One of us, and I’m not saying who, has got rocks in her head

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Southeast Asia 2017
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Today started, much like yesterday, with noodley soup. Here’s some sacrilege: noodley soup that may be even better than Pho. Bun Bo Hue. And not just any Bun Bo Hue, but the best kind: the kind eaten while watching a man repair the exhaust on a scooter.

Walking the city in the morning allows you to see all the children beginning school for the day. You can hear (and occasionally catch a glimpse) as they do their choreographed morning routines in courtyards throughout the city.

Our first stop, after bun bo hue and coffee, was the Geological Museum. It’s a neat space – samples from all over Vietnam, which some good insight into the history of the country along the way. You can see the sample collection happening in fits and starts over the 20th century, with a mix of French and Russian equipment. We were the only tourists there – the only other visitors were a group of Vietnamese students. There were a few cases on gem resources in Vietnam and Kat was itching to buy some local stones to set herself – unfortunately we had not done our homework for this trip on where to buy stones.

From the Geological Museum, we went around the corner to the National Museum, which is in the midst of some renovation for a new exhibit. This Museum mostly focuses on the early history of Vietnam, with many artifacts dating from pre-history through the 18th century. Kat had her museum exhibit design hat on – most of the exhibits are old, and reflect an earlier approach to conversation. But one exhibit was much newer and was put together beautifully. There were some gorgeous wooden Buddhas as well, dating to the 4th – 6th century.


Sufficiently cultured, we set out for Dong Xuan market. En route, our wanderings then brought us past a storefront selling sesame balls – a favorite from the Hmong Market back in Saint Paul. Of course we had to partake.

The market is a fun experience, as long as you don’t think about what would happen in a fire. There are hundreds of vendors for any given item – fabric, toys, hats, and so on. Many of the vendors were asleep on their piles of goods. Often they have to climb on top of the stacks to maneuver through the narrow slits. Kat decided that buying some fabric would be a good adventure, so we explored the various silks and silk-like-items, before settling on one. Being unskilled at things like bargaining, we definitely paid too much, but it was more about the experience.

We had a long walk to our last cultural stop for the day so we decided to grab a quick coffee. Unfortunately this turned out to be our only poor choice of the trip thus far – an exceedingly loud karaoke cafe across the street from the Japanese Embassy. We downed our caffeine quickly and headed back out into the sea of scooters.

Finally we arrived at the Museum of Ethnology, which has just opened a large new building dedicated to Southeast Asian culture. We ran into our second group of art students who were scattered around drawing the exhibits (the first group had been outside practicing their perspective drawing). The real highlight of the museum is all of the traditional buildings which have been built in the space, and which are open for exploration. It’s a place that would be really great with a super well informed guide – it’s hard to wrap your head around why some of the buildings are designed the way they are, without the context of their natural surroundings.

We were dragging by this point. The walk to the Museum of Ethnology was about 5 miles, and along some very noisy streets. Rather than repeat the journey back, we caught an Uber, which also provided a chance to experience riding in rush hour traffic.
Kat took some great video, which we’ll post at some point. At one point, we got pulled over – maybe for turning down a street we weren’t supposed to be on? It’s not clear exactly what was the cause, or what ended up resolving it, but eventually we were back on our way.

After a rest, a snack, and a shower, we left for dinner and the Water Puppet Theater. We found a place that looked heavily populated with locals and sat down to order “what they’re having”. This turned out to be a plate of rice with assorted veggies and proteins and a small bowl of broth – both of which were very satisfying.

Fueled up, we wandered around the lake until it was time for the puppet show. Before the puppets made an appearance, there was a performance by a woman playing a single stringed instrument that sounded very much like a theramin. It was mesmerizing to both see and hear. The puppets were delightful and explored typical scenes related to life in rural Vietnam: fishing, planting and harvesting rice, festivals, etc.. The puppets themselves were fascinating – especially the movements of the dragons and fish.

After the show we grabbed “sticky ice cream” (popsicles) and watched the lake for a while before heading back home to bed.

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