Back in Hanoi

Well I think for once this may be actually be relatively short though I’m sure I’ll find plenty to fill it. Well the last couple of days have fun though not as action packed as previously, I’ll pick up where I left! After writing my last post we went out to the Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi. This was originally built by the French to house rebels and political prisoners. It is situated not too far from our guesthouse so we walked down there. When were arrived we realised that only one side of the triangular complex remains as the remainder was demolished in 1993 to “further the cultural development of Hanoi”. In actual fact what was knocked down was replaced by a high rise concrete hotel and business centre! What remains of the prison has been well converted into an interesting museum showing the conditions the prisoners had to endure, the “comrades” incarcerated there and the daring and often successful escapes made by the political prisoners. The prison was later used to house criminals and during the Vietnam war, American POWs from airbourne divisions that were shot down nearby. The rooms, cells and solitary confinement areas were augmented by gray realistic models of prisoners shackled as they would have been. The whole experience tried to really make you feel what it was like for the prisoners incarcerated there and achieved this while not going over the top. The remaining section of prison also acts as a memorial for those that died there either from disease of by being sentenced to death by guillotine. For the entrance price it was a well thought out museum unfortunately disadvantage by only being a third of the original prison.

After this it was time for lunch, Tom wanting a change from Vietnamese suggested a Tapas place around the corner recommended by the guidebook. On the way to “La Salsa” we saw a gallery dedicated to Vietnamese propaganda posters which we had a look in and eventually all ended up buying a print of our favourite posters. I had been feeling a little off all day with a headache that felt much like a sinus headache and had dosed up on pain killers before leaving home. By the time we left the gallery my headache was returning with a vengeance and I was starting to feel very short on energy in the slightly dizzy “not sure I want to walk very far” kind of way. Luckily the Tapas place was around the corner so we settled in for some food and a soft drink.  The Tapas was expensive and obviously came in small portions but was delicious and for the first time in a more expensive restaurat I felt it was actually worth the premium. As I said to Tom and Craig I imagine the items that were stored in oil and herbs and/or garlic were probably imported and therefore more expensive anyway. Regardless we all enjoyed the food and it was still very cheap by western standards. After some food I also felt a lot better. In the afternoon we wandered around the area as it was one that we hadn’t previously been to and stopped at an upmarket bar during happy hour for ‘buy one get one free’ beers. This made the beers the same price as we were used to (less than 50p each) rather than, shock horror, almost a pound each! We only stopped for a few beers (they’re all pretty weak over here anyway) but I still had less as I wasn’t feeling 100%. For our evening meal we decided to go to an upmarket collection of street kitchens where you can sample the food that you see on the streets with (almost) none of the upset stomach worries. Unfortunately the vegetarian selection was poor but I went more out of interest and because Craig and Tom were keen on some fish. The place was very nicely done out, wasn’t filled with tourists (only half filled) and I did manage to get an acceptable if not particularly exciting meal. It’s a shame there wasn’t more of a vegetarian selection as the staff were great the food I got was good quality and Tom and Craig were both very pleased with their selecton of mackerel with chili and salt for Tom and blood cockles for Craig. Having never had cockles before we didn’t have a clue what to do with them but I had a guess which I’m pleased to say was confirmed to be correct!

After food we headed back closer to home for a beer and a game of cards but I quickly realised that I wasn’t feeling good at all so at the early time of 20:30 I headed home leaving Tom and Craig at the bar. I got back to the guesthouse to find that our key wasn’t there as we’d forgotten to give it in and I didn’t have it but luckily they used another key to let me in. In the end I didn’t get to sleep until pushing 23:00 as even at the best of times I’ve found it pretty hard to get to sleep out here. I awoke to 00:45 and realised that the light was still on and Tom and Craig were nowhere to be seen. Upon realising this I was pretty worried as we had planned an early night due to a 6:00am start the next morning. I went downstairs to find that the night receptionist was locking up and going to bed in reception so I headed back up to the room to consider my options. I eventually decided that since nowhere stays open later than about 1:00am (officially there is a midnight curfew on bars) I may as well wait up for them as I wasn’t sure if they’d be able to get in and I didn’t fancy the idea of them (no matter how remote) of them having nowhere to sleep. I headed out to the balcony and watched the street waiting for the sound of English voices. It was actually pretty interesting watching the late night last traffic go by and sure enough 20 minutes later Tom and Craig wandered around the corner looking for the guesthouse. They looked pretty worried when they saw the lights off (we had never been back quite as late before) but I shouted down that I’d make sure they could get in if they couldn’t wake up our receptionist and sure enough being used to letting in people who stayed out late he came and opened up for them as soon as they knocked on the door. I was only really worried due to the next morning’s early start as for a normal night they weren’t really that late but more than anything I was glad that they were okay. It’s funny how your mind tends to prepare itself for the worst in these situations considering the worst things that could happen and what to do in each case, not pleasant but I blame an overactive imagination! It turned out that the guys had found a late opening bar with a pool table, met an American guy to play a few games with and lost track of time. Had I been there I would probably have done the same!

Unfortunately while Tom and Craig fell straight to sleep (probably aided by a couple of beers) I, having already had two hours sleep couldn’t sleep for a good hour so by 6:00am was feeling a lot better though pretty sleep deprived. Alarms were set for 6:00am as we had decided to take a trip to the Perfume Pagoda, a 60km trip out of town. While this may not seem far we opted to do the entire trip by public transport rather than taking a tour. We did this more for the adventure than anything else, while I have had my fair share of less developed public transport systems due to my time in Botswana, Tom and Craig hadn’t and wanted to rough it with the Vietnamese people. Anyway since its pretty late I’m going to publish this now and then start the story of the Perfume Pagoda in a new entry to finish off tomorrow when I can take my time over it!


Author: Chris Greenwood

IT Consultant, traveller, foodie, husband and occasional blogger

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