Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hanoi {the end}

Bo and I stayed in Hanoi for three more days after our tour ended. It was probably a day or two more than necessary, though totally worth it since coming home on a Tuesday was a hellofa lot cheaper in skymiles and it was nice to really unwind for a few final days before returning to reality. As much as we thoroughly enjoyed our tour and the amazing group of friends we made, we were definitely ready to be on our own agenda again.

We walked all over the city to do quite a bit of sightseeing. First up, the One Pillar Pagoda, a Buddhist temple built to resemble a lotus flower for its purity.

We didn't stay there too long since we were really just killing time until the Ho Chi Minh Museum opened. The museum was okay. Almost everything on the first floor was in Vietnamese so I cannot confirm with certainty but it appeared to be the background life story before he took over as President. Mostly historical letters and quotations, and a lot of informational displays that we couldn't even begin to attempt to understand. The very little amount that was in English was mostly propaganda, so we just did a quick lap and then continued on upstairs. Thankfully the rest of the museum was in both English and Vietnamese. There were some really cool artistic displays of Ho's favorite things. One of my favorite displays was a war uniform worn by Ho Chi Minh - I couldn't believe how small he was, just over five feet tall.

Since we didn't spend very much time in the museum, we had some extra free time and decided to walk over to Huu Tiep Lake. The map in our guide book was extremely off-scale so what we thought was right around the corner turned into a 2-3 mile walk through some back alleys. It made for a fun adventure.

Right in the middle of the neighborhood is a small lake where an American B-52 was shot down during the war and the wreckage remains there today. It was one thing to visit the war museum and the cu chi tunnels and to be out in the jungle where most of the fighting was, but to see this in the middle of everyday ordinary life put it in another perspective.  

At this point we were on the opposite side of town so we took a long walk back to our hotel and stopped for a few beers along the way and enjoyed the people watching.

Second to Hue, we thought Hanoi had the next best food. So far I've really only shared the crazy exotic foods we've tried, but for the most part we actually ate really normal food. Lots of fried rice, pho, and various other relatively plain dishes. Most of the local restaurants we went to were teeny tiny and they sure know how to make the most of their limited space.

Cha Ca La Vong is a popular restaurant that has been around for over a hundred years and only serves fried fish, cooked right at your table. It was very good but we didn't really see what all the hype was about. It wasn't until later that we realized there are many other knock-offs, and from all the google searching we've done, we're pretty certain we didn't go to the original one. Ohhh well

We did have one last animal to check off our list before heading home. I'm sure a lot of you will cringe, and it might be hard to believe....but we ate dog. I know, I know. We love our puppies - how could we do this?!  A few of our new friends from the tour group were also still in town and between the five of us we split one order, which came with several dishes of dog cooked a few different ways. It was way too much food since we all really just wanted a bite or two to try it. Thankfully, it was all really awful and we hated it and have no desire to try it ever again. So at least we can cross this one off our bucket list forever. Supposedly, they have certain breeds of dogs that are for eating and others for pets, and I am going to choose to believe that. They only serve it in the second half of the lunar month for good luck, so lucky for us it was available when we were there! ;) We also wanted to try cat, but the "cat district" was outside the city and we would have had to take a taxi - totally not worth it even if the ride would have only been a dollar. At last the "dog district" was within walking distance. Needless to say, we left very hungry and went to another restaurant for a real (normal) dinner.

We ended up at Green Mango, which was so fantastic we actually broke our own rule and ate there again the following evening. The salmon wontons were incredible - I could have eaten an entire meal of them!

The night markets were up every night we were there, so we walked through a few times. All kinds of stuff for sale, and there were people everywhere - it was completely packed all night long. It was fun to browse but we only bought a few small souvenirs.

One evening we went to the Water Puppet Theater to see a traditional show. It was interesting and pretty cool, never seen anything like it before. They operate the puppets from behind the stage while standing in water, and operating the puppets underwater. It was about an hour long show with traditional Vietnamese music and singing. Definitely something different. I'm sure this will sound weird considering how many pictures I take of everything, but Bo and I were both supremely annoyed that photography was allowed during the show. It was so distracting and sometimes hard to see with all the cameras (and ipads!) blocking our view. Sometimes it's better to just sit back and enjoy, though I am guilty of snapping a few photos of my own.

On our last day there, we went to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum - which the American POW's sarcastically referred to as the "Hanoi Hilton". This is the prison where John McCain was kept and they have his flight suit on display as well as several pictures throughout the exhibit. The propaganda here was just as bad as the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh. The prison was originally built by the French when the Vietnamese were fighting for their own independence, and was later used by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War to house mostly American pilots. Most of the museum goes on and on about how poorly they were treated there by the French, and even though the exact same torture chambers were used against the Americans, there of course was no mention of this. They made it seem like the Americans were at summer camp - they only showed pictures of them smiling, playing basketball, and decorating Christmas trees. There were also several quotes from POW's saying how well they were treated, which were essentially forced out of them after extreme and brutal torture. Overall very disturbing.


Our final tourist stop was a visit to Ngoc Son Temple, which is on an island in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake. Similar to churches, at this point they all generally seemed the same to us - of course with the exception of the amazing views of the lake.

Legend has it that many centuries ago, an emperor was given a sword by the Turtle God, and one day when he was boating in the lake, the turtle came up and took the sword back from him. The turtle and the sword were never found, and the lake was then named Hoan Kiem Lake (the Lake of the Returned Sword).

There was a cafe right along the lake, so we grabbed a few drinks and some ice cream to hang out for a while. The weather was hit or miss in Hanoi so we had to take advantage of a non-rainy day. We leisurely walked around the city and came up with our own pub crawl. Again all the beers we had were very good and so darn cheap - the way beer should be!

Cheers, Vietnam! Such an amazing trip! The end.

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