Continuation from Nicola’s Journey Back to Italy – Halong Bay, Vietnam
Chapter 1: Vietnam
Episode 3: Hanoi, Vietnam
When we arrived at 5.30am at Oriental Central Hotel, the door was locked. We sat outside of the hotel with our luggage, chasing mosquitoes away, until about an hour later when a staff reported to work and opened the door. We sneaked in and stored our luggage inside.
As we were unable to check in, we walked to the center of Hanoi near the Hoan Kiem Lake. The place was pretty and lively with people exercising everywhere. Cyclists, Joggers, Dancers, Aerobic lovers, and Tai Chi experts – you name it, they were up very early in the morning. It was an interesting scene. We joined the dancing group and danced our way. It was fun.
In Singapore, the first thing we do waking up is thinking what to have for breakfast. At least that’s what I think lol. Meanwhile, in Hanoi, we can see that the locals really enjoy exercising. I wish I could have the same discipline. As we all know, keeping fit and eating healthily is important to live life to the fullest.
We walked around the lake and had breakfast at one of the restaurants. Nicky was excited when he found croissants on the menu, he loves croissants. The cappuccino was nice, but not the croissant. It was too dry with weird aromas. After our breakfast, we walked back to the hotel, which is in the heart of Old Quarter.
Oriental Central Hotel is a good boutique hotel. It is located close to the Hoan Kiem Lake, Opera House, night market, shops, and restaurant. The staff was friendly, always smiling, and helpful. However, this small property does not open 24 hours, and not all staff can speak good English. We encountered some miscommunication during our stay.
After checking in and freshened up, we walked back to the Hoan Kiem Lake and crossed the Huc Bridge to visit Ngoc Son Temple, which is located on a small island in the middle of the lake.
We then spent the whole day at the Old Quarter walking the streets just looking and soaking up, and immersed in the cultural experience. There were lots going on. We enjoyed looking at the beautiful old buildings, vintage stores, and authentic shops. The simplicity of life makes Vietnam so interesting. It felt like stepping back into the past.
When we arrived Hanoi from Halong Bay, we explored the night market. There were loads of ornaments, clothes, souvenirs, and street foods. Prices were cheaper than the store and the sellers did not hassle tourists. The street food looks inviting and the whole concept of sitting outside restaurants with low seating chairs and small tables were simply amazing.
The next morning, we were strolling along the west lake, when we stumbled upon Den Quan Thanh Temple. It is a small ancient temple with very picturesque old style Viet gate. In the courtyard, there were several people practicing martial arts.
Outside the temple, we took motorbike taxis to bring us to our next destination, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Ba Dinh District. There was a super long queue to pay homage to the Communist leader of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. Although Singaporeans are known for being ‘kiasu’, like to queueing up for everything ahead of time, I am not one of them. Queueing up drives me crazy. After taken a few photography shots of the vicinity, we went to the Temple of Literature.
The Temple of Literature was the site of the first university and the shrine to Confucius. The buildings of traditional Vietnamese architecture are well preserved. During our visit, there were a few group of students attended prayer for their graduation ceremony.
Hao Lo Prison (Maison Centrale) was the last stop for the motorbike taxis. I was not keen to visit prison but Nicky thought it would be interesting. Having been to Alcatraz island in San Francisco, USA, and learning about the prisoner’s traumatic experiences, prison visits are never on my travel list.
Hao Lo Prison was built by the French colonial government in 1880’s. It was supposed to house 500 inmates but when French was defeated in 1950’s, there were about 2,000 prisoners held. Imagine their state of living; overcrowding, brutality, grief, and suffering.
Hoa Lo Prison has played a significant part in Vietnam’s history, both in the French colonial period and during the war with the United States of America.
During the Vietnam War in the year 1967, USA Senator John McCain narrowly escaped death. His jet was shot down over Hanoi and he was badly injured. He endured five and a half years as a prisoner of war (POW). Senator John McCain pilot suit and parachute were displayed among the items exhibited in the museum.
Unlike Alcatraz, there isn’t much to see in this “Hanoi Hilton”. The museum is quite tiny but the little things they exhibited with historical artifacts and photos were interesting. My chest felt heavy walking around, always felt this way when visited a place of misery. I told Nicky it’s time to leave.
We thought of watching water puppet or opera that evening but missed the show-time. So, we just walking around and getting lost, wandering the streets of Hanoi. We found many hidden beautiful and unique cafes. The two we stumbled upon was Café Pho Co and Café Nola. The place was so charming.
Hanoi is an interesting city and we find it fascinating. We enjoyed the walks, the wonderful old buildings, architecture, the hustle and bustle of the street life, monuments, and the people. The food was delicious and varied, and the place has a wonderful vibe to it.
Interesting Places Visited:
- Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son – wonderful, multiple visits to include early mornings
- Hoa Chi Minh Mausoleum – long queue, only for those with patience and patriotism
- Temple of Literature – nice ambiance
- Hoa Lo Prison Museum – small but interesting
- Hanoi Old Quarter – wonderful experience
- Quan Thanh Temple – nice ambiance
Travel Advice (notes from the hotels):
- Beware of scams in Vietnam (we did not encounter this)
- Do not touch anything if you do not want to buy it
- Do not talk or smile to vendors if you do not want to buy anything
- Be relaxed and confident crossing the road
- Check the item(s) carefully before buying
- Should not walk alone on the street after 11 pm
- Be careful using your cell phone when on the street
- Beware of pick pockets