Hanoi and around

Between Pagodas and Ho Chi Minh: In the Capital of Vietnam

Even if the proportion of old houses in the old town is no longer particularly high due to the wars, the city has flair, thanks to the lakes, the many trees… A few old pagodas, like the Temple of Literature, which was already a kind of university about 1000 years ago.

I join the long queue of pilgrims in front of Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. It takes me a good hour to get inside, up the stairs and slowly I circle Ho, who lies in his glass coffin like a pale ghost like only Lenin and Mao. So this is what has become of the revolution … This cult around one person, when it was precisely the masses who chased out the French and then the Americans and finally put an end to the feudal system. The French, with their lotus-eating lifestyle typical of colonial masters, had only added drudgery in mines and coffee, tea and rubber plantations to the feudalism introduced by the Chinese. Otherwise, they prided themselves on having built more prisons than schools. Even though the cult of Ho was no less during his lifetime, the mummification is against his will: he actually wanted to be cremated. He must have been quite an interesting person, 29 years spent in precarious jobs in New York, London, Paris, Shanghai, Madagascar, India, Tunisia, Russia…. Even now he travels once a year, every December he is taken by Transsib to Moscow for a spa treatment. Because only the Russians know how to do it with mummies…

In the evening, I sit on a tiny plastic stool on a street corner in the old town and drink freshly tapped beer with the proletarians. The guys know English as well as I know Vietnamese, but we talk with hands and feet. Then one insists on paying my bill …

As if I hadn’t had enough of motorbikes from the Northwest Circuit, I rent one for 2 days and ride to the Perfume Pagoda and Tam Coc. In both cases, the karst landscape is similar to that of Halong Bay, but without the sea. At the pagoda it is pilgrimage time and thousands of Vietnamese have themselves rowed there in a boat to then climb the mountain. The “pagoda” is a large cave with several small altars, crammed with people. The Vietnamese religion is a strange mix of Buddhism, Confucius and ancestor worship. Well, I’m getting a bit tired of pagodas… Tam Coc is often called “Halong Bay on the rice paddies”. I take a rowing boat on the quiet, narrow river that meanders through the gorges. The valley floor is flat with lush rice paddies, a harsh contrast to the vertical grey limestone cliffs. Every now and then, the gorge ends with a bar of steep rock faces and we row through a short cave.

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