Visions of Vietnam: Hanoi + HaLong Bay

Vaughn Gordy

Visions of Vietnam

Sunday, January 25, 2015

8:00 am and back on the bus to the Phu Bai Airport which has serviced the City of Hue for at least 45 years. This morning we were flying to Hanoi.

The runway looked exactly as I remembered it from 1970, but the terminal building and control tower were very new. For nostalgia sake, I am including a photo I took in 1970 of an Air Vietnam commercial plane in front of the Phu Bai control tower.

Hanoi is a city that I certainly didn’t want to visit back in 1970, but was very much looking forward to on this trip.

Our first stop was to Hoa Lo Prison, originally named Maison Centrale when constructed by the French, which we know as the “Hanoi Hilton”. This is where many U.S. Air Force pilots, including Sen. John McCain, were held prisoner. There are books written about the conditions they endured along with the torture, but none of that is reflected in the museum one now visits.

Below is a picture of how the facility originally looked. Most of it has been torn down so visitors can no longer see the real prison.

The small portion that is still standing is now a museum. The remainder is now expensive, high-rise condominiums.

I am including pictures of the placards shown throughout the museum. They are predominantly about the imprisonment of Vietnamese by the French and others. They are fairly self explanatory.

Tucked away in the back of the museum are a few photos of American prisoners. The shots were taken for propaganda purposes and show the prisoners enjoying themselves playing chess and basketball.

One only has to read any of the books written by former prisoners to know that this display is nothing short of insulting.

…so we move on to some of the more pleasant aspects of modern Hanoi.

Today, Hanoi is a very modern, vibrant city. It has nowhere near the traffic issues that we saw in Saigon.

We next visited the Temple of Literature built in 1070 under King Ly Thanh Tong and dedicated to Confucius sages.

It is one of the most important historical and cultural sites of Hanoi. This venue hosts many educational and cultural events and one was in the planning stages during our visit.

Preparations were underway for a graduation celebration.

After checking into our hotel, the Sofitel Metropole Hotel, we were bused to a theater for a Water Puppet show.

Monday, January 26, 2015

We had some time on our own, so Pat and I took a leisurely walk around the lake in downtown Hanoi (actually Ha Noi).

The lake is beautiful and fun to walk around.

The local gardening staff were busy planting flowers for the upcoming Tet celebration.

It is not uncommon to be stopped by young Vietnamese students who are learning English and appreciate the opportunity to just talk.

These two were anxious to talk and helped us locate a pharmacy. They even offered to buy us lunch so we could continue the conversation. We declined but spent about one half hour in conversation.

The gentleman on the left introduced himself as ‘Son’. From his Facebook page I see his full name is Le Thanh Son.

Next up for the afternoon was a ride on a ‘Cyclo’. This is the updated version of a Rickshaw, now powered by a bicycle instead of human feet.

We spent about an hour wandering up and down the narrow streets of Hanoi.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

After breakfast this morning we got back on our bus for a 3 hour drive to Ha Long Bay where we were to board a boat for an overnight cruise.

Along the way we got a good look at the rice fields in the countryside.

We were told that one individual owns the whole docking facility and all of the Paradise cruise ships. He is reportedly one of the richest people in Vietnam.

We all climbed aboard a ‘lighter’ (smaller craft) to journey to the cavern opening shown below.

This has been deemed to be one of the Natural Wonders of the World.

This was the view from the cavern entrance.

We cruised some more and came to a place with a lookout on top of one of these mountains.

We made the climb of over 400 steps to the top of this for a beautiful view of the waters below.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

After breakfast, we again boarded a lighter for a quick sail to one of the islands that houses monkeys. We passed under this small opening in the rock to reach the other side.

Having satisfied our monkey curiosity, we returned to our boat. Once we were aboard, we set sail back to the Ha Long Bay dock to board our bus and return to Hanoi.

This time we went right to the Hanoi Airport. This ended the first phase of our trip. One of the couples (our King and Queen) was returning to the United States while the rest of us were continuing on the Siem Reap, Cambodia.

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