10.02.2017 - 13.02.2017
To all of you who know us well, you were well aware of our plans of visiting Australia and New Zealand this winter. However, as plans tend to do in life, they change. We ended up buying our first house together in July which as many of you know, can lead to many new and larger bills. In the end we decided that Asia would be much more affordable and that we would make it to Australia and New Zealand once we had more money. After much deliberation we made the informed decision to go to Vietnam and Cambodia. We embarked on this journey leaving Calgary in a -30 deep freeze and headed to Bangkok and its sweltering +30. After 2 days acclimatizing to the heat and time change we boarded a flight to Hanoi.
Oh Hanoi...the capital city of Vietnam and the capital city of the world for exhaust. Maybe not, but it sure felt like it! We arrived in Hanoi at the peak of rush hour (if there is such a thing here) and to only +14, which after Bangkok felt a little chilly. After an unsuccessful search for a cheap bus ride to our hotel in the Old Quarter, we opted for a taxi. Our first thought of Hanoi is that it's noisy, dirty, chaotic and the exhaust from the motor bikes and cars is actually quite suffocating. No wonder all the people here wear masks. The motorbikes were parked on the sidewalks, along with the street vendors, so we were forced to walk on the street and were honked at for being in the drivers way. Once we finally found a clear section, we would still have bikes coming at us even on the sidewalks. It honestly felt like a game of "frogger" which was an adventure to say the least!
There are a lot of sights to see and activities to do in and around Hanoi, so we tried to hit up what we could in 3 days. We stayed quite central in the Old Quarter, which to our dismay actually doesn't seem to be very old at all, probably from having to rebuild after the war. As we were still recovering from the jet lag, we were up pretty early the first day so we trekked the streets to Hoan Kiem Lake. To our surprise, the city shuts down the street around the lake on the weekend, allowing all the locals to run, dance or play badminton anywhere they can find room. It was lovely to see and a nice reprieve from the chaos. This beautiful lake houses a pagoda on an island at the north end and a temple on another island at the south end. Fortunately for us, we got to experience this without tons of traffic or tourists.
We then made our way to the "Hanoi Hilton", otherwise known as the Hoa Lo prison. This prison held many souls, mostly the Vietnamese trying to resist the French occupation but is probably most famous for imprisoning the American POW's during the Vietnam War. There isn't much of the original jail left, as 2 massive sky scrapers now surround the grounds, but the displays inside are quite thought provoking and well done. One of those displays focuses on American pilots who were incarcerated at Hoa Lo during the American War. One of those pilots was John McCain. His flight suit is displayed in the prison along with photographs of local Hanoi residents rescuing him from Truc Back lake in 1967. Quite a sobering place to visit.
We woke up bright and early again for day number 3 and decided to go to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex. This place is massive. It houses the Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh's personal residence on stilts, botanical gardens, a pagoda and a massive military parade route. The line up to get in snaked around for blocks and blocks. This allowed me enough time to put Sean's socks on to cover up my legs because I forgot to bring long pants on this trip! Nearing the entrance, we finally were able to look up at this gigantic square cement building where all of the guards were dressed in pressed white uniforms and not a smile cracked. The line was single file, hands out of our pockets and no talking. All this for a 15 second saunter into a dimly lit room with Ho Chi Minh, preserved in a glass casket, hands crossed over his stomach and 4 more guards standing at attention at each corner of the casket. As we left the room, it was easy to see that this place was a refuge for many Vietnamese people and something important for their country.
After a few hours at the Mausoleum complex, we continued our excursion to the Temple of Literature which was built in 1070. This temple has all the markings of Chinese culture, and early Vietnamese architecture with many ponds and gardens, pagoda's, gongs and statues of Confucius. This temple was the place of Vietnam's first University and honors those who studied within its walls. Though there were a lot of people visiting the temple, it was easy to get lost in the moment; the setting sun bouncing off the dark red wood structures, golden Chinese characters and dragon sculptures protecting their offering pots filled with incense.
Now that we've seen Hanoi, we're on our way to Sapa and Halong Bay. We want to give a shout out to Paul and Hana from Adventure Indochina Travel in Hanoi. They treat you like family and provide frequent follow up and information while you are on your excursions. If you're ever in Hanoi, please look them up! They are incredibly helpful, friendly and made sure everything was perfect. We didn't have to lift a finger Here is a link to their website: Indochina Adventure Travel