Well, NOT all trips need to be planned. My young friend Paula Peralejo-Fernandez of Our Restless Feet meticulously arranged our first 3 days of adventure off Hanoi with visits to Hoa Lu, Tam Coc and a heavenly 2-day cruise along Halong Bay via Paradise Cruises, but our last 2 days in Hanoi was meant to simply meet up, dine and shop with friends. We ended doing that, plus more. So much more spontaneity, ditched plans, instant meet-ups, unplanned discoveries, and more unplanned shopping.
Before our first day in Hanoi was over, we’ve acquired the requisite skill of crossing streets, dodging bikes and cars, while keeping an eye on fruit stands and shops. Multi-taskers to the core. A former colleague now based in Hanoi learned we were in town and promptly whisked us away after our hotel brekkie to give us a city tour and food trip. (Thank you, Bing!) The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum stands tall and proud in the vast square, but no HCM because the body is off somewhere for “re-waxing (???). In the same square, we found the Prime Minister’s Office, which looks really grand.
We found time to visit the National Museum of History. Well-curated museum that we all feel jealous for this piece of Vietnamese pride. More national pride to be found in the War Museum where downed American bomber-planes are proudly displayed. Here, I drew a good laugh from local kids playing a game of “sipa” (kick), a game I played when I was a kid. Feeling still adept at this game, I asked them if I could join the game. In wedged sandals and a bag in one hand, I must have given them quite an entertainment that drew laughs till the sun set in Hanoi. Enjoyed that!
The Maison Centrale or Hoa Lo Prison in the French Quarter reminded us of the horrors of war. Much of the exhibits were of the French-era prisoners. Ergo, it’s by and large about the Vietnamese revolutionaries held behind bars, many executed using the guillotine, here. The Americans call it “Hanoi Hilton” because 200-300 captured American pilots were interrogated and tortured here. Their “experiences” were not however documented and exhibited here.
Quite depressing to see how humans can inflict inhumane punishment during war. “Tortured” by these images, our friend cum “local guide” brought us to the real, modern Hanoi Hilton for a cuppa and some sweet pastries before driving us home. And home is this boutique hotel near Hoan Kiem Lake bordered by many stalls and shops selling everything from shirts, bags, coats, slippers, souvenirs, fruits, coffee, tea, even turtles! Mind you, those turtles are for sale NOT as pets but as food. Yay!
More retail therapy and more food porn in 48 hours in this city. No meticulous planning, but surely, a fully-booked but relaxing holiday for us all. The sampan and cruise boat rides, the Hoan Kiem lake view provided the nerve-soothing experiences. The retail therapy provided the
haggling experience with the locals. The food trips satiated our belly cravings and another dimension of this memorable travel experience.