Hanoi, Vietnam - February 2008

Our 1:45pm flight to Vietnam was quick and we arrived a few minutes early. The weather was cool and overcast and it remained that way for our three days here. We got a taxi and headed straight to our hotel.

It was almost lunch time when we arrived so we headed out for lunch. A posting on Chowhound.com suggested going to Tong Duy Tan street which was a street with many restaurants and stalls. Before heading out we checked with the hotel staff for some directions and advice. We got a map, along with a warning about getting sick (which we of course, disregarded). One thing about staying at higher end hotels is that it is hard to get real recommendations from hotel staff about where to eat like locals do. Sometimes we can coax an answer out of them by asking where they eat with their friends after work, but other times it is no use and they only recommend dining establishments consistent with the star level of the hotel.

On Tong Duy Tan street we found a vendor selling Bun Cha from a small mobile restaurant. Bun Cha is a dish that is exclusive to Northern Vietnam and available only during lunch. The dish consists of charcoal grilled pork patties, fish sauce broth, some lettuce and noodles. Like many Vietnamese dishes, a few simple, fresh ingredients are all you need. The price for this fantastic lunch for two came to 88,000 Dong ($5.15) and that included some spring rolls, a coke and two large Vietnamese beers. This was a very nice change, especially coming off our trip to Brussels where for $5.15 you could barely buy a snack.

On the way home from lunch we decided to take a cyclo back. On his urging, the three of us jammed into his "ride" and we sped off. Well, not really speeding anywhere but he was able to at least maintain forward momentum. We felt bad for this guy who had to push all three American sized bodies and himself on his bicycle, but he decided to triple the fare upon arrival, our sympathy disappeared fairly quickly.

It impossible to describe the way that the traffic moves through the streets in Vietnam. On the roads you have a combination of cars, buses, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians and cyclos all moving at different speeds. If there are traffic laws, nobody follows them and everyone basically does what they want. There are at least traffic lights to help you cross the street at large intersections but you can never depend on vehicles stopping for them. There is no fast or slow lane and drivers their horns constantly to alert people that they are coming and to get out of the way.

The video above was taken from our Cyclo trip home. From here you can see that the driver crosses and drives right through the oncoming traffic without taking into consideration what is coming at him or us.
Who wants to be a millionaire? The exchange rate is about 15,000 Dong to 1 USD so by changing $100 we got over 1.5 million Dong in return.
For dinner we went to Quan An Ngon restaurant. We really like what the owner did, which was to assemble the best of the best street food, it and put all the best vendors together under one roof in a very clean restaurant setting. The selection was great and the quality of the food was very high. The prices reflected the setting, where we paid 3x what it would cost on the street. This was our most expensive meal and about $14 including beer.

One of the great things about traveling with Elliot is that it breaks down barriers and gives us the opportunity to meet people and gain more insight to the local culture. People all over Hanoi would look, stare , touch him and sometimes grab him. It was like traveling with a celebrity. When we were out for dinner one night, Elliot was playing with his cars and a few curious boys would come over, peek, run back to their table and repeat the cycle until one a courageous kid came over to play with Elliot for a few minutes.

We started our next day at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The main attraction is the very deceased ex-president of Vietnam laid out in a glass case for everyone to see. Before getting in to the complex you must go to a security checkpoint where cameras and other contraband are sequestered until you leave. They have a complicated system where your item is put into a special bag, checked into a room, and transferred to the exit for your return. We were surprised, however that Elliot's bag of toy cars fit into that category, and were confiscated at the x-ray machine, and we were told to return to collect them. We thought for sure that they would vanish and become a present for some worthy 4 year old Vietnamese boys, but we were wrong. They toys there waiting for us when we returned.

The magnificent Presidential Palace is located on the grounds. It was built in 1906 for the Governor of Indochina and is used only for special government functions today.

This is the One Pillar Pagoda which was built to resemble a lotus blossom floating on the water. The original was built almost a thousand years ago but the French destroyed it in 1954 during their retreat, apparently out of spite. This reproduction is not completely faithful to the original but it is still heavily visited by women from all over the country who are praying to have a son.

We came to the central market looking for food, but we found really bad knock off handbags instead.
...and shoes
Women carrying around products on bamboo shoulder poles is a common site around the city. The poles allow everything to be balanced and carried more easily, while at the same time keeping one hand free. Produce, flowers, cooked food and live chickens are just a few of the things that are carried and sold in this way. The best meal we had in Hanoi was at Cha Ca La Vong. This restaurant only makes one thing which is grilled fish. For 90,000 dong ($5.40) you get an amazing meal.

The fish is presented on a mini charcoal grill and you cook it yourself. First add in some herbs.

cook and stir for a few minutes to bring out the flavor

Then assemble by combining some noodles, fish/herb mixture, peanuts and fish sauce and enjoy. Our only regret was that we didn't return to this restaurant before we left.

Who needs a mini van? Here a family of four gets around so comfortably on a scooter.

This guy and his female business partner are sell a wide variety of merchandise from this traveling scooter store. Books, clothes, scarves in all sizes and colors are available. We thought we would get rid of the by asking for clothes in Elliot's size but he magically pulled out several shirts in a wide array of colors. We bought one t-shirt because you have to respect a businessperson with inventory on a scooter.

People in Vietnam are HARD working and are very serious. I don't know what she is carrying but it can't be easy
On our last night we went to the Water Puppet Theater. We had minimal expectations because the idea of a puppet show put on by puppeteers standing in waist deep water sounded a little goofy. We were wrong. It was very interesting and entertaining as the show depicts the daily activities in Vietnamese rural life as well as some ancient legends. We learned that this art form originated over a thousand years ago and they were originally held in flooded rice paddies. It was very well done and all of our expectations.

Only a few hours left in Hanoi, we headed out for breakfast on back streets of the French Quarter. The breakfast of choice throughout Vietnam is Pho, a noodle soup served with meat. Our favorite is Pho Tai which is rare beef that cooks in the hot broth.

Elliot slurps up some noodles and works on his chopstick technique.

We continued walking around and outside of a school kids were lined up to buy these from a vendor. No clue what was inside the crunchy exterior, but it was yummy.

The last stop was the Loa Lo Prison or the "Hanoi Hilton" as it was know to American soldiers during the Vietnam war. It was originally built by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners who were tortured or executed by the French.

The original main gate to the complex. Today only a fraction of complex remains because most of the prison was demolished to make way for a new high rise complex.

These steel doors lead to the solitary confinement cells. Elliot was clearly frightened and wouldn't go into some parts of the building.

John McCain's flight suit is still on display. I wonder if he asked for it back when he visited the prison in 2000.

We enjoyed Hanoi but it is time to head out to the airport. Next stop... Singapore

Gặp lại sau nhé

Corinne, Keith & Elliot

1 comment:

R&H said...

We were in Hanoi Feb. 2008 as well picking up our daughter. She was born in Ho Chi Minh City and we spent 3 weeks traveling around Vietnam. It's a magical place. Your photos brought back memories of a wonderful trip. Thanks!