Workin' the streets in Hanoi

Our last stop in Vietnam was Hanoi. It’s a very large, chaotic city that somehow manages to maintain a little bit of charm. At the heart of the city lies Hoan Kiem Lake. The lake is small; you can walk around it in about 30 minutes, but it’s the heart and soul of the city. At all times of the day you’ll find locals walking around the lake or just sitting quitely on a bench. In the early morning and evenings you’ll find them doing their Tai Chi as they enjoy the peacefulness of the lake. It brings a small town feel to a very bustling area.

Hanoi is famous for it’s water puppet shows, so of course we had to see one. It was entertaining enough, but something you only have to see once in your life.  They are a bit like marionettes, but the controls come up from below, instead of from hanging above.  Its kind of like the puppets are on big rakes.  They don’t have much control of the puppets besides position, but the water makes them animated in their own way.

Water puppet show

We also found that Hanoi is home to the worlds best sweet buns at Pappa Roti! I’m not a huge fan of sweets, but these are mouthwatering delicious buttery goodness topped with maple sugar — YUM! We didn’t know about this place and as we were walking down the street we saw a huge line in front of their store, so we decided we better try it. We had to stand in line forever, pushing and shoving against all the Asians and waving our money around like it’s the New York Stock Exchange, but we finally made it to the front of the line and it was well worth it! Their buns are life-changing! Literally! After we discovered Pappa Roti’s, we changed our path to and from our hostel just so we could walk by and smell the goodness!

Eric enjoying a yummy sweet bun

Vietnam is the world’s 2nd largest coffee producer, and we couldn’t even think of leaving the country without making mass purchases of their coffee. I’m not a coffee connoisseur so this was all Eric. We holed up in a little coffee shop for well over an hour so that he could taste test all their different coffees and decide which ones to buy. Any of you who know Eric know that too much caffeine is not a good thing. He gets loopy. Seriously, way loopy. Add to that the cold medicine that he was taking. Nothin’ but good times!

There's only 2 cups of coffee in this picture. Believe me, there were many, many more!

It took me a couple of days of being in Hanoi before I could psych myself up enough to go to the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”. This is the prison where they held American pilots who had been shot down during the Vietnam War. My dad was in prison here at the beginning and again at the end of his nearly 6 years in captivity. He used to talk alot about the Hanoi Hilton and I had a vision in my head of what it would look like ~ which was nothing even close to the real thing. Only a small portion of the prison has been preserved, the rest has been turned into a large hotel, parking lot, and shopping center. The prison was originally built by French colonists in the 1890’s and was used to hold Vietnamese political prisoners, so the majority of the museum is dedicated to the Vietnamese and details how horribly they were treated by the French. There are 2 small exhibition rooms that house photos and a few materials from the American war. The pictures show the American prisoners having a great time playing basketball, decorating a Christmas tree, playing pool, etc. It was incredibly surreal to be in a foreign country, standing in  a small room looking at memorabilia of a war that, like it or not, has been a part of my family’s life, and to look up  and see a picture of my dad. All of the surrealness suddenly turned real. I had never seen the picture before, or if I had, I didn’t remember it, but I knew immediately that it was him. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at it….  

My dad is the dude on the left.

Of course what they don’t say is that the photos were staged whenever the Red Cross was there to report back to the US about the state of their fighter pilots and speaks nothing to the torture and hell that they endured, only how well they were treated. I wonder how many people go to that museum and leave there thinking that the Vietnamese were nice to treat the American prisoners so kindly? I also wonder how many former POWs leave there thinking the Vietnamese are completely full of shit! 

This is the only description posted in 1 of 2 rooms showcasing the American prisoners. It says that "the Vietnamese government had created the best living conditions for US pilots for they had a stable life during the temporary detention period." I can hear my dad and his POW buddies laughing.

Walking in and out of the small, dark cells, you can almost place yourself back in the late ’60’s and early 70’s and feel what it was like back then. Maybe it’s just me, because of all the stories, but I could totally picture men sitting inside their cells. I could hear their tapping on the walls communicating to each other and I could smell their sweat. I could see the tears shed in the privacy of their cells and smell the urine, vomit and feces. I could feel the pain and see the suffering inside those walls. Vietnam is a country with a very disturbing and depressing past, and  a part of me doesn’t blame them for tearing down most of the prison, but another part of me wishes that they would have kept it in tact as a reminder to not let history repeat itself.

Front of the prison

Outside the prison walls

I'm not positive, but I think this may be the door to what was called the "green knobby torture room", where the prisoners were first taken and interrogated. Now it's a storage room.

 Prisons aside: on a lighter note, we really loved our time in Vietnam! Every single place we went and every person we met added pure joy to our trip. Vietnam is a beautiful country with beautiful people and delicious food.

Eric wanted to try something weird, so he ate crickets! Seriously, too much caffeine is not a good thing!

 And, best of all, it’s super cheap to travel here!   It ranks high on our list of must-see destinations!