We arrived in Hanoi and immediately noticed the CRAZY traffic. Apparently there are 7 million people in the city and 5 million mopeds (according to our Ha Long Bay tour guide). That leads to another comment: honking your horn here is a language of it's own. It can mean, "hi! I know you!", "I'm here, don't hit me", "I'm not stopping, so you'd better get out of my way", "My car is bigger - I win", "get out of my way, @sshole"...you get the point. I have never heard so much honking in my life. And the driving? A one lane road can fit 3 cars and like 10 mopeds lengthwise. Walking anywhere is a challenge as well. If you have to cross a street, you just GO. Street lