After the chaos in Ho Chi Minh City we were girding for traffic in Hanoi but it was not quite as bad or maybe we are just used to the traffic rules. We were definitely better able to navigate the streets. We completed our schooling and enjoyed an overcast cool Friday afternoon. So after having amazing weather for the first two months of our trip it appears that our Ha Long Bay trip might be a bit cooler and rainier than anticipated.
After school we grabbed lunch in one of the tiny street side local stalls, I think I was the only one who enjoyed the lunch, it was very meat centric and very local; there was quite a few peculiar foods and sauces and the food was not particularly warm. After lunch we headed out to Hoan Kiem Lake or lake of the returned sword. The mythology of the lake is that an ancient king of Vietnam was taking a boat ride on the lake when a golden turtle arrived and asked for the sword from the king, the king obliged and gave the sword to the turtle. The king needed the sword again for conquests against the Chinese but always returned it to the lake and the turtle. The legend also states that if a turtle returns and gives you the sword you are the rightful leader of Vietnam.
We walked around the lake and entered the Jade temple dedicated to the rare Yangtze Giant Soft-shell Turtle that once resided in the lake, and is the subject of the myth. The entrance was an amazing red bridge through several arches leading to the island with the temple. The island has a mummified 6 foot Yangtze Soft-shell Turtle on display to show you what they look like. As we were walking around we looked in the water and saw a turtle in the water, it was small less than a foot long. At first I thought it was fake but then it started moving. Could this be a baby giant soft-shell turtle? We took pictures and really felt quite lucky to have seen the turtle, it even poked it’s head out of the water to breathe.
I did some research about the turtle and learned there are only three left in the world and they are huge; they are also having trouble getting them to produce offspring. So the turtle we saw must not be one of the rarest species. Our hotel concierge did say it was very rare to see them and that they only come to the surface once a year and being right after Tet it is especially auspicious. We walked around the rest of the lake and visited the french quarter of Hanoi, the architecture changed and we noticed lots of old building like you would see in Paris. We stopped and had coffee and hot chocolates, I tried, after much goading from Maddy, an egg coffee. It had a thick layer of yellow foam on top of the coffee. We found out it was egg yolk, condensed milk and sugar. It was quite a drink, I was jittery for the rest of the day.
We paid the remaining bill on our cruise and wandered around a bit more before hopping onto two Tuk Tuks and heading back to our hotel.
That night my water polo friend Kathy arrived into town, she arrived late but we met up with her in the hotel and chatted. She is joining us for the Ha Long Bay cruise adventure that starts the next day.