Ha Noi, Vietnam (with a not-so-quick stop in Laos)

En route to Hanoi, Vietnam, we had a layover in Laos. Well, the Luang Prabang Airport is basically one tiny room that doesn’t even sell bottled water! During our three hour layover which turned into four hours, we decided to drink some Laotian beer and eat an entire can of Salt and Seaweed Pringles instead (yes, those exist and they are delicious!) I watched a movie and endured the foreign country airport boredom until we finally got on our airplane  to Hanoi.

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I ended up sitting next to a woman from Los Angeles on the flight who had been traveling alone for over 3 weeks. I could not imagine doing that but it was very interesting hearing about her life story. I am jealous that I am not brave enough to do something like that!

Finally, we arrived in Hanoi late at night and were greeted by our Hanoi tour guide, Vin. Vin spoke great English and told us what to expect of our time in Vietnam. One of the craziest parts of Vietnam is the driving. There is one motorized bike for every two people in Vietnam, causing a ton of air pollution. Everyone over the age of 18 drives a bike and there are NO stoplights, NO cross walks and NO lanes. Driving is a free for all where you just honk when you want to warn someone to move over. It is so scary. He warned us that when we cross the street, to just keep going at a slow and steady pace and the drivers will navigate around you. The ride to the hotel was a bit scary but once you realize that is just the way people drive around Vietnam, we got more used to it.

This morning (Saturday), we met our tour guide early so we could be the first in line at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The Mausoleum is a memorial of the great communist leader and actually houses his embalmed body. Every year between September and November, his body is sent to Russia to be restored. Luckily, we were able to actually see his body which was a very special experience. Here is a photograph of the outside of building that we went into since we are unable to take photographs inside:

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We continued to walk around the beautiful grounds to view the government offices as well as the home Ho Chi Minh lived in while he was alive.

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In the park, we visited the famous One Pillar Pagoda. The buddhist temple is from the Emperor of Indochina, Ly Thai Tong, who had wished for a son and prayed to buddha to one. Eventually, he met a woman who bore him a son and because of that, he made a temple dedicated to him. Many Buddhist women come here in hopes of being able to become pregnant. I made sure to ask Vin that visiting the temple didn’t mean that we would become pregnant!! He assured us that is was ok.

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After we were done with this portion of the walking tour, we took the car over to the Temple of Literature. The grounds here were beautiful and the inside of the temple had a large status of Confucius. There was actually a University graduation going on while we were there which was very cool to see. All of the top students in Vietnam are honored there so they hold many graduations and photographs for school children to inspire them to become better students.

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Next, we headed to the Old Quarter in Hanoi. Here is where we first endured our street crossing abilities. We were naturals! At first, I thought I was going to die but you eventually get the hang of it and become more confident when you walk. We went with Vin to the top of a cafe called City View that had a beautiful view of the all of Hanoi. Here is a view of a busy intersection from the cafe. This does not do the traffic justice but you can see the lack of traffic signs and the free for all of traffic. You can also see how foggy the sky is from all the pollution.

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Afterwards, we separated from Vin and went off shopping around the Old Quarter. Since I did not prepare for the cold of Hanoi, I purchased a fake North Face jacket, a scarf and gloves to be sure I was prepared for the cold on our Halong Bay cruise tomorrow. I can’t believe I actually bought a knock-off North Face jacket but it is actually decent quality and you can’t even tell!

Next, we visited the Hoa Lo Prison a.k.a. the Hanoi Hilton from the Vietnam War. Well, here they actually call the war the American War. The prison museum had actual cells to view that the inmates during the French occupation were kept in. The museum was mostly about the French colonialism in Vietnam prior to the American War, but there was a small section of the museum that featured information about when the Vietnamese captured American Soldiers and held them there. The most fascinating part about the museum was the video they showed of the American POWs at the Hanoi Hilton. They made it sound like they allowed them to play basketball, learn about Vietnamese culture and treated them very well while they were in the prison. It really makes you realize how different countries interpret and tell their sides of history differently. Of course, I don’t blame them for capturing American soldiers after we bombed their cities and killed innocent people during the war, but to say the American prisoners were treated very well during their entire stay at the Hanoi Hilton seems a little off to me! I am looking forward to learning more about their side of the American War in Saigon at the War Remnants Museum.

Here are the current and original entrances to the “Hanoi Hilton”:

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After the museum, we went to Cafe Pho Co per a recommendation from my friend, Nathalia. This cafe was literally down an alley in the back of a shop in the Old Quarter. You actually enter through someone’s house and climb up a twisted staircase to a cafe that looks over the Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of the city. I ordered their famous Egg Coffee which was delicious!

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After our coffee break, we realized we had pretty much seen everything we wanted to in Hanoi. It was so hard to believe but I guess us ADD, warp-speed travelers really could do it in one day! In typical Missy and Lindsey fashion, we got another foot massage at a random place in the Old Quarter. I don’t know what I am going to do when I am back in America and have to pay more than $10 for an hour long massage!

Finally it was time for drinks so we walked past a beautiful park along the river to the famous Sofitel Metropole Hotel.

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We decided to spoil ourselves (or should I say for Auntie Missy to keep spoiling me!) and order a flight of wine which included champagne, white and red wine. It was delicious and complimented the bread and tuna tartar we also ordered. The hotel was very beautiful, especially when adorned with christmas lights.

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After our flight, we headed to famous Quan An Ngon for dinner. The restaurant features communal tables and several mini-kitchens that each cook a different type of Vietnamese cuisine. It was delicious and definitely a must if you are ever in Hanoi!

Now we are off to bed since we have to be up at 6:30am to drive five hours to get on our overnight cruise in Ha Long Bay. Can’t wait to finally see the beautiful water and UNESCO World Heritage Site in person!

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