Drinking at the Bia Hoi, Visiting a Preserved Icon and Eating Cobra: A week in Hanoi

After being constantly on the go for almost four months you find yourself craving a place you can temporarily call home. Needing to extend our visas was a perfect excuse for us and we shacked up in Hanoi for just over a week. At the beginning of our time in Vietnam I never would have guessed that I would want to stay longer -the constant noise and pace of this country isn’t exactly relaxing – but it has a way of sneaking up on you and blowing a big intrusive air horn in your ear. Joking (kind of) but we’ve found ourselves not ready to leave.

By the time we found the centre of town it was after dark which meant that we grabbed the first guesthouse we could find and ended up right on the corner of the Bia Hoi strip. Bia Hoi’s spill out onto the sidewalk around happy our serving 25 cent draft beers and fresh peanuts. At midnight they either promptly shut down for curfew or usher you into a hidden hallway in their home. The latter happened to us on the first night and we sat with a few friends and ducked the cops. For the next week the owner, a fairly aggressive woman even by Vietnamese standards, would spot us down the block and not let us drink anywhere else.

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Heading into Hanoi from out of town.

After a few failed attempts at getting up early enough (probably a lot to do with being next to the bia hoi) we finally visited the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. Before visiting Vietnam I had no idea how iconic and beloved Uncle Ho was to the Vietnamese people. I think there must be more statues of him — hugging children, smoking a cigarette, making a speech — than anyone else in history. Every town, big or small, has a statue of their hero. He was so important that they decided to preserve and display his dead body for visitors and Vietnamese people alike. The mausoleum is located on the site where he read the declaration of independence in 1945. So we lined up with hundreds of (cute!) uniformed school kids and a bunch of other curious tourists for a peak. It lasts about 15 seconds (if you drag your feet a bit) and is worth every second. You silently shuffle in two rows under the watchful eyes of military guards making sure there’s no one revealing too much skin, crossing their arms, putting their hands in their pockets or showing any other sign of disrespect. You almost expect him to be larger than life, but like most Vietnamese he’s quite small. Lying in a glass case under dim lights, every hair is meticulously groomed and placed just so and his skin looks well moisturized and smooth. It’s a surreal experience seeing him in the not-so-living flesh and it was well worth the wait.

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Great sign.

Ahh and finally we come to the cobra. Ever since Jesse got the idea of shooting back a beating snake heart I wasn’t exactly pursuing the idea, but on our last night in Hanoi it couldn’t be put off any longer and we headed out of town to a ‘snake village’ for our ‘dinner.’ When we first arrived very few other guests ere there and we had the full attention of the staff. They were quite amused at my fear of snakes! After a bit of bargaining we chose a live cobra and took a seat on the floor with a low table. I’ll spare you the gory details (and video) of them killing the snake but we ended up with a warm shot of blood, a heart (for Jesse) and snake served seven different ways. I can’t say I enjoyed this experience too much – it’s a bit too gruesome seeing your dinner killed in front of you. I think I should recommit myself to eating vegetarian!!!

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The crime scene.
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An overhead shot of our table: 6 of our 7 snake dishes.
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Bon Appetite!
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