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Hanoi

8 million people,and at least as many scooters call Hanoi home, “beep, beep, beep … “ a walk through this beautiful, noisy chaotic city is a travellers dream!

There’s a beautiful lake on the edge of old town, with a wide walking boulevard built for strolling. We joined in with throngs of people all enjoying the holiday atmosphere of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year and it’s most coveted holiday.

Our hotel, the Olympus Old Quarter is located in the heart of old Hanoi. We have four attentive staff hovering around the front desk ready to assist us with anything we might need. Our key card doesn’t work, so we must be let into our room morning noon and night with the master key, of which there is only one and it is almost always misplaced, causing brief panics. This is our first stop in Vietnam, and we will be leaving it with an excellent impression.

Museums

Our intent is to start our Vietnam adventure by learning as much as possible about this country and it’s rich but violent history. For that we set out to visit as many museums as possible in our two day stay. Unfortunately, we have arrived on day 4 of Tet, and many of the museums are still closed, opening tomorrow.

The Hoa Lo Prison

Famously nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by American prisoners of war, we spent a sobering two hours here.  Many leaders of the current communist government spent time here. They were revolutionaries of their day, and there are many stories of how brave they were. Imprisoned women had there own wing, and faced a special kind of horror. There are many stories of how well the American’s were treated during their time here and an odd respect for the country that caused them so much suffering. The French influence is alive and well in the guillotine room.

The War Museum

If you’ve ever toured a war museum with my husband, you’d know what I mean when I say it makes a stay at the Hanoi Hilton look desirable. Ray was in heaven. Even I must admit it was interesting, mainly because most of the relics are from the Vietnam war I remember watching play out on TV. As I stood underneath a helicopter, I could feel the terror one must have felt on the ground hearing them overhead. There’s a display of crashed airplanes, sort of amalgamated into a horrific sculpture of destruction in the main courtyard. We passed a rather pleasant morning among the rusty old relics.

The Temple of Literature

To appease me after hours of war, we headed straight to the Temple of Literature. I think I’d put a first choice award on this one. Here we learned to appreciate the emphasis this culture puts on education, and has for thousands of years. I read about the tests for the ruling class. Excelling students would sit for exams, and the brightest of the bright would continue to move on. In this way they picked the most intelligent people to rule. Can you imagine that in the west?

There are beautiful carved scrolls, with the names and dates of all the rulers and scholars going back thousands of years. During the Vietnam war these treasures were covered and buried to protect them from the American bombs.

My western naivety led me to think of Confucius as just a philosopher. The Temple of Literature is full of statues of Confucius, he is revered almost like Buddha. There are incense pyres burning and people come here to pray and leave gifts (money) at the feet of his likeness.

The grounds of the Temple of Literature are green and lush, with fountains and pools and flowers. It’s a beautiful place to celebrate knowledge and education. I bought a plain, blank journal here.

The History Museum

“I don’t think we have time,” says Ray, after blowing all morning with the tanks and airplanes. “Yes we do,” I insist. We arrived at the history museum 20 minutes before closing. Luckily the entrance to these places is cheap – between 30,000 and 40,000 dong per person or $2 to $3.

The history museum could warrant half a day. Bit of a shame we had to rush through but what we saw was amazing. There are artifacts here that are 2500 years old and completely intact. There are bronze drums and funeral baskets in perfect condition, but there were even beautiful displays of pottery that old.

We stayed until the guards yelled at us and chased us out. I even walked through a gallery in the dark, when I thought he didn’t see me.

Hanoi Food

Life is lived on the sidewalks here. There might be indoor restaurants, but why would you bother? It’s just fabulous to take a seat on a tiny plastic stool, beside a flimsy plastic table and watch the world go by while you eat. People and scooters are all competing for space with the restaurants and shops.

We arrived tired and hungry our first night in Hanoi, and just plunked our large selves onto those tiny stools at a place around the corner. They didn’t have a menu, they just served BBQ, and Hanoi beer. They bring the BBQ right to your table along with a platter piled high with food. Ours had chicken and beef and vegetables and weird mushrooms. We watched our neighbours and started cooking and eating. It was delicious. The hot pot is similar but you are cooking with spicy broth. Our hot pot the next night was seafood, prawns and squid and octopus.

We bumped into new friends Elaine and Brien. We’d met them in Bryce Canyon, Utah and then again on Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Now here we are cooking hot pot in Vietnam on the street. Small world.

Scooters

You can’t write about Hanoi without mentioning the scooters. The roads are clogged with them and there seems to be very few rules. Texting for instance, I saw so much of this. Red lights are only a suggestion. Our hotel left us instructions for crossing the street. You need to stride confidently out into the traffic, make eye contact and never step back, the scooters are swerving behind you. The scooters all park on the sidewalks, which are all full of something, shops, parking, eating – so pedestrians must use the street, a death defying experience.

Train Road

We accidentally defied the law and had beers and spring rolls on infamous train road. Twice a day, the train passes by this road mere inches from the shops and restaurants here. I’ve read it’s a terrifying experience. The government has decided to close it for safety reasons, but the shop owners aren’t pleased. We walked past a barrier and took a seat just inside the banned area with no resistance, and then watched while police with whistles tried to prevent others from doing the same. Another couple got through and joined us, and we spent a wonderful hour of entertainment, drinks and conversation. No train went by, but where we exited there was heavy police presence.

It’s time for a little break from the pace. Off to board a junk boat in Ha long Bay for a few days.

 

 

Hiking Doi Inthanon National Park
Halong Bay, Vietnam

One Response to Hanoi

  1. Awesome read my friend. You need to start selling your writing blogs to travel magazines or papers.

    Christine Spinney February 1, 2020 at 10:20 am Reply

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