3 Days in Hanoi

We took the night train from Phong Nha and arrived in Hanoi at 5:30 AM. It could have been worse, as we arrived an hour later than scheduled! Our hostel, Hanoi Central Hostel, was very welcoming, allowing us to check in around 9 AM, and giving us breakfast and tea.

Good looking couple at the lake

Good looking couple at the lake

After a nap, we set off to explore the sites around Hanoi. We only had two days to really take in the city before we planned on leaving for a Halong Bay cruise. Our first day we walked around the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake. The Old Quarter was fun because it is a series of narrow streets, and each street has a specialty it sells (gold street, shoes street, large metal range hood street, etc). There are over 4.5 million motos on the streets of Hanoi, but it felt a little less chaotic since the streets were much smaller.

Water puppet show

Water puppet show

In our 3 weeks in Vietnam, we had yet to see one of the famous Vietnamese Water Puppet shows, so we went to a matinee at the city’s oldest theater. It was pretty impressive to see all the puppets and the things they could do (squirt water, climb trees) but we both ended up falling asleep at some point. After our nice afternoon nap we decided to call it a day.

Our second day we did a ton of walking, starting with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh memorial zone. The first stop was the mausoleum to see his embalmed body, which was much less impressive than the Kim’s bodies in DPRK. Still creepy, like every time. Next we went to his Presidential Palace, which was quite humble (his only cars were gifts from the Soviets, and he lived in a humble house on stilts and only used the palace for meetings.

Abstract art at the Ho Chi Minh Museum

Abstract art at the Ho Chi Minh Museum

The last stop was the museum, which is one of the weirdest places we’ve been in Asia. Their concept was to discuss Uncle Ho’s life and the peoples’ struggle against the French and American imperialists through abstract art. And boy did they try! Our favorites were a volcano to reflect the boiling over of the people against the imperialists, and giant fruits on a table to represent the prosperity of the nation today.

American B-52

American B-52

After that we walked to the B-52 Museum, which is a pieced together a carcass of an American B-52 bomber and a celebration of the antiaircraft superiority of the North Vietnamese Army. Despite the rhetoric it was one of the better (as in, not super one-sided) war museums. We immediately compensated by visiting Ho Lao Prison, more colloquially known as the Hanoi Hilton. Rather sadly (conveniently?) they tore down most of the prison to build a shopping mall, but they left one wing for a museum. As expected, it was very one sided. The early days of the prison were framed around how brutally the French treated the Vietnamese prisoners. The later days were framed around how the NVA were model captors, and how American POWs were treated well through photos of them playing basketball and celebrating Christmas. They did have some POW memorabilia, including from Sen. John McCain, which was kind of interesting.

At this point in the trip we made the decision to go back to China on our way to Hong Kong. We decided that we needed an extra day to plan and for me to work, so we booked a one night Halong Cruise and spent the last day at a Western coffee shop tying up as many loose ends as we could. We left feeling pretty good about our prospects for China and ready for a relaxing cruise to Halong Bay.

Here are some additional photos from Hanoi:

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