• 11 . 03 . 11
  • In which we are ripped off for transport, fail to see Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, witness a really really sick turtle and generally have a crappy day.

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Hanoi Blues

We are staying next to Hanoi’s freshwater Hoan Kiem Lake, the water in which is fresh in the same way that a newly-made corpse is; you wouldn’t want to touch it. Spare a thought then for a poor turtle, one of only 4 giant freshwater turtles left in the world, which has to live in that fetid swamp and which is slowly being poisoned by the pollution from 3 million motorbikes. Reputed to be 600 years old and credited with repelling the Chinese invasions from the North, it is now dying, slowly choked by the people who allegedly revere it.

Its illness forces it to come up for air more regularly, which is a boon for people as catching a glimpse of its head when it does so is said to be extremely lucky. As we returned from sightseeing this afternoon, there were thousands of people crowding, pushing and jostling on the lakeside trying to do just that. Intrigued, we wandered over and having a height advantage, we managed to see it. It’s not looking in great shape.

We certainly needed some luck as the day hadn’t gone particularly well until then. I’m a very positive traveller, but this was an especially trying day.

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum has the shortest opening hours in the world – 8:00am till 11:30am, closed Monday and Friday. We arrived at 11:20am, but weren’t allowed in. After being taken to a few sights by an apparently friendly rickshaw driver, he tried to charge us $50 after initially quoting $3 for the first leg. (Always, always, always get the final price beforehand, evenespecially if he’s super smiley.) We were dropped about “5 minutes” away from the hotel, and given Hanoi’s general twistiness it took us about 45 minutes to find our way back to the lake and see the crowds, by which time we were hungry, thirsty and a little despondent.

Having managed to eat something and then see the turtle, our spirits were lifted somewhat and we took it as a sign that the day was going to improve. We strolled back to the hotel and chatted to the receptionist about plans for a day spa and Halong Bay.

Then we realised Emily Benjamin’s phone had been stolen in the crowd. Lucky turtle my arse.

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