A Travellerspoint blog


Hanoi sights and sounds

View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

Our first morning in Hanoi was met with humid temperatures and sunshine which encouraged us to get up early and see the sights. We walked the streets of the Old Quarter and found ourselves at a street resturant which are commonly used by locals and you find them on every corner amongst the hussle and bussle which adds to the experience. Whats funny is that the seating is crammed in smalls spaces on the pavement and therefore they use tiny stools that wouldnt look out of place in a primary school. We ordered our food but were a little bit too keen and had not realised that best way to order food at these places is to ask for what you want, pay for what you want, then get served. The reason for this is that upon understanding what was on the 'set menu' we subsequently found out that we were paying for each dish instead of a set total price. In the end in didn't matter as the food was good and only cost us £9 for two people, it was enough food that we didn't need to eat for the rest of day. Bargain!!


Having left the resturant we leisurely made our way to the Hoa Lo Prison. The history of the prison dated back to when France colonised Vietnam during the 1800s. It was intended to hold Vietnamese prisoners, particularly political prisoners who were often subject to torture and execution. It was often overcrowded, with its inmates held in subhuman conditions, and it had become a symbol of colonialist exploitation and of the bitterness of the Vietnamese towards the French.

Today most of the prison has been demolished to make way for hotels and other buildings but one section is still available to view. I was particular interested in going because it also housed the American pilots during the Vietnam War, so I thought a bit of history around that time would be worth seeing. It turned out that the period that the Vietnamese were brought to this prison was more interesting, mainly because of the appalling treatment they received.


They would be kept for days on end locked up by a chain on one leg unable to stand up. If they were disciplined they would be kept in solitary confinement in a room no bigger than two metered squared without daylight. There was a large stone in the courtyard which was the old sewage drainage and it told of prisoners who had escape by using the pipe to crawl out of. As you can see from the picture below it was such a small space, and only because the prisoners were so malnourished that their bodies could fit through. The whole experience of the prison started remind me of one of my favourite films 'Shawshank Remdemption' when Andy crawled through the sewage pipe to freedom.


As we carried on through the prison we learned about the period when during the Vietnam War and how US pilots were held here as POWs. What became evident was how this victory over the US pilots was so important to them when describing their history and also the kind of propaganda that might of been fed to the world during this period. When we saw the pictures of the pilots having a laugh and being cared for it seemed very convenient and we did question how truthful it could be. We did however learn that the pilots jokingly renamed the prison 'Hanoi Hilton' but I imagine they were being very ironic. I wasn't convinced that the solitary confinement, chains etc would not have been administered to these guys in some sort of way.

Towards the end of the tour we walked into a room which housed a old guillotine which had an eerie presence. I think Sarah was tempted to put her head near the dangerous part but thought best not too. The room also housed a corridor leading to the solitary confinement rooms, and they had painted a picture on the back wall to give the illusion of a longer corridor. There was a young boy who was with his parents and understandably was nervous about going in and tried to to convince Mum and Dad not too which was quite cute. To be honest it was creepy enough that I didn't want to stay long either.


A sobering experience walking through this prison but it gave a new perpective that I wasn't aware of in terms of the conflict within the country..

Next it would be the Women's Museum which Sarah chose to visit so I will pass on too her to tell all.....

I'd heard that the Women's museum was one of the best in Hanoi and we were not disappointed. You definitely got loads of info for your money with exhibits spread over 6 floors in this modern museum taking you through different aspects in women's life in Vietnam from their efforts in the country's conflicts to their role in everyday life. It really demonstrated how different my life could be if I had been born in Vietnam even today.

The main part that stuck with me was the opening section on today's street sellers, where we watched videos of them telling their story on how they live. We had seen these women all over Hanoi loaded with various goods from fruit & baguettes to shoes & ponchos, some of them managing to stack up and carry unfathomable amounts.


Many of these women come from rural areas and have had to come into the city to make additional money to help support their families, often not seeing their husbands and children for 2-4 weeks at a time and living in cramped conditions sharing a room with 10 other women. The main reason this has happened seems to be because a lot of the land they have to farm has been taken away from them to make way for other development so the crops they yield are small and can only provide an income for part of the year and so they are forced to come to the city to make ends meet. Their hours are long starting at 4am to get their goods from the market to sell and they stay out until they have sold it all which could take them into the evening, and in a 'good' week they can make about 20 US dollars. It was quite sobering when we sat down later and worked out that it would take a street seller best part of 6 months to earn what we do in 2 weeks, and although we need to put it in perspective of different costs of living etc it still made us take a step back and appreciate what we have. I definitely would prefer to buy from them than a shop.

It was also interesting to see the varying traditions of the different people when it came to their wedding ceremonies too, particulalry as i am hoping to pick up ideas along our trip for our own big day! For one of them the tradition is for the father of the bride or the eldest brother to carry to bride to the ceremony...so Dad and Jez you can sort out amongst yourselves who will have that honour :)

I also like the saying

"Wife and husband are as inseparable as a pair of chopsticks"

I guess coz one couldn't work without the other

Some of their wedding outfits were interesting too. One with a massive veil that sticks out a couple of feet and covers the brides face completely so she has to be led. Looks quite cumbersome to wear so not sure I ll be going for that myself.


We also got to try out some of the ways the people the countryside live as well... Definitely need to be strong!


I won't ruin the rest of the museum in case you go there but well worth a visit....back to Dan. Sx

Having finished with both museums it was our plan to make our way around Hiem Lake towards the Water Pupptery. It was a nice stroll and what we found was that a lot of the locals hung out here as well as many couples who were having what seemed like wedding photos. The junctions we passed still never ceased to amaze when full of traffic, at one point the road was full to the brim with motorcycles.


