Vietnam Part 4 – Hanoi

Day 259: November 26, 2018

We had breakfast in our Hanoi Airbnb then I went for a workout. When I got back Danny went for a workout. I called my parents then cut a mango. We had ramen for lunch then took a Grab car to the Old Quarter of Hanoi.

Danny wanted to get the jacket he bought in Hoi An taken in a bit. The first tailor we went to only made clothes. The second didn’t really speak English, but using Google Translate we communicated and she sent us to another shop. The lady there didn’t speak much English, but Google Translate saved us again. We were able to say what we wanted and by when. We will see how it works out!

We walked down to Hoa Lo Prison which was constructed by the French in 1896. The people in the village that was there prior were relocated in order to construct the prison, court house and secret police headquarters. The prison had space for 500 political prisoners, but a maximum of 2,000 prisoners were held there.

From March 11-16, 1945, over 100 prisoners escaped through an underground sewer. On December 24, 1951, 16 prisoners escaped again through an underground sewer. The guillotine was also used by the French in Hoa Lo.

Sewer prisoners used to escape

When the French left Hanoi in 1954, the prison’s ownership fell to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. During the war with the Americans, pilots shot down were held in Hoa Lo prison. They sarcastically called it “Hanoi Hilton”. The museum said this was a little joke of the Americans as they were treated very humanely and given many luxuries. Americans, however, describe unsanitary conditions along with torture, beatings and poor food. John McCain was held in this prison during the war when he was a US Navy pilot. Every country seems to have its own way of displaying events to make themselves look better.

Prison uniforms of the Vietnamese and Americans

We left and walked up the street to a café called Cong Ca Phe which had the decor of the Vietnam War and the staff in army uniforms. We had a tea, but both of us weren’t really enjoying the busy streets of Hanoi. The traffic and honking was constant.

We walked north to Hanoi’s Train Street which squeezes between residential buildings. Many homes had coffee shops on the edge of the tracks. It was a very photogenic place to walk. We left the residents behind and thinking there would be an exit from the tracks further up, we kept walking. The train crossed bridges over the streets so where we thought we could exit we could not. The tracks were elevated from the street so there was no escape.

Hanoi’s Train Street

After going ten minutes too far we had to turn back. I felt anxious being trapped there especially since we didn’t know when the train was going to come. Back at the exit we caught a Grab car back to the Airbnb. Danny made supper and we watched some John Oliver videos before bed.

Day 260: November 27, 2018

We were up early for a quick breakfast then took a Grab car to the Old Quarter to be picked up for our day tour. The pick up was about 15 minutes late which made us both feel a bit nervous that no one would show up.

Our tour went to the province of Ninh Binh about two hours south of Hanoi. Our first stop was Hoa Lu, the first capital of Vietnam established in the 10th and 11th centuries. The local warlord Dinh Bo Linh, known as the First Dinh Emperor, created the capital in 968 after years of civil war. A majority of the capital no longer exists.

We walked through the main gate to the city which led to an open square. The city was located in a valley between steep limestone mountains making it easy to defend. There was a river running through the capital providing water and a food source. The population eventually became too big for the area between the mountains and the capital city was moved.

Main gate of Hoa Lu

We visited the Dinh Temple which had an area behind doors with a statue of the king. Businessmen will pay money to get inside to touch the statue for luck.

Dinh Temple, Hoa Lu

Outside we could see the flag of the first dynasty. It had red in the middle with yellow, blue, white and green outlines. The colours represented the five elements: fire, soil, water, metal and wood.

Flag of the first dynasty, Hoa Lu

The first king was assassinated and his general, Le, came to power establishing the Le dynasty. He married the first king’s wife to provide legitimacy to his rule. He was not as respected as the first king and therefore his temple, which we visited next, was not as ornamental.

We left and drove to a restaurant for lunch. Sadly, the food wasn’t that great. We enjoyed talking to some of the people on our tour. It is a bit sad now when people ask us about our trip. We don’t sound as excited as when we started our trip. Now we are just more excited to go home so we enjoy talking about that more than where we’ve been. It does make us seem a bit like downers, but I think we are just tired.

After lunch, we went for a boat ride. It was a row boat with space for two people. A lady rowed the boat while we sat enjoying the view. All the rowers used their legs to row instead of their arms. It was pretty impressive and they seemed to have more power.

Row boat ride, Ninh Binh

We floated passed the steep mountains and went through a few caves. Our rower was super quick and we passed everyone. Back at the dock we walked up to a restaurant and were provided some lemon tea and fruit.

Going through the caves, Ninh Binh

We then hopped on some bicycles for a short ride through one of the villages. After the bike ride we hopped back on the bus and drove to Mua Island which had a little cave at the base then a 500 stair climb to the top.

Hiking up Mua Island

The view from the top looked down at the river our boat ride had been on. The other way looked over the rice fields we had seen on our bike ride.

At the top of Mua Island

We climbed back down and then returned to the bus for our two hour ride back into Hanoi. We were dropped off in the Old Quarter and walked to a pizza place. The pizza was very yummy! There were many people working there, but we were the only customers. It was similar at the convenience store next to our Airbnb. There were about four or five people working there, most just standing around. Back at the Airbnb we fell asleep early.

Day 261: November 28, 2018

We were up early again and took a Grab car back into the Old Quarter. Our Airbnb location has been a bit inconvenient because we keep having to catch rides into the centre. It is about a 25 minute drive one way.

Our tour to Bai Tu Long Bay picked us up and drove us to the harbour about three hours east of Hanoi. Bai Tu Long is right next to the famous Ha Long Bay, but much less busy.

A small boat took us out to our larger boat which had about 24 cabins. The cabin was perhaps the nicest room we have stayed in on this trip. Our window was huge and looked out at the steep mountains in the bay. The bathroom had a two person tub with another huge window.

Our boat to Bai Tu Long Bay

I called my dad to show him the gorgeous view then we went up on the deck for lunch. We had a bit of relax time then got ready to go kayaking. We went out into the bay and rowed over to a cave. When we got back to the boat we were able to jump in the water for a swim. The water was not as warm as in Thailand or Cambodia.

Kayaking in Bai Tu Long Bay

We returned to the room and cleaned up for supper. It was nice to dress up a little bit since we were on such a fancy boat. We sat at the front of the boat before supper with a bottle of wine and talked about home.

Sunset view from our boat, Bai Tu Long Bay

We went to the dining room for supper and enjoyed a very nice meal. The chef brought out some very fancy food carvings. Then one of the crew members played a beautiful melody on a flute. After another member of the crew did some magic tricks. He was looking for a volunteer and I quickly pointed to Danny. He went up and did an awesome job.

Danny participating in a magic trick

After supper we looked up at the stars from the sun deck. Then we returned to the room to sleep.

Day 262: November 29, 2018

I didn’t sleep very well so I was up early enough to participate in tai chi on the sun deck. The scenery as we moved through the islands was beautiful. We had a buffet breakfast then got ready to go for a walk on one of the islands. We walked out to a small sandy beach then climbed the stairs up to a large cave. Local fishermen use the cave during large storms for protection. It was a very beautiful cave to walk around.

View from outside the cave, Bai Tu Long Bay

We returned to the boat and sat on the sun deck enjoying the view going by. Lunch was a buffet. We returned to the sun deck then until we arrived back at the harbour. Our van to take us back to Hanoi picked us up there. We stopped once to view a water puppet show. It was funny, but not as amazing as I thought it would be. Apparently the one in Hanoi is a lot more impressive.

Water puppet show on the way back to Hanoi

We were dropped back in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and took a Grab car to our Airbnb. It was in the same building as our previous one in Hanoi, but a different apartment. We relaxed for a bit. Both of us were exhausted.

We took a Grab car back in to the centre around 6:30 pm. We had supper at Bun Cha Hang Manh which is famous for its bun cha, a dish of grilled pork served with rice noodles, herbs and a sauce (fish sauce, sugar, lemon, vinegar, stock). The sauce definitely made the dish.

Bun cha

After we walked up the street to the tailor we had dropped of Danny’s jacket at to have it taken in. He tried it on and it was a bit too tight. Uh-oh! Nothing she could do. We will have to let it out ourselves.

We stopped at a convenience store to pick up some food items for tomorrow. Then we returned to the Airbnb and went to sleep right away.

Day 263: November 30, 2018

Neither of us slept very well again. I’m not sure if its just nervousness or excitement for going home so soon. We chilled in the room watching TV then Danny called his parents. After he went to the gym while I caught up on blogging.

For lunch we went into the Old Quarter to Banh Mi 25. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sub. These ones were delicious! We sat in a park eating them and watching a legit cock fight. I had no idea that they were still a thing. Between fights the “trainers” would rinse their birds with water similar to a boxing trainer rubbing down their fighter in the corner.

Cock fight

We walked up the street and I went for a massage. Danny went across the street for a haircut then walked over to the government buildings and square in front of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. He met me back at the spa and we returned to the Airbnb.

Ho Chi Minh Square

Danny made supper while I packed up. We ate and watched videos. Then we thought we should try to get a bit of sleep. Our flight to Seoul was scheduled to leave at 2:00 am so we would not be getting much rest.

While I was getting my massage I started really thinking about being home again. I think it finally sunk in that in less than a week we will be home. Danny and I talked a bit about this then eventually fell asleep.

The alarm at 10:00 pm was a very rude awakening. We got about an hour and a half of sleep. We packed up and caught a Grab car to the airport. Everything took awhile to get through because it was fairly busy at the airport. On the other side I gave my parents a call while we waited to board.

I don’t think either of us really enjoyed the city of Hanoi. It was so busy and noisy we really didn’t want to spend much time in the Old Quarter. I was glad we had two trips booked to get out of the city. Bai Tu Long was absolutely beautiful and I don’t regret us spending the money to go there in class. I’m getting more and more excited every day to get home. The flight to Seoul feels like the first step towards home and I can’t wait for the flight after that takes us back to Canada.


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