We finally arrived in Vietnam! Hanoi to be exact. We flew in from Bangkok without incident. Customs was a breeze; the airport was brand new; and the drive into town was beautiful! We decided to stay in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, which is filled with vendor after vendor and a Northface (NorthFAKE) outlet on every corner. We walked around a bit our first night, but didn’t have time for too much. We did happen upon a street fair of some kind and we were treated to this…
The next morning we walked to nearby Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake or Lake of the Returned Sword. There is an interesting tale about a lost sword, a dragon, and the return of the sword by a turtle. There is also a temple dedicated to this legend in the middle of the lake. It costs 30,000 Dong or about $1.35 to cross the bridge and visit the temple.
We followed this up with a visit to the Hoa Lo Prison, more commonly known to Americans as the Hanoi Hilton – a POW camp during the Vietnam War. It’s very strange to walk through a POW museum in a country that we were at war with and read their descriptions of how they treated American POWs. Americans in that camp reported miserable conditions, including poor food, unsanitary conditions, and even torture while the museum shows pictures of American pilots sharing Christmas dinner, playing basketball and volleyball and having a grand time. The museum even reports that the American POWs were treated far better than Vietnamese prisoners in the camp at that time.
On our second day in Hanoi, we visited the Vietnam Military History Museum. The best part of this museum was a video/light show/diorama presentation on how the Vietnamese army fought against the French. (I know that doesn’t sound super exciting, but it was pretty clever.) There were several outdoor displays of U.S. plane and helicopter remains that had been shot down. The anti-aircraft guns were also on display and the corresponding plaques listed how many U.S. aircraft had been shot down by each. We sure know how to live it up in Vietnam!
Leaving the war monuments and museums behind, we then visited the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first national university and a place where the teachings of Confucius have been happening for almost 1000 years. The temples and grounds were beautiful. One of the buildings on the grounds is also featured on the back of the Vietnamese 10,000 Dong bill. After sweating our morning away sight-seeing, the boys all headed back to the hotel to cool off while I ventured out on my own for a pedicure. The cost… 60,000 Dong or $2.67. Can’t beat those prices!
We ended the day with a visit to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. They started the show with a traditional Vietnamese song and then put on about 15 short skits with the puppets. Although the show was in Vietnamese, it was easy to tell what was going on most of the time and being able to watch the musicians was fascinating. One woman played an instrument called a đàn bầu or gourd lute, which was mesmerizing to watch. Ty has some video that he will be putting in his vlog for Hanoi, so stay tuned for that!
The following day we set out for an overnight trip to Ha Long Bay. It’s a four-hour bus ride from Hanoi to the Ha Long Bay, which for me was super stressful. The driving in Vietnam is CRAZY!!! I thought Malaysia was bad, but Vietnam beats Malaysia hands down. Even crossing the road as a pedestrian is like a real-life game of Frogger… you just step off the curb and pray that you make the other side. We’ve only been almost hit a few times.
The stress of the roads quickly faded when we reached the boat and the crew had lunch all prepped. In 24-hours on this boat – four meals in total – we were treated to clams, tilapia, shrimp, crab, calamari, cat fish, fried sweet potatoes, herring on lemongrass, rice, morning glory, pickled cucumbers with garlic, and probably a lot of other items I am forgetting. The food was amazing!
The captain took us about two hours from port out into the islands where we anchored and then got into kayaks and paddled through a floating fishing village and around one of the more than 1900 islands in the bay. We ended with a swim off the boat in the warm waters of the South China Sea. We chose a small tour and there were only 10 passengers, about 5 crew, and our tour guide, Cong. It was a nice change of pace to settle and get to know a few folks a bit better. Cong spoke fantastic English and entertained us with stories about Vietnam and its people.
We started the next morning bright and early with a small breakfast followed by another kayak paddle. This time we paddled to a larger island and hiked through a cave to the opposite side of the island and back again. While not a long hike, it was somewhat treacherous in wet flip flops. We cruised back to port, had another fabulous meal prepared by the crew and then boarded the bus back to Hanoi. Although short, the trip to Ha Long Bay was a highlight and a fabulous way to end our time as tourists for a while.
Next, we were off to DaNang, where we would be settled for the month of October.
Mural at the Hanoi Hilton.
Balcony dining in Hanoi.
This is what most power lines look like in the city. It scares me.
RJ and a crashed U.S. plane.
Temple of Literature pics.
Ty on our boat in Ha Long Bay with Vietnam flag backdrop.