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HCM's mausoleum
Colourful goo (hardware shop)
Incense-sniffing dragons
Noodles, lime and chillies

Today was our last day in Hanoi. We headed for the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum complex, knowing that most of the buildings would be closed but wanting to have a look anyway. Our taxi finally stopped to let us out after yet another circuitous drive that ended up costing much more than it needed to. They are devious little chaps but I suppose we are fair game as foreign tourists.

We were dropped by the Ho Chi Minh museum, a huge concrete monstrosity set in landscaped gardens. It was all locked up for the day but the staff were inside all munching away on a break. Close to the museum was a small pagoda built on one pillar. The original structure was about one thousand years old and was built in the form of a lotus flower. Before they left Hanoi in 1954 the French decided to destroy the pagoda so the current one is a recent reconstruction, something that is a familiar story in Vietnam. A small temple was by the pagoda with an enclosed garden courtyard full of colourful flowers.

Further into the complex is Uncle Ho’s mausoleum. For someone who wanted to be cremated he must be steaming mad to see what they have done to him. The mausoleum is a huge sombre building. People we met on the boat in Halong Bay made it inside to see him. His preserved remains are in a glass case with spotlights focussing on his hands and face. Groups of twenty people are allowed in at a time and have to walk slowly around the glass coffin, with heads bowed. Any straying across the lines marked on the floor is met with a swift rebuke from the guards. We looked on from the outside and timed our visit to see them changing the guard outside.

From here we walked down to the Temple of Literature. What I thought would be a short cut was not but it took us down a road selling pretty much everything you can buy in B&Q. Shops had big bags of brightly coloured paint dye lined up in rows out front. Another had big bowls of what looked like grease but they were all different colours so it must have been some type of grouting or sealant. Yet others seemed to be full of second hand power tools, all line dup neatly as if they were brand new. It made for an interesting diversion.

We ended up walking around most of the outside of the Temple before finding the entrance. It was a real surprise and great place to while away a few hours out of the hustle and bustle of central Hanoi. Founded in 1070 by the Emperor Ly Thang Tong it is a monument to academics. It was dedicated to Confucius and was the site of the first university in Vietnam. Wealthy families sent their sons here to be educated and to pass the exams needed to enable them to work in positions of high office.

The grounds are laid out in a number of courtyards with buildings off to either side. The first courtyard is gardens with two lotus pools either side of the path and flower beds that run down the middle. A gate leads through into a second courtyard which is dominated by a large pool. Either side buildings house large stone plaques which record the names of the people who successfully passed the examinations here. The next courtyard is a wide open square with a temple style building at the north end used for public meetings and performances.

As I walked through a small orchestra were playing traditional music. It was similar to the music we had heard at the Puppet Theatre and in southern China. One lady was playing a set of pan pipes but with a difference. These were large and were set horizontally on a frame. To play the pipes she clapped her hands in front of them, the resulting rush of air producing the sound. To me it looked as if it must be more difficult than blowing into them but I suppose it all just boils down to technique and practice. Behind this hall the final building was dedicated to Confucius with big statues of him and his key students.

The whole site had a calming aura about it and I could picture it being a seat of learning in previous times. It reminded me of the Confucian Examination house we had seen in Lijiang in China. Today though we had timed our visit just right. As we were preparing to leave we encountered a large tour group who were either from eastern Europe or Russia. They all had the same daypacks, issued by the tour company, and were pushing and barging through to get where they wanted to be irrespective of whether someone else was already on the spot of ground they wanted to be on.

From the Temple we started to amble back into town, stopping on the way for lunch. We found a really great place that is not in Lonely Planet. It is on Pahn Boi Chau just past the IpaNima shop which is in Lonely Planet. The restaurant was a large open air courtyard sheltered under a yellow parasol. Around the edge were lots of small kitchens, each specialising in a different type of food. There was a choice of tables, either low tables with Vietnamese bench style seats or more standard Western seating. We were the only non Asian people in there and it was fantastic. We had really tasty food, including a Vietnamese style Peking Duck (which had no duck). There were “pancakes” made out of rice paper onto which you put a small square of noodles, spring onions, peanuts, leaves of different types of herbs, star fruit, cucumber and small pieces of sausages. Once rolled up it was dipped into a vinegary chilli sauce. Delicious.

We decided we were all done in and headed back to the hotel. The traffic today was even more manic than yesterday so we walked back to the hotel for the last time and ended up spending another relaxing night in doing not an awful lot.