We found ourselves at the Water Puppertry in good time and were able to see a early performance, truth be told I was on my last ounce of energy but it was supposed to be a good cultural experience so we bought our tickets and went in. Now I would like to say that I took it all in but unfortunately that last ounce fell part as soon as the lights went down and my memory of the performance is slightly blurred due to intermittent moments of nodding off. However I think Sarah would agree that although culturally it was worth seeing, it was quite repeative and it was a job to stay interested.

After the show we had time to kill and decided after a wash up we should see what the nightlife had to offer. It was a good night out and we put the world to rights for a few hours before all the bars had to close due to a curfew that is put in place by the military. Fortunately we had seen this before and knew about it so it wasn't much of a surprise , but I bet if you didn't know and you saw guys in military uniform on the back of trucks shouting across the streets you could think some sort of coup was happening ..... Thankfully it was just a normal noise curfew and we congregated with most of Hanoi's backpackers on the streets before finding our way to a dingy club/bar the other side of the highway with the help from a guy we met on the China/Vietnam border , and that was that ... To be honest it was one of those nights that should of ended after the first bar but you live and learn. But also it made me realise the type of places and people that I want to be around more on this trip so that was a blessing.....

The next day we knew we had a long bus trip to Sapa to look forward to so the day was spent mainly catching up with blogs and then walking the streets of the Old Quarter in search of the allusive shoes that Sarah has been unable to find due to most shops in China selling ridiculous coloured ones or ones with inch thick soles. During our leisurely walk we did stubble upon a great place for lunch which was high above the street levels called the City View Cafe. The lunch soaked up what alcohol we consumed the night before and the views meant we could have a good old people watch.

Once again the traffic continued to baffle with at one point cars and motorcycles weaving their way around this poor old guy who walked across the 'Zebra Crossing' at turtle speed. We both concluded that after a couple of days it was time to get out of Hanoi and see the countryside.


Coming up our first sleeper bus and the trip to Sapa

Stayed tuned for more tales .


Sent from my iPad

Posted by doyledan 03:02 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hong Kong - Nanning - Hanoi!

View Doyle and Dan's Adventure on doyledan's travel map.

It was time to make our next big overland trip from Hong Kong to Vietnam via China!

First stop was a short 2 hour train journey from Hong Kong to Guangzhou East in China on their long distance transit train. Once through immigration we boarded the train full of butterflies of excitement about being on our way to another country. As soon as we got to Guangzhou East station it was clear we weren't in Hong Kong anymore and were back in China; queuing had gone out of the window again it was every man for himself getting through the ticket and passport check, kids were wearing trousers with a slit down the back and no nappy happy to do their business as and when and smoking and spitting anywhere and everywhere was the norm. But oddly it no longer felt strange anymore and was strangely reassuring as we were making this journey to the next unknown.

Next was an overnight train for 15 hours to Nanning but I think you have heard enough about sleeper train journeys and it was pretty standard and we knew the drill.

We had decided to change our original plan of getting another overnight train from Nanning for an 8 hour bus during the day instead so we wouldn't be wasting time sitting around twiddling our thumbs in Nanning. The only thing was we were arriving at 7am and you can't buy a ticket online and we had read only a few buses ran in the morning and that the bus station was 40 mins from the train station....so would we have enough time to find our way to the bus station and sort a ticket etc!

So we were relieved when we saw a tourist office advertising bus tickets to Hanoi.....this was sort lived as the price quoted was 2 and half times more expensive than what we had read up online. In the end as we didn't have much time and it would take 40 mins to get to the bus station we decided to pay the higher amount just so we got moving, it was still so cheap in comparison to a similar journey in the UK! But our resolve turned to anger when it turned out that the bus station was only 5 mins down the road and it was the tourist office guys brother who drove us there in his car, and when we got given the bus ticket at the station we saw that they had massively marked up the price but by then it was too late.

The moral of the story is double check locations on a map, don't leave yourself too little time so you make quick decisions and finally trust your instincts and your abilities to get yourself somewhere. It was our first slip up and at the end of the day we got to our bus and although we paid over the odds (and i felt like a muppet) the rest of the bus journey was really good with water provided, several rest stops and a free lunch along the way.
The scenery was worthwhile too surrounded by limestone karst mountains which we would have missed if we had taken the sleeper train.


The border crossing between China (Ping Xian) and Vietnam (Dong Dang) was an odd experience as we were driven across no mans land in yellow buggys and when we were at the Vietnamese side and handed our passports over they were passed around 5 immigration guys and one seemed to find Dans passport particularly amusing...no idea why. After being on an air conditioned bus the difference in the temperature and humidity at the border was huge, so much warmer. As we got back on the bus leaving China behind us I was struck by how green Vietnam is...all shades of green particularly as we passed through all the rice paddy fields with loads of farmers at work cutting down their crops


It was about 5pm as we made it to Hanoi and an impressive storm cloud was coming in over the city. As the sunset the storm cloud was pink and you could see forks of lightning inside it. Never seen a sky like it! When we stopped in the town it was dark and after running the gauntlet of taxi and motorcycle drivers jostling to take us, we negotiated a price and made our way to the hostel, following each turn on the map as we went as I was determined not to be ripped off again.

I'm pleased to say we made it to the Hanoi Hostel with no more mishaps and settled down at a live music bar called "Make some noise, feed your soul" and chilled out listening to a band with some great flamenco style guitarists and a couple of cocktails before hitting the sack!


More on our time in Hanoi to follow....but I ve run out of time to write it as about to jump on a bus for a couple of days in Sapa!


Posted by doyledan 01:42 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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