Adventures as Miss Saigon

The Canucks conquer Hanoi

Posted on: November 17, 2010

On Friday night, Wendy and I raced around after work to make it to the airport in time for our flight to Hanoi. The Vietnam Airlines flight was a huge step up from our budget Jetstar flight to Singapore a few weeks back, and included a meal and TVs in the back of each seat (although mine didn’t work and they didn’t hand out headsets). We had arranged for a private car to take us to our hostel, as we had been warned that taxi scams were quite ridiculous in Hanoi, and considering we were arriving at 10:30pm on a Friday night, we wanted everything to go smoothly. We were welcomed to Hanoi with a pleasant, cool breeze, and amused when our driver turned the heat on in the car. The drive to the hostel was uneventful, but Wendy and I both commented on how different traffic was from chaotic HCMC.

We checked into our $6USD/night hostel, and were shown to our bunks – on the 5th floor of a hostel that of course had no lift! This ensured that there would be no wild night of drinking for me! We did, however, venture across the street to a bar to have a $1USD “big beer”. At around 12:15am, Wendy and I were just finishing up our drinks, when all of a sudden the bar staff turned off the lights and quickly shut the garage door style door at the front of the bar. As the door was coming down, guys from the street were diving under the door, beers in hand, like a scene from a movie. We were all quickly “shhhushed” by the bar staff, and soon after, there was a loud pounding on the metal door. The local police were outside, ensuring the midnight curfew that is apparently in place in Hanoi, and here we were, caught in the middle of it! The 10 or so bar patrons were ushered into the back of the bar to hide. I’m not sure what happened up front, or what would have happened if the police had gotten in, but as soon as the coast was clear, Wendy and I decided to call it a night and go back to our hostel.

The next day, Wendy and I did some sightseeing around the Old Quarter of Hanoi. We visited Ngoc Son Temple (which is on a little island in the middle of Hoan Kiem lake), did some window shopping, and stopped for a drink at a rooftop cafe. From there we decided to take a taxi just outside of the city center to Pho Nghi Tam, a street with a 1km-long stretch of restaurants serving thit cho, or dog meat in English. Wendy’s a vegetarian, and after living in Vietnam for 2 months, I’m practically one myself (not to mention my serious love for furry friends, especially my dog at home), so we certainly weren’t in the market for a meal – this venture out of the city was more about accepting the way life is in Vietnam and embracing the culture around us. I’m not sure how many dog meat restaurants we passed (upon re-reading Lonely Planet Vietnam, it turns out Hanoians believe eating dog meat in the first half of the month brings bad luck), but we also stumbled upon another Pagoda, and just enjoyed being away from the touristy areas. On our way back, we decided to try and find the remains of a plane that had been shot down in the war and was still submerged in a lake. Laura had stumbled across this plane on a previous trip to Hanoi, and we were determined to find it. After walking around a huge lake and through residential areas, we stopped for lunch. No plane, but we did see the lake where John McCain’s plane was shot down during the war.

puppy on a motorbike

Old Quarter in Hanoi

Ngoc Son Temple

Old Quarter in Hanoi

random pagoda

random pagoda

spotted on our walk around the lake

the lake

swan ride anyone?

a wheelchair accessable motorbike...amazing!

Later that afternoon, Wendy and I met up with Laura and her friend Terah (who had just arrived the night before from the USA). Together, we went to the One Pillar Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house and the Presidential Palace, and the Temple of Literature, before stopping for coffee and then dinner, followed by (early) drinks at a bar near our hostel. We ended up going to bed fairly early, as Wendy and I had plans to get up at 5:30am.

One Pillar Pagoda

Presidential Palace

on the grounds of the Presidental Palace

Uncle Ho's stilt house

Uncle Ho loved him some Pepsi...so it's always available!

across from the Temple of Literature, this lady had a bike full of flowers to sell

Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature

The next morning at 6am, Wendy and I headed to St Joseph’s Cathedral (just down the street from our hostel) to sit in on part of the early morning Vietnamese Catholic mass. We then indulged in a Western-style breakfast (ca phe sua das and omelettes) before heading to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.

St Joseph's Cathedral at 6am

inside the cathedral

outside the cathedral

In preparation for the mausoleum, Wendy and I had both worn long pants, and closed toe shoes. Security is tight at the mausoleum, and we were forced to walk a long distance around the mausoleum to enter, instead of cutting across the grass. (We tried, and got whistled at repeatedly by the uniformed guards.) After surrendering our cameras and passing our bags through the xray machine, we were finally permitted access. We lined up, 2 by 2, with the other visitors, and made sure not to talk or move our hands from our sides. Our time inside the mausoleum was brief, but it was something I don’t think either of us will forget. In a dimly lit room, surrounded by uniformed (and armed) guards posted at intervals of five paces, and despite his desire for a simple cremation, Uncle Ho’s frail, embalmed body lay peacefully for anyone to see. Only two words were expressed by Wendy and I when we were finally outside of the mausoleum and able to speak freely again – “wow” and “weird”.

the mausoleum

The rest of our morning and early afternoon were spent at the Fine Arts Museum, and the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. Hoa Lo Prison (nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by US POWs during the war) was built in 1896, and was the site of beheadings, escaped prisoners, and US prisoners of war (including John McCain). Another delicious meal was had, and then we went to the airport to wait for our flight home.

pretend prisoners at the "Hanoi Hilton"

picture of John McCain being pulled to shore in the lake we previously saw

Hanoi was a wonderful break from life in HCMC! It was great to remain in the country, but have such a different experience from our day to day life here. Now, Wendy and I are counting down the days to Singapore!

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2 Responses to "The Canucks conquer Hanoi"

Sounds like you had a good trip. By the way, that is not really Ho Chi Minh’s body. I was told that right before I entered the mausoleum AFTER I waited over 30 minutes to get inside…

Great post about Hanoi 🙂

hahaha thanks! we had heard the rumours from some girls staying at our hostel too…rumours being that it’s a wax body, and his remains were cremated and dealt with according to his wishes – right? it was still quite the experience, nonetheless! the whole ordeal of getting in was incredible!

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