Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A Treasure Hunt in Hanoi: Part 1

Almost a month after entering Vietnam, Angela and I finally made it to the top of the country and reached its capital. We were hoping that it might be a little cooler up here, but if anything it's been one of the more sweltering, humid places on our trip. Heat aside, though, we're quite fond with Hanoi. It's hard not to draw comparisons with its larger counterpart in the south, Ho Chi Minh, as they both share the same frantic energy, constant noisiness, and of course, way too many motorbikes. However, while HCM feels like a futuristic metropolis from a cyberpunk novel, Hanoi has a more traditional, old world quality, with its ancient, mazelike streets and Parisian-style buildings. It's also a tremendous place to simply watch and absorb the local goings on. Walking down a street in the Old Quarter, you'll encounter all sorts of curious sights: old men smoking from bamboo water pipes, bird cages hanging outside shop doors for good luck, women selling exotic fruit from poles they carry on their shoulders, and stray chihuahas scampering by your feet in search of scraps.

As always, we did our share of touristy, sightseeing activities, only this time there was a twist. It so happened that we were in Hanoi during Angela's 26th birthday, and since we have a tradition of creating birthday treasure hunts for one another, I decided to make one for Angela in Hanoi. The morning we arrived in the city, I went straight outside to prepare the clues while Angela waited back at the hotel. The next day, on her birthday, she followed the clues from one place to the next, in the process getting to see several of Hanoi's most famous sights. It was a very successful treasure hunt, I think, and it provided a really fun, unique way of experiencing the city.

It took seventeen hours for our bus to take us from Hue to Hanoi.
In the morning, Angela woke up and found a clue under her pillow. It told her to open the wardrobe in our hotel room. Inside, she found...
...a traditional Vietnamese conical hat! Attached inside was the next clue.
Wandering through the Old Quarter in search of a lake with a red bridge.

Soon she found Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as the Lake of the Returned Sword. According to legend, in ancient times the Emperor Le Thai To took a golden, magical sword from the lake and used it to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. After the war was over, a turtle took the sword, and returned it to its rightful place at the bottom of the lake. To this day, there are still turtles living in the lake, perhaps still guarding the returned sword.
And there was the red bridge! The clue directed Angela to cross the bridge, explore the Temple of the Jade Mountain, and find the legendary turtle who returned the sword to the lake.

At the Temple of the Jade Mountain.

Is this the turtle we're looking for?
Aha! Surely this must be it?
In the woodwork surrounding the turtle was another clue.

The next clue said to head 900 metres north of the lake, passing through the Old Quarter, where Angela would find Dong Xuan Market and do some free birthday shopping.

Dong Xuan Market, a treasure trove of trinkets and clothes.
Doing some clothes shopping.
The next clue directed Angela through this alleyway.
A very common sight in Hanoi: birdcages hanging outside shop windows for good luck.
The alleyway led us to...
...the Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural, the longest ceramic mosaic in the world. Angela had to follow the mural southward, and once again find the turtle with the golden sword.
The mural goes on for about four kilometres, incorporating hundreds of colourful creations by local Vietnamese artists and school children.

At last, the turtle with the golden sword!
Finding the next clue under a rock at the hilt of the sword.
The clue directed Angela back into the Old Quarter to find "the Green Tangerine..."
...which happened to be a restaurant located in a beautifully restored French colonial house.
Inside, a member of staff, named Long, gave Angela her next clue.
But before continuing the treasure hunt, it was time for some delicious Franco-Vietnamese cuisine!

I had boneless chicken leg stuffed with currants, almonds, black mushrooms and spices from the market served with a lotus and artichoke flower in French dressing.
Angela had Australian imported steak, "ngo" herb marinated in roquefort cheese and strawberry, served with sliced potatoes baked in cream and fresh strawberries on a "ca bung" sauce. Needless to say, this meal was much more extravagant and sophisticated than we're used to, and it tasted divine.

Click here to continue the treasure hunt in Part 2!

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