Sunday, February 19, 2012


Our second train ride in Vietnam wasn’t nearly so pleasant as the first.  This time our sleeper car had to be over 50 years old, and didn’t look like it had been cleaned during that time either.  When we got to our compartment there was a man sleeping in my bunk and, as he wouldn’t respond, we had to get a conductor to ask him to move.  Of course there were no fresh linens after that.  I’ve included a picture of the toilet in our car at the beginning of our journey.  You would not have wanted to see it at the end.

Anyway we arrived a bit grungy to our lovely hotel, Hanoi Moment II.  The staff there worked harder to provide excellent service than any we’ve ever seen and left us lovely treats in our rooms every time we went out.  Because they didn’t have the room we reserved with two beds for the kids they gave them 2 rooms.  So we had three rooms total in a very nice hotel with great breakfast all for $132 per night.

Hanoi is a more atmospheric city that Saigon, still crazy crowded with hordes of honking motorbikes, but somehow it feels much more old world.  On our first day we toured the old city on foot, visiting the Ngoc Son Temple with it’s 200 year old preserved turtle and lovely weeping willows.

As a continuation of our Vietnam war education, we went to tour the Hao Lo Prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American pilot prisoners of war.  Yet again the experience was eerie.  The museum depicts how horrible life there was for Vietnamese political prisoners under French rule but how wonderfully the American prisoners were treated by contrast.  The pictures displayed were all of Americans playing sports and eating Christmas dinner, laughing and looking healthy.  They also had lots of clothing and other items that had belonged to the pilot prisoners, including the flight suit John McCain was captured in.  I have pictures at home of my father in a very similar suit.

Actual (not reproduction) guillotine

In the interest of a more well rounded education, when we returned to the hotel we downloaded McCain’s account of his treatment during his five year incarceration at the prison.  It was difficult to read and suffice it to say differed greatly from the depiction in the museum.

We were lucky to book a very popular private half-day tour with Hanoi Kids.  They are a not for profit organization which pairs tourists with local university students for no cost tours of the city.  Our guides were two lovely and very personable girls named Huong and Linh.  They took us to the first University of Vietnam, originally built in 1070, and told us about how highly the people of Hanoi value intellect and how they go there to worship Confucius.

Then we went together to another military museum which featured art made from downed American aircraft and then finally to a local coffee shop to have “coffee with egg” which was great.  The girls were super nice and we learned so much as we were able to ask them anything we wanted about life as a Vietnamese young person.   They said the exposure the program has given them to visitors from around the world has changed their lives.

To celebrate Valentine’s Day we went out to an incredible French dinner (Vietnam was ruled by France for many years) and afterward attended a water puppet show.  We ranked the dinner number 2 or 3 of our entire trip and the puppet show was fabulous with the live music as wonderful as the puppets themselves.

Our time in Hanoi was fairly short but packed full of great experiences.  We leave next for our highly anticipated cruise on Halong Bay.

1 comment:

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