It was already night time by the time we returned to Hanoi from Ha Long, but it was time to enjoy another local favorite.
Cha Ca Thang Long
Cha Ca Thang Long was a short ride away from where we were dropped off by the tour bus. Though it was a bit late for dinner, the restaurant was still bustling with patrons. Luckily, one table opened up and we were quickly seated. It would be our first time trying cha ca, a local dish comprised of freshwater fish and herbs.
Little bowls of condiments and toppings soon graced our table: chili, spring onions, vermicelli noodles, cilantro, basil and the ever-present fish sauce. The pan arrived later with the turmeric-tinted freshwater fish piled high with green onions and dill. Everything was sauteed tableside by the staff, who then left us once his job of cooking was done. Admittedly, I am not a lover of dill, so I wasn’t sure whether I would even enjoy the dish. However, a few bites later and I was sold. I loved the freshness the herbs brought to this fatty fish, along with the interplay of salt and umami of the fish sauce and the kick of spice brought by the chili.
Our meal was interrupted by occasional roars of cheers, which came from outside the restaurant. By the time the restaurant’s biggest table left (a group of French-speaking people), the waitstaff relaxed and rushed out of the restaurant when the next loud yell was heard. It turned out that there was a football match, and every local person seemed to be into the game. In fact, as we were heading back to our hotel on foot, every street corner had its fair share of locals sitting on these short stools watching the game on the screen. This was perhaps one of the most memorable things I’ve experienced in Hanoi: the streets were quiet but there was an energy building up, only to explode once the next goal was achieved. It’s hard to capture this vibe into words, but I loved it.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
I had little intention of visiting the mausoleum itself, except to explore the grounds. All along I thought it was akin to Tian’anmen Square in Beijing where you could just roam around the grounds without having to go inside the building, but I was wrong. Getting into the memorial building seemed to be the only way to enter the grounds, and so despite my hesitation, I went through with it.
The line was long but it was moving quite quickly. I had to deposit my camera as it wasn’t allowed inside. Contrary to the locals’ friendliness, the guards here were very strict. A word or two would quickly be hushed. We had to maintain two lines at all times, and we had to move as directed. While I understood that this place requires a high degree of reverence, I also felt that I was in military camp instead of paying a visit to the dead.
There was barely anytime for me to pause and breathe before we were instructed to go inside the building. I felt a sense of grandeur as I stepped on the red carpet laid on the floor of the mausoleum. Inside, it was complete silence, except for the footsteps of the visitors.
For most of the short time we were paraded in, I was staring at the floor, but a quick glimpse let me see the former leader laid in a glass coffin in the middle of the room. Suddenly, my mind was transported back to a memory of seeing the body of a former Filipino dictator displayed for the world to see, as if waiting to receive the respect and accolade of his fellow countrymen like a much-loved ruler would have had…and then I thought, was this mausoleum the inspiration? I would never know the answer to this, but what I knew was that the number of people eager to see Ho Chi Minh was far beyond whatever trickle of visitors the former Filipino dictator had (at least in the few visits I had), and that spoke volumes.
As quickly as we were instructed to go in, we were also hastily led outside, where I was able to retrieve my camera. We were then left to roam quite freely by the grounds, where we were able to snap some photos. It was only by standing here did I realize that Ba Dinh Square was fenced, and it was really impossible to make my initial plan of just walking around the area come true.
Ho Chi Minh’s famous house on stilts was situated not far from here, but my folks had no interest in visiting the place. Other places of interest in this complex were the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the Presidential Palace, but we chose to forego everything else and head to the exit instead. I was able to quickly see the One Pillar Pagoda situated near the exit though, before our ride came to whisk us away.
More on Hanoi next time…happy (virtual) travels!