Busy, busy day, with a heavy emphasis on the Vietnam War. Our day begins with breakfast in the hotel and at 8 o’clock we venture out to awaiting buggies (electric cars) which give us a thrilling and speedy ride through Colonial Hanoi. These drivers play “chicken” with all the motorbikes and scooters that dominate the streets a thrill ride not dissimilar to something at Six Flags. In and out of streets and traffic with some really harried encounters with other drivers. Hanoi tourist attractions are more than enough to make your day become a busy one, said Duc, our tour guide. But we get a good feel for the lay of the land, and the extent of the retailers, in the busy but interesting Hanoi Old Quarter.
We return to the hotel and catch a bus for a half day of sightseeing. Our first stop: Ba Dinh Square and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, only the outside as the tomb itself isn’t open on Mondays. We see the Presidential Palace and several buildings that were home to Ho Chi Minh from 1954 until his death in 1969. Next we visit One Pillar Pagoda, a historic Buddhist temple built in a style of a lotus emerging out of the water. Interior is spectacular.
We continue on to Hỏa Lò Prison, used by French colonists for political prisoners (they called it Maison Central), and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War (prisoners referred to it as “Hanoi Hilton”). It was demolished during the 1990’s, but the gatehouse remains as a museum. John McCain and Pete Peterson (first US Ambassador to a united Vietnam) were among those held prisoners here.
We lunch at Seasons of Hanoi and have a traditional Vietnamese meal. Tasty but nothing to write home about. Tiger prawns, white fish, beef and pork are among the offerings. Food is served family style. Our lunch companions are Morley, Gloria Smith and Jenifer Sank from Texas, and Larry and Jacque Knupp from California.
Our Hanoi tour ends at the Temple of Literature, a temple built in 1070 in honor of Confucius. It is also the site of Vietnam’s first national university. Great photo oops. Some among the group continue to acquire clothing, pashminas, fleece gloves, knit caps, etc. The weather really is disappointing, chilly, misty, windy, gray. What would normally be beautiful and vibrant photos with lots of red look like something from “Schindler’s List”. Note: Hanoi schools actually close when temperature drops to 10c because schools are heated. Schools are closed today so this is truly unusual weather, even for Hanoi.
We return to our rooms, At 4:30, we head to the bus for a transfer to Thang long Water Puppet Theatre, a uniquely North Vietnamese art form celebrating rural life and folklore for over 1,000 years. The puppets can weigh as much as 25 lbs. each and are manipulated on long polls from behind the screen, but in the water. Very intriguing and very unlike anything we have seen. Forty-five minutes is plenty, however.
Dinner with Matt and Mike is at the Press Club, a very elegant restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. It is relaxing and delicious. Very American cuisine after a busy day in Hanoi, which is important to many in our crowd who still suffer from the aftermath of the pork dish at Verticale yesterday. I am grateful for a strong stomach. Knock on wood.
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