Last week, I shared some photos of our week in Hanoi, Vietnam. And here's a few more for you to enjoy! We spent a lot of time walking around the Old Quarter. I had expected it be a bit more touristy (like Phnom Penh) - lots of tourist-oriented shops, cafes, etc. And there were certainly a lot of foreigners walking around. But the Old Quarter still has a thriving economy of countless shops selling everything from clothes to household furnishings to keys and car parts.
Andrew and I spent some time sight-seeing with Declan. The first place we went to was Hoa Lan Prison, or the "Hilton Hanoi." The prison was originally opened by the French to hold Vietnamese revolutionaries during their colonial reign of French Indochina. The Vietnamese were imprisoned in dismal conditions and sometimes beheaded (with a French guillotine that is on display, along with some gruesome photos of its work).
During the Vietnam War (or the American War, as it's locally called), the Vietnamese used it for American prisoners of war. This is the prison where John McCain was held and tortured for six years. The photos displayed showed the POWs playing chess, decorating Christmas trees, and being examined by Vietnamese physicians. However, the POWs tell a very different story themselves.
It was so fascinating to see the Vietnam War through the lens that the Vietnamese government wants it to be seen through: an entirely unjustified invasion by a colonial dictatorship. And I do not understand why my country felt it necessary to intervene in a war that cost Vietnam so many lives and loss of property (and also tilted Cambodia towards its own genocide and destroyed much of neighboring Laos). There is always more than one side to history.
Unfortunately, the inside of the prison was so dark, I couldn't get any photos of the holding cells. But the cells were small, dank, and definitely not any place I'd like to spend more than 5 minutes.
The next day, Andrew and I visited the Museum of Ethnology, which was one of our favorite stops. Vietnam is an incredibly diverse country, with dozens of different ethnic groups and languages. The museum has multiple exhibits of the different clothes, customs, and even homes of the different ethnicities. They also have programs throughout the day, including a water puppet performance.
The highlight of the museum for us was the outside courtyard filled with life-size replications of traditional ethnic homes. You definitely want to go on a sunny day so you can enjoy walking around the garden and climbing up into the houses. It's a great way to see a little bit of the rest of the country if you can't get out of Hanoi (like us!).
Our last stop was the Tran Quoc Pagoda near the West Lake. It was actually a bit of an accident that we went there. I am pretty terrible with directions, and even worse, I don't know when I'm confused! I just keep insisting on going in the wrong direction!
So we ended up taking a taxi to the wrong lake. But it all worked out - Andrew and I pushed the baby in the stroller along the lake, then stumbled upon the Tran Quoc Pagoda - a Buddhist temple about 1,400 years old, on an island in the lake. It's free to enter; the sign asks you to wear long pants and shirts with sleeves. The main stupa is pretty impressive. After wandering around the grounds a bit, we found an ice cream shop and enjoyed coconut ice cream on a stick.
Overall, Hanoi was a pretty interesting place to visit - and pretty easy to do with a baby. Declan isn't the best hotel sleeper, so we were all a bit sleep deprived by the time we got on the plane to fly back to Thailand (then to catch a bus over to Cambodia). Andrew and I seriously debated applying for funding from this charity box we spotted in the Hanoi airport - it's worth a shot, right?!
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