Welcome to the most hectic city to date! Crossing the road is like dicing with death everytime – pedestrians have absolutely no right of way.
Our first day we just spent wondering around the Old Quarter – taking in all the sights, sounds and smells. There is so much activity going on in every street, you never get bored of people watching.
We passed a street food stall selling dog meat – our first experience of this on sale. We took the photo, but the owner came running over shouting ‘no picture no picture’, so it’s obviously a touchy subject here too.
There are small Buddist temples set aside from the busy streets, you smell the enticing incense before you stumble across them. All are decorated with rich colours, and have numerous shrines with various offerings – including beer. These Gods obviously have good taste!
As it was Christmas Eve we decided to treat ourselves – Star Wars! Now this was our best cinema experience we have ever had. So, for £7.50 each we got the following – 3D ticket, personal escort to our seat (however we think this is just because we were the only Westerners there and we caused some excitement), leather recliner chairs, blanket, pillow, soft drink and snack! Brilliant! The film was also excellent.
Christmas Day was a strange one – on social media we see our friends and families enjoying the traditional Christmas at home. It didn’t feel festive for us as it was just another day here! I think if we were in a predominantly Christian country it would have been very different as everything shuts down and people are with thier families. Here in Vietnam the main religion is Buddism, followed my Islam, then a minority of Christians. Some shops/hotels/restaurants had decorations up and were playing Christmas songs ( yes you cannot even escape Slade here) however this was just for the benefit of Westerners.
However the cathedral was very busy on Christmas Day.
We visited Hao Lo prison museum (very festive indeed), which was built by the French during the revolution to house and sometimes exocute political Vietnamese prisoners. As you can imagine the conditions were terrible and many died here.
More recently it was used to house US POWs during the Vietnam war. These POWs had a much better time of it (they even nicknamed the prison the ‘Hanoi Hilton’) – there were photos of them enjoying a Christmas dinner, playing basketball, rearing chickens, and receiving mail from thier families. John McCain was also imprisoned here when his plane was shot down. There are pictures showing the villagers retreiving him from the plane and bringing him to the prison. They have his uniform which he was wearing at the time on show.
Our Christmas dinner was very different from the usual turkey and all the trimmings – we went on a street food tour around the Old Quarter. Local foods we had included crab spring rolls, beef ‘parcels’ (similar to Cornish pasties but smaller), shredded pork rolls, spicey beef broth, egg coffee, honey and ginger glazed dried fruits, sweet black bean pudding with coconut cream, and sticky rice with icecream. It was all delicious!
Our guide Jun was a university student in Hanoi, studying English so she could become a teacher. She told us that in Vietnam, when a baby is born they are already a year old, as the 9 months of pregnancy count as the childs’ first year!
On our last day in Hanoi, it absolutely poured down with rain. Paul had sensibley put both pairs of trousers in the wash so he had gone out in shorts and flip flops….sterotype of British people abroad right here!
We went to visit Ho Chi Min’s mausoleum but unfortunately it was shut – we were both quite intriuged to see what a preserved body looks like! We walked on to a small lake in a residentual area of the city where a wreck of a US bomber has been left exactly where it crashed in the war. We found the site very thought provoking, as it isn’t often you see instruments of war left where they were found – usually they’re moved to a museum. The citizens of Hanoi wanted it left where it is as a reminder of war for generations to come.
An added bonus was that we saw a lovely little kingfisher on the tree which was growing on the wreck.
Our last evening was spent at the night market, where a local music concert was being held. The performers were all dressed im traditional clothing, and the instruments being played looked very difficult to play.
Our next stop is Cat Ba Island.