Hanoi Hilton and the location that John McCain was held during the Vietnam war.
The Temple of Literature is a complex that consists of a series of 5 consecutive courtyards arranged in, and meant to be seen in linear order…it’s also a bit of a shrine to Confusionism. The temple was the site of the first University in (at least) Vietnam and dates back to 1442. Each successive courtyard is steeped in symbolism (that I would have other wise been clueless about) and was designed to put it’s occupants more and more at ease. The idea was that by the time you reached the fifth courtyard which contained instructional facilities, you were clear minded and ready to learn. The entire complex had 3 paths running through it. The grandest path, through the middle, was reserved for exclusive use of the king when we came every 3 years to administer the royal exam. Everyone else went through the side. Our guides explained that everyone took regional exams and then only the bet of those who passed would be allowed to come here to study for the royal exam. Only 3 people passed the royal exam which was only given every 3 years so it was a pretty big deal…to the extent that each graduate would get a statue erected in their honor, with a special statue for those who passed after just 1 yer of study (regionals were given every year).
From there it was off to the Hanoi prison and we learned about how it was built used and repurposed from French colonization through the Vietnam war.
It was getting kind of late so we headed of for lunch. Our guides chose the restaurant that we ha tried to go to before, Quan An Ngon, and our friends that we met said never to go to for real Vietnamese food. (the bus I’m on is currently playing lots of Enrique Iglesias…thought you should know). Oh well, the idea of a proper chair sounded nice, so we didnt put up a fight. The place was pretty much The Cheesecake Factory of Vietnam from what I can tell, but at least it was good.
Earlier in the week I had measurements taken at a tailor and had a dress shirt commissioned. The transaction was a little shady because the owner didn’t know any English but when I left I was pretty certain we’d worked it out. I asked the kids for one last favor, to come with me to the tailor and get my shirt and translate for me if need be. It was right around the corner so I did. Everything worked out and for $35 I got a custom made shirt. Apparently I could have got a better price, but my only regret is not getting like 5 of them…it’s way better than though parachute shirts you buy off the rack. This might turn into an expensive habit.
We said good bye to our guides and then got packed up for the airport. Off to Cambodia………
1- The shrine of earth and sun, the kings gateway to the second courtyard in the Temple of Literature
2- Front of the Hanoi Hilton
3- Solved! #nerds
4- The shrine from further back, trying to encompass how beautiful the lawns were.