Scotsabroad's Weblog

April 9, 2013

Old and New

Filed under: Holidays — scotsabroad @ 9:24 pm

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We returned late on Saturday evening having spent another fantastic holiday in Vietnam. This time we explored the North. We also met up with the Descalzo family – some very dear friends from our time in Cairo.

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But first the boys had a date at the new Legoland in Malaysia. We flew in to Singapore thinking that the crossing into Malaysia would be easy. It was not. The Woodlands Checkpoint is a vast complex at the end of the causeway. We had to get off and on different buses carrying our luggage, walk through and queue at two busy passport controls. A stamp leaving Singapore and a stamp entering Malaysia. It took over an hour to get through. We stayed at Air Asia’s Tunes Hotel in Johor. Cheap and cheerful next to an excellent Indian restaurant called 7 Spice – and only twenty minutes drive from Legoland. I’m going to try and get the boys to blog about their day there.

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The following day we headed back across to Singapore. Shona had recently found out about a relative who had lived in Singapore and the whereabouts of the cemetery he was buried in. David Galloway was a well-respected and influential doctor in the colony. On the final walk up to the cemetery from the metro station we heard pipe band music. It turned out that the cemetery is next to a Gurkha police barracks and it was their band we could hear rehearsing. We found the grave quite easily in a well-tended part – just before the heavens opened.


We flew from Singapore to Hanoi. No massive wait this time for our visas. We checked into a great hotel called the Hanoi Elegance Diamond.

Our first glimpse of Hanoi was at night. Our hotel was in the old quarter close to Lake Hoan Kiem, meaning The Lake of the Returned Sword. We walked around the lake and returned to our hotel’s rooftop restaurant for food. Next day we explored the city. A heavy, washed-out sky that never changed. First stop was the Museum of Vietnamese Revolution. Our intention had been to visit the History Museum but we ended up next door. The museum celebrated the never-ending struggle the country has endured for centuries against Chinese, French, British and American aggression and oppression. Gruesome photographs and homemade revolutionary flags, personal items from revered revolutionaries, many of them women, made this a worthwhile visit.


I had always wondered what the stick-like weapon with the three prongs was used for, shown in revolutionary posters and now in the hands of many statues in the street. We found out they were suicidal anti-tank weapons – requiring the bomber to run at the tank and basically prod it. Amazing bravery. In the final room upstairs sat a guillotine from the French built prison of Hoa Lo. The information accompanying the guillotine stated bluntly that it was used by the French to execute political prisoners right up until the 1950s. The Americans then used it for a while. Barbaric. Lucas was very upset.

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We walked out to find some bookshops and then visited the Vietnamese Woman’s Museum. Although the boys were not taken with the Women’s fashion floor this was a great wee museum – with other floors explaining rituals, marriage customs, childbirth and family life and the significant role of women defending the nation. There was a fascinating exhibition, Worshipping Mother Goddess – a purely Vietnamese folk belief. Still widely practiced the worship addresses the concerns of daily life and desires for good health and fortune. Basically, a lot of colourful dressing up, dancing, singing and women getting together at the temple.

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Then finally we visited the Temple of Literature. Next to the university, I think it was built to celebrate Confucius. The names of prominent graduates from the university are carved on large tablets carried on the backs of stone tortoises. Modern day students come to rub the tortoise’s nose for luck during exam time. Outside the temple vendors and street hawkers lined the walls. Open-air barbers hung mirrors on the walls and sat on their own chairs waiting for customers. Cairo declined the chance for a quick trim.

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With the Descalzo family we headed off to the ancient capital of Hoa Lu. We visited Trang An and the grottoes. We hired small boats and we were rowed through an incredible waterway and under mountains.

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Our ferry-woman started rowing with her feet and had incredible stamina. Lucas fell asleep in our boat. The silence was amazing.

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We had lunch at a local restaurant (the boys tasted roasted goat) and then hired some old bikes and cycled to a temple. Then it was back to Hanoi to catch the train to Lao Cai.

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On our return to Hanoi we spent our last day doing some shopping in a brand new mall. We also visited the Fine Arts Museum. Not a patch on the one in Saigon – too much bad revolutionary art and the ceramic rooms were closed – but interesting enough. Cool painting of a familiar looking fella having a satisfying smoke.

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We also paid our respects to the great man and visited his mausoleum. Very strict security and decorum as we walked past the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh. We walked through the Presidential Palace grounds.

This is the last time I venture anywhere without a Rough Guide or a Lonely Planet. I really missed all the additional information about places we visited and the little quirky stories you often find in them. Also, I think we will be back in Vietnam.



  1. Wow just love looking at your blog, you have been to some amazing places. love to you all Ann x x x

    Comment by Ann — April 10, 2013 @ 2:49 am | Reply

  2. Shona’s What’s App had wet our appetite for another fascinating entry in the blog, excellent entry, loved the wee reference to Lucas being asleep in the boat Ian and Linda

    Comment by gordon — April 11, 2013 @ 2:19 am | Reply

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