Vietnam or Bust

Days 23 & 24. Tues 5/31 & Wed 6/01


Central Backpackers Pub Crawl, trip planning, Hoa Lo Prison, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Water Puppet Show

So reluctant to leave Singapore, but very excited to get back to Vietnam for a few weeks. Today we traveled to the Capitol, Hanoi and checked in for a day before heading to Sapa.

We reached the Central Backpackers hostel via a swagged out van, and checked in and got settled just in time for their hour of free beer at the bar. It was a smaller hostel, and with the beer flowing everyone was in good spirits, chatting with new friends from around the world. We met 2 Canadians, Sam (Toronto) and Virginie (Montreal), a Swiss guy, and an Australian while we were staying there. All very nice people who had been travelling for quite a bit in the area.

The hostel hosted a pub crawl around the city starting at the rooftop bar in their sister hostel. The view was nice, but the best part was the breeze – I almost forgot how hot it can be because we’ve been having overcast weather the past few places. We had some more free beer and pondered some laughing gas (it must pair well with alcohol because they sold it at our hostel’s bar too) but I turned in early in an effort to catch up on my lack of sleep from the night before.

We woke up to a nice free breakfast and then spent some time at the front desk planning a few days in Ha Long Bay (beaches! 😄) and then checking out. Meanwhile, Josh went to have a doctor check out a bump on his leg – he got a little bunged up in Koh Phangan – and turns out they won’t have to amputate after all. 🤕😌 Totally kidding, he’s fine.

By the time we had taken care of our planning we missed the hostel’s free walking tour, so instead we made our own. We went to see the Hỏa Lò Prison, where US pilots like John McCain were held as POWs and learned that it was first built by the French in the 1880s to imprison Vietnamese. Reading the exhibits at the museum and then reading about the prison online afterward, there were clear discrepancies and it was easy to tell that many of the photos depicting life for the American POWs were staged and used as propaganda. They even stated that the prison was nicknamed “Hanoi Hilton” because inmates likened it to staying at a hotel and made the interrogation room out to be comfortable and clean.

We found that the exhibits regarding the French colonial period were much more accurate and had many more believable artifacts and historical citings. One of my favorite parts was the almond tree, which Vietnamese prisoners used to help with sicknesses (leaves and bark) and also as a meeting spot (physical location) to discuss survival and escape measures.

We entered the execution room (which housed a guillotine and several chambers where political prisoners were kept before their death) and weirdly enough ran into one of our Phuket hostel-mates and some guys from DC. It’s insane how small the world can be sometimes.

Last week, President Obama was in Hanoi as part of a visit to Asia and he met up with Anthony Bourdain to eat bún chả at Bún Chả Huong Lien. We tracked the restaurant down and thought we would try it out as well. On the way, we witnessed what appeared to be a funeral procession, where a band played behind a picture of the deceased and a crowd of family and friends followed behind the vehicle transporting the body.

Later we cabbed to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to learn a little more about the leader who helped establish a Democratic Republic in Vietnam in 1945. We were ushered out at closing time before we could finish looking around, but Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body is kept in the building as well.

We hustled to a water puppet show, which we thought would be interesting and exciting, but turned out to be naptime for most of us after being in the hot sun all day. The show was about 45 minutes long and told a story about farming and some fish. Also maybe there were princes and princesses involved? I could tell there was a story being told, but the entire script and songs were in Vietnamese so it was a little tough to follow.

We rewarded ourselves with bubble tea, ice cream and clean laundry followed by a fantastic dinner at Pho 10, a packed place right near our hostel. Between the bún chả and pho, Hanoi has been good to us.

Food log:

  • McSpicy wrap from the airport McDonald’s. Singapore’s airport is so nice and clean! And you go through security at your flight gate, which is interesting (and efficient)
  • Bún chả and bún nem at an awesome little hole-in-the-wall near our hostel
  • Free breakfast of banh mi and eggs with fruit
  • Mike’s iced coffee from a little corner place. It was called Mother Land Coffee Da and tasted like a ginger espresso mix. V interesting
  • More bún chả at Huong Lien
  • Pho with half-cooked pork, so delicious

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