Thursday, July 10, 2008

South Central Hanoi

One of the 3 bridges around Bay Mau Lake at Thong Nhat Park, South Hanoi area.


I didn’t want to take the taxi to get to Thong Nhat Park located south of the city center. After “recharging” in Roma Café, I walked to the next block and spotted 3 parked motorbikes around the corner. Two of their drivers were offering their bikes for a ride. I went to the one who seemed uninterested. Most of the time, as per experience, these are the people who wont “take you for a ride”. Hindi makulit eh! I took my map from my knapsack and spread it before him. Many of these Vietnamese are cartographically clueless. You have to orient them using popular tourist spots first. I pointed at Hoan Kiem Lake and the Hotay, then where we were supposed to be standing near the Hanoi Hilton. Then, I said I wanted to go to Thong Nhat Park, pointing to the extreme south lake area in the map. He nodded. “How much?” I asked. After saying 35,000 dong, I vigorously shook my head and said, 25,000. He nodded. Just to make sure we understood each other, I wrote “25,000”. This written note was gonna be an assurance if he suddenly decides to ask for more once we were at the agreed drop off. He agreed and off we went. Easy.


I never ride motorbikes. Bawal sa bahay. My mother would scalp me if she knew. LOL. I learned my backride in Saigon during my first visit last year, then again in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This time, I reached behind me, tightly clasping the small rail at the back of the bike. The locals have made backrides an art – reading novels, carrying TV sets with them, nursing a baby, I even saw one clipping his nails – ridiculous! The ride took a good 25 minutes so I knew that 25,000 dong was a good prize – and there wasn’t much of a haggling involved. He dropped me in front of Thong Nhat Park’s main gate. I handed him my helmet and said thanks. Unlike Hoan Kiem Lake and the West Lake (Hotay), other Hanoi lakes require an entrance fee, like Thu Le Lake. I paid 5,000 dong to get in.


What greeted me was a tree-lined avenue that leads to the Bay Mau Lake. I tried reading the painted map that stood nearby then sat on a bench to see people walk by. There was hardly anyone there, so I started walking towards the lake. The promenade is beautiful but neglect is fast showing. There were fishes in the lake. I decided to walk “around” the lake. This was going to be an effort. Bay Mau is bigger than Hoan Kiem. I knew I had to just leisurely walk around. What’s the rush. There was a flurry of minor activities. People jogging. Fishing. A dog was playfully running after the birds in the area. The funny thing was, his leash dragged noisily on the asphalt as he leapt around the park, sending early warnings to the birds. True enough, the whole leisurely walk took an hour. One full hour!


One thing I've noticed around Vietnamese parks whether here in Thong Nhat, Thu Le, Hotay, Hoan Kiem or even around the Ben Thanh Park in Saigon is the ubiquitous presence of frisky lovers. Just when you thought that our Viet brethrens are conservatives in ways of public displays of affection and their carnal predilection, think again! Everywhere you look, there are lovers going at it! Making out, i mean! Hot and heavy petting, with girls sitting on their gentlemen's laps, they would make you blush! These Viet lovers are way too passionate and they don't seem to mind going at it in public. Laplapan ng laplapan. Baka walang pang motel. LOL. Afterall, city life in Vietnam is still a difficult life to live for the common folk - and probably 95% of its population wallow in dire poverty. I have been tempted several times to document these public dalliances pero ayokong maakusahang pervert. Haha. I just thought it would make a great subject for a photo essay.


I was tired by the time I got back to the main gate. Outside, I saw their
Circus Theatre. Across the street is an annexed lake, Thien Quang Lake. I crossed the street and headed towards the nearby Hotel Nikko. Nothing there. I checked the map several times and checked out some focal spots. Am gonna walk – again! I noticed a pagoda, Quan Su Pagoda, where a throng gathers outside. Incense was being burned around the temple so there was smoke all around, ashes floating on air. Along the road, I saw the Museum of Social Security, and an expo center called Huu Nghi Cultural Palace. I walked east along Pho Ly Thuong. Melia Hanoi Hotel loomed large and looked expensive. Cuban Embassy. A Women Museum. I turned right to Ba Trieu. Heyyyyy, wait! Vinaconnex – the MALL! Ang layo na naman ng nalakad ko. Hehe. I needed to recharge and plan so I went inside a café, Klever Juice, right across Vinaconnex. I ordered an avocado juice topped with mango ice cream and fried spring rolls at 45,000 dong each.


Earlier in the day, I decided not to stay on. I have seen new things in Hanoi so my
“stopover” won’t be for naught. I purchased a bus seat for this scary and exciting border crossing to Laos! Someone was going to pick me up at 5PM and take me to my bus. The bus leaves at 7PM tonight and will probably take 2 ½ days to get to Luang Prabang in north of Laos! The people at my hotel are in the dark as to the details (Which border? Opening and closing time at the border? How long it will take to get to the border? Then into Luang Prabang?) All these questions were left unanswered.

I am a bit scared. I hate borders. Besides, there is something mortifying about the
“unknown”. They weren’t even sure what day we would get there! F__ck! I knew it was going to be like this. Let it roll! (Or rak 'en rol!)

I was amazed with this tree. It has about a dozen root base and poles were put in place to support some of the branches. What a freaky tree!

Thong Nhat Park and Bay Mau Lake

Circus Theatre (located just beside the entrance of the park). Across it and a block away are Hotel Nikko and the smaller Thien Quang Lake.

The faithful praying at the Quan Su Pagoda.

Random Expenses:

• Xe om (motorbike taxi aka backride) – $1.40 or 25,000 dong or PhP63
• Park Entrance (Thong Nhat Park) – $0.29 or 5,000 dong or PhP13
• Dessert (Avocado juice topped with mango ice cream)@
Klever Juice Cafe – $2.60 or 45,000 dong or PhP117
• Fried Spring Rolls @ Klever Juice Café – $2.60 or 45,000 dong or PhP117

This is the Eye in the Sky!

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