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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

N Vietnam 2012 - Day 1, Part 1 - Hanoi: Flag Tower

N Vietnam 2012
Day 1 - 24th May - Hanoi: Flag Tower
(Part 1)

My first hint as to how wary foreigners had to be in Vietnam came before I had entered the country, or even stepped on the plane. It was a note from my hostel:

"By the changing of flight can not be informed or not be contacted by phone, you should take taxi yourself to our hotel. The price is maximum 300,000 VND/ private car ( 15 U$). Remember not pay them on the way or agree with them you will pay more than that. There are many scamp ways from drivers using to get more money from you. You will not get down any other hotels except: Little Hanoi Hotel, 48 Hang Ga street or 32 Le Thai To street, (by the lake). Come to the hotel first, you will pay them in font of our receptionist to be sure it is correct amount of money.
Should take the picture of the car with number on and driver before getting in. The driver will not do any harm to you. Vietnam is peaceful country, you are protected by our police anytime, anywhere."

While an advised ceiling price was not unusual for the third world, this was the first time I'd been asked not to get down anywhere else, to pay in front of the receptionist and been advised about "many scamp ways from drivers using to get more money from you".

Later, I read from multiple sources that one famous Vietnamese scam was that the taxi driver would tell you your hotel had changed its name, moved or been knocked down, and offer to bring you elsewhere. Of course, this would be a scam whereby he'd get commission from the other hotel. This particular version of the scam was new to me, even if news of taxi drivers finding ways to earn commission was not.


I flew to Vietnam on Tiger Airways. My first and last time on them had been in 2010, and it had not been a good experience, but they were cheaper than Jetstar and anyway I figured lightning could not strike twice.

Indeed, my Tiger flights were uneventful.

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Japanese curry has become a Southeast Asian food.

A woman on the plane was reading "Plato for Begineers".

On landing in Hanoi, I was greeted with lots of ads in Vietnamese. And only Vietnamese. Now, airport ads are almost always bilingual, reflecting the airport's position as a crossroads of culture and a hub for exchange. Not so in Hanoi:

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VTN ad only in Vietnamese

Pausing at a kiosk at the airport, I got a local SIM card so I could update my beloved followers on my progress in finding a wife/Yaw Shin Leong.

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I took this for 2 reasons:
i) There's no French to go with the Korean, Japanese, Mandarin and Vietnamese
ii) Their email address is hotmail@taseco.vn

In retrospect, I now realise why I was urged to "ONLY PAY WHEN RECEIVING PAYMENT BILLS" - to prevent me from being cheated. I didn't get a receipt, and naturally was cheated, being charged US$10 for a local SIM card. Note that the form of the receipt (payment bill) is indicated with an image - maybe the crooks that masquerade as staff even go to the extent of forging receipts.

On the way to the city, there was a sign proclaiming Japanese-Vietnamese co-operation in building a terminal - but the sign was in neither Japanese nor Vietnamese, but English (only).

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Horrendous arch for "Ciputra Hanoi International City"

One cab had a sign on top: "Metter". At first I thought this was a brand, then later I saw other cabs proclaiming "Meter".

I saw a surprising amount of Korean, both in signs and in tourist presence.

There was some shop whose second storey had what seemed to be an old woman pressing her hands to the glass, and peering out of the window at passers-by. It was very lifelike, but it was just an establishment with mannikins. And not all generic ones!

Getting to my hostel I booked my tour for Halong Bay.

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"Doctor and pharmacy are not available on boat"
I wonder which idiots think that they are

I then went out to explore Hanoi.

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What have the French ever done for us?
This looked like it was from the Colonial Era

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I remember being told that only in Singapore and some Malayan cities do we have covered five foot ways.

I hadn't eaten and it was almost 3pm, so I went out looking for food. I wasn't able to use the rule of going to where other people were eating due to the time.

I went to one bun cha (BBQ pork with bee hoon and fish sauce) place and asked how much it was. They told me (40,000 VND or US$2 - a sure ripoff), but it turned out they'd run out (one guy who'd ordered the last of the bun cha translated for me. meh).

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Living by the tracks

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Walking on the rails

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Path to the railway. You must look so beautiful run over by a train

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Place presumably set up by Sichuanese migrants - leaving a poor country for an even poorer country

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More track-side living

At another place I was quoted 35K for some mystery food, and it seemed that I was asked to wait - but after a while it seemed no food was coming (one man was just sitting inside smoking from a bamboo pipe which looked like what people used to smoke opium in), so I left. Maybe it's against the Vietnamese religion to eat lunch after 2pm.

Finally, I found a place which not only was serving food (there was food in the window) but had prices displayed - so I knew I wasn't being ripped off.

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Com Ga, Com Suon

(In future I will play a game called "guess how much this food cost me?" where you can wager how much I got swindled of)

Now, if you Google "Com Suon" you get Vietnamese Pork Chop With Rice". This sounds delicious indeed. Unfortunately, I got:

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The worst meal I'd ever had in living memory: a sumo portion of plain rice (with a piece of tissue paper), boiled kang kong, plain cucumber, boiled fatty tough pork. All of it was bland and flavourless, and the sauce was just soy sauce (not even fish sauce). Amazingly, the pork managed to be fatty, tough and flavourless - all at the same time.
I mimed a question about the yellow liquid, and got a non-commital answer. I tried consuming a bit of it, with or without food, and found it terribly bland. After a while I got a hint that it might be to wash my hands in, and stopped consuming it.

This was not an auspicious start to my trip, culinarily speaking.

When I tried to pay it turned out some of the Dong I'd brought from Singapore wasn't legal tender anymore. Luckily it was just about US$0.5 worth.

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Military barber

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I was terribly amused seeing a street called "Dien Bien Phu". Do they have streets named "My Lai"?

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Happy Workers love Uncle Ho

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The first French I saw in Vietnam. Notice the French habit of closing for lunch. "Every day except Monday and Friday" is such an awkward phrase.

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Military History Museum

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MIG 21

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Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long - Hanoi
I'd read that most of the Citadel was a military installation and closed to the public, but the Flag Tower was open to all. Strangely neither the Rough Guide nor Lonely Planet mentioned the Citadel.

Looking for the entrance to the Flag Tower, I had to retrace my steps.

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Flag Tower

Unfortunately admission was bundled with admission tothe Museum which I had no interest in (and no time for - it was 50 mins before it closed, at 4:30pm). An extra charge was levied on photography, and I waved my camera at the attendant and paid it (20,000 VND). No one asked me to show my permit though.

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Mig 21 and Flag Tower

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Stone Balls

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Iron Balls, Cannon

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Touching his Heritage

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The "Ancient Canons" (sic) were newer (mid-19th century) than the "Cannon"s (early 19th c, 18th c). Go figure.

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On the Flag Tower ("Flag Tribune")

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Entrance to Tower

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Flag Tower

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Scrapyard

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Doorway to Flag Tower

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Scrapyard from higher up

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The Vietnamese are really proud of their History and Heritage

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Citadel from Flag Tower. It looked open to tourists.

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Scrapyard from above

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Though the Flag Tower's interior was bare, the windows in the staircase were interesting

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75mm artillery

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Although I had no time to check out the museum, I caught a look at the plan. It was hilarious, with the "The world suppotted Vietnam in the Resistance Wars Exhibition" area and "The Vietnamese Heroic Mother Exhibition"
Communist countries are great fun!

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Quite an artistic arrangement of a plane crash

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It's the wreckage of a F-111A fighter

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Missile Launcher, AA Gun

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"Heroic Vietnamese Mother Nguyen Thi Thu"
Her claim to fame is being fertile but having family members who were better at dying for their country than at making the bastards on the other sides die for theirs

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Shit China

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The Citadel

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"Please continue the tour
请继续看"
Maybe the Mandarin sounds better in Vietnamese

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Wtf modern art. Give me Communist Heroism over Bourgeois Modern Art any day.

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Toilet cartoons. Note the posture of the man and the woman (I didn't see Vietnamese girls with pigtails, incidentally).

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Flag Tower, Plane

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Flag Tower, Artillery

On exiting the museum, I realised there was a way to go in free - there was a coffee outlet on its premises, and it was accessible from outside through another gate. So one could slip in, ignoring the sign saying if you wanted to visit the museum you shouldn't use that door.


Vietnamese seem to have spacing issues. I saw signs like "forl ease" and "madein Vietnam".

The Vietnamese eat dog meat in winter. If I ever return to that wretched country I must try it.
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