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Hello Hanoi

Hanoi Travel Blog

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Welcome

So, we had arrived across the Vietnam border.


Our bus took us into Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. We disembarked at a rather random corner and were immediately swamped with taxi driver vying for our business. We tried to ignore a rather pushy little fellow, who even tried to take us bags off us to get us to go with him and headed down the road to a cash point I had seen.

Bridge on Hoan Kiem lake
We had no Vietnamese cash on us and to get any form of transport to the old quarter where we were going to stay would involve money, so cash point it was. Our bothersome new 'friend' followed, standing outside the Western union we had entered and gesticulating for us to go with him after. In the end we did use him, after a bit of bartering had lowered the price a little. It was about 15kms to the old quarter, in which time we realised the 'taxi' wasnt really a taxi at all and the car wasnt in the best shape, with Rachel's door handle falling off when she slammed the door shut!


We were rather surprised when we made it to the hostel without any detours, as we had heard numerous stories of taxi drivers taking you to hotels they get commision from and claiming it was your hostel.

The hostel, Hanoi backpackers hostel, is down a little alley that is too narrow for cars but mopeds shoot up and down it fine. The moped drivers in Hanoi are a breed apart, often four people on one bike, or two with one holding a large mirror or equally stupid sized something, speeding about all over the place, including both sides of the road and the pavement!! We learned pretty quickly that the best way to cross the road (without getting hit) is to walk at a steady pace without faultering and let them swerve round you. If you slow down or stop the driver cant work out a route round you and might just hit you. It was very intimidating to start with, Sarah squealed a fair few times and Rachel even had to walk across with her eyes closed once because she couldnt face the volume of mopeds whizzing by, mere inches from our flip flop clad feet.
Kitty sheltering from the heat
Even now I cant decide if they are the worst, or the best drivers in the world. They are completely fearless on a moped because they literally grow up on the back of a bike. We have seen babies, no more than three months old being held on to the seat in front of the driver with one hand, no straps, no baby seats, just one hand stopping the baby slipping off into the path of other vehicles. It really is an insane place.


We spent the first few days relaxing, talking to others in the hostel and taking a walk round the old quarter. The old quarter is set around Hoan Kiem lake, which has a small temple set on a little island, reached by a quaint bridge. We also visited the prison, nicknamed the 'Hanoi Hilton' by American POW's which were held there during the Vietnam war (known as the American war in Vietnam).

How prisoners spent most of their day
The prison was originally built by the French (the French used to rule Vietnam) to hold political revolutionaries and was renowned for it poor facilities and the regular torture inflicted on prisoners. In the male cells there were life size models of prisoners, shackled by one ankle to a concrete bed, ten in a row on each side of the room. The female prisoners, often with their children, were kept in a seperate section, four small cells with a communal area. We saw an original guilotine, with pictures on the wall of the unlucky souls that got to feel the sharp end. The main bulk of the exibits focus on the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France but there is also a section on the American POW's, mainly pilots that had been shot down, that were held. There was a big poster on one wall saying that the pilots were treated well and had the best conditions possible, even showing pictures of servicemen getting Christmas dinner and presents from their family.
Beware pointy end
The general impression they gave was they treated the POW's well, which is interesting considering we had looked on Wikipedia for a bit of information about the place beforehand and it said the POW's were severely tortured, not to gain information out of them but to break them and get them to make verbal or written denouncements criticizing the U.S conduct of the war and priaising the way the Vietnamese were treating them. Two sides to every story huh. There was also a glass cabinet holding the jumpsuit of John McCain (now a candidate for the American Presidency) who was held at the prison for part of his 5 and a half years as a POW. There were pictures of his 'rescue', he has even visited the prison since it was made a museum, I wonder what his impression of their side of the story is.

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Welcome
Welcome
Bridge on Hoan Kiem lake
Bridge on Hoan Kiem lake
Kitty sheltering from the heat
Kitty sheltering from the heat
How prisoners spent most of their …
How prisoners spent most of their…
Beware pointy end
Beware pointy end
Hanoi
photo by: mario26