Thursday, 16 February 2012

Hanoi, Tuesday 14th February 2012

Air force museum, Hanoi

A tip off that the Vietnamese Air force have a museum in Hanoi and research via Google locates the place, all I need now is to figure out which of the city buses stop there. After an unlimited supply of eggs and coffee it's more research, this time on the Hanoi bus website. Luckily they have a bus map and it's in English, now all I have to do is match this with the tourist map. After an hour of deliberation, bus number 19 is the one that stops closest to the museum, leaving from the bus stand located on the southern edge of the old quarter, right beside the main highway.

Don't really need to follow the map since following the main north south highway should in theory be enough to find the bus stand, but I have it anyway, crossing off intersections on the way. Of note, there is a museum dedicated to history according to the map, just about 25 minutes walking from the hotel. Five more minutes and a rough patch of ground with several buses parked up. Bus 19 is there waiting for passengers, of which I am the first. No English is spoken, so I have to point at the map, and the man beckons. The ticket is just 3000 vnd, about 10p. Map in hand checking off streets and intersections as the journey progresses. The bus soon fills up, and more! Tightly packed, like sardines and getting off could be challenging.

Travelling through relatively light lunchtime traffic, it's a good opportunity to see neighbourhoods away from the old quarter, and it's clear the old quarter isn't such a bad place to be. Densely packed buildings like building blocks line the roads. Its impossible to see anything beyond the mass of concrete, 3 or sometimes 4 floors high. The bus stops opposite what looks like a rather large military complex, numerous guards are hanging around the gates. It's defiantly a fight to get off, but I make it just as the bus starts to pull away again.

The museum is located on the far right of the complex. Plenty of military hardware laid out in neat rows, but it's a 10 minute Wait before I can wander around the outside at least. The outside area opens at 1 pm but the main building opens at 2 pm! A good selection of Soviet cold war fighter jets, a few light planes and a huge helicopter, again from the soviet cold war era. A few guns, tanks and a selection of captured American planes in various states of repair, including the complete wreck of a U.S. Navy phantom. Inside, and there are comprehensive displays giving visitors a complete history of the Vietnam Air force and of course a detailed display of artifacts from the American war. 3 hours to see the whole thing, costing 25,000 vnd, about 80p. A good afternoon out for aviation and military history enthusiasts. No cafe or tea stall inside though, so stocking up beforehand isn't a bad idea!

The bus stand heading back is virtually outside the gate. Two buses approaching, 16 then 19, good. The bus is full to bursting but there is just room enough for a few more - good job I' m only a small person. Another 3000 vnd is handed over and firmly grabbing on to the straps as the bus pulls away. The road is busy approaching rush hour, which is 4-6pm in Hanoi. Hundreds of motorbikes, cycles, carts and people fighting for space. Bus driver continually on the horn as he pushes through the mayhem. It is total mayhem, but amazingly, no one is knocked over - some interesting video footage when I get back to the UK, just remind me.

Back at the starting point 35 minutes later. A walk back to the hotel, avoiding getting knocked down a few times as I'm forced to walk in the road. Difficult to maintain sanity at at times as the pavements are taken over by informal dining set ups and also become parking lots for motorbikes. Back at base in one piece, collapse into a pile on the bed...

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