Carrying cumquat trees for Tet
Hanoi is a city difficult not to love.  After finding a hotel in the Old Quarter, we set off exploring its narrow streets.  Historically, each street in the Old Quarter was devoted to selling a certain product, from which it received its name – Flower Street selling flowers, Shoe Street selling shoes and Fish Street selling an array of freshly caught fish.  Around every corner, you are bombarded with sights and smells that are quintessentially Asian.  Outside the Old Quarter, you will find a fairly modern city filled with government buildings (Hanoi is the capitol city of Vietnam), beautifully restored temples and French colonial buildings and gorgeous, tree-lined lakes.
Streets of Hanoi
For us, Hanoi’s vibrance was only enhanced by the upcoming holiday of Tet.  For the Vietnamese, Tet is THE holiday.  Celebrated on the days before and after the start of the Lunar New Year (which falls on February 7th this year), it is when almost everyone returns home to their families.  For a traveler, it is a unique time to be here.  The whole city of Hanoi was filled with vendors selling flowers on every empty sidewalk, markets filled to the brim with shoppers buying food made only during this time of year and streets packed with motorbikes and people trying to make all their last-minute purchases.

In addition to its many temples and lakes, one of Hanoi’s big draws is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  Ho Chi Minh is a hero without rivals in Vietnam.  After founding the Community Party in Vietnam, he made it his mission to expel the French colonists from the country.  Ultimately, the French left Vietnam after being defeated by Ho and the gang in 1954 at the battle of Dien Bien Phu, ensuring that Ho would be worshipped as Vietnam’s saviour for generations to come.
Streets of Hanoi
You can’t walk 100 feet in Hanoi (or in virtually every other city in Vietnam) without seeing a statue of Ho or a building or road named after him.  The ultimate memorial is located in a beautiful park in the center of the city where, in a small building, Ho Chi Minh’s body has been embalmed and is open for viewing.  It is an odd memorial to a man who lived a fairly simple life and had specifically requested a basic cremation.

As you are rushed through the small room where his body lies, you are required to dress appropriately, walk quickly, not carry anything with you (especially cameras and phones) and maintain complete silence.  I was especially concerned with this last requirement since silence has never been a virtue of Shanna’s.  Sure enough, within seconds of entering the mausoleum Shanna began talking only to be quickly hushed by one of the many gun-wielding guards.  As I walked past Ho’s body, I was struck by the peaceful nature he exhibited and by his remarkable resemblance to Colonel Sanders.  Perhaps KFC Vietnam has found its mascot?

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