A prison, a bridge and lots of free beer.
So we arrived in Hanoi and it being pretty late went out and got some delicious food at a street vendors. We had been recommended to do this by some friends from our previous tour and they said that it would be amazing. Long story short after some pointing and broken attempts at Vietnamese we got what we wanted; some rice noodle soup with beef and squatted down to eat. Yep you heard right, squatted. All the outdoor street vendors very kindly provide tables and chairs, it's just that they happen to be tables and chairs for the vertically challenged. It was, however, a brilliant experience being sat on the street corner with all the mopeds flowing past, honking their horns, the sound, the noises and the smells. For the first time we felt full after a meal out and after we collapsed into our beds it wasn't long before we succumbed to the darkness of sleep.
The following day we decided to go out and do some sightseeing (as you do when in a foreign country I guess) and headed straight for the lake Hò Guom. It was a lovely little place and after having seen no proper parks for so long it made a nice change. There was also a beautiful little temple called Ngoc Son off to one side of the lake. On checking it out Alex once again realized his celebrity when he was asked to pose with two young women. Whether it's his chiseled good looks or his body of steel we'll never know.
After the comparative escape of the walk by the lake we reentered the fray and braved the roads to get around and explore the city. Crossing the road in Vietnam seems to be a matter of trust. All it takes is a simple step off the kerb and a determined, constant forward movement, trusting the mopeds not to hit you as they part like water around a stone. Surprisingly it feels quite safe and as long as you keep moving without making any sudden stops you greatly increase your chances of not being hit.
After having wandered around for a little while (which is pretty rewarding in itself) we came to the Hanoi Hilton (Hoà Lo Prison). It was an incredible place and much of the signage was in English so we got to find out a lot. It was used at various times as a prison by the French for Vietnamese communists and later during the war it was used by the Vietnamese to keep downed American pilots. There was a stark difference in how the different lives of the prisoners were portrayed. The communists had undergone a brave struggle surviving the brutal punishment of the harsh overlords, whilst the Americans had been treated with civility and respect and, for them, was a home away from home. So no political angle whatsoever.
The rest of our time for the day was then taken up by several failed attempts to get into whatever was free. Sadly most of it was shut but luckily as we said before wandering is entertaining enough in itself. We took in markets, lakes, rickety train bridges, stalls, crazy traffic, street sellers and more! It was great. And then, even better, once we got back to the hostel that we’re staying in, it was happy hour. Happy hour at our hostel means unlimited free beer for one hour. Bring it on!
Rex’s Rules of the Road
- At $5 a night Central Backpackers isn’t bad, especially with free beer and breakfast too. Check out Rach’s review of the hostel and the Prison.
- When crossing the road in Vietnam, wait till there are no cars coming (ignore the mopeds) and step out. Then just blindly carry on at a steady pace. Do not, we repeat, do not stop. That is when the accidents happen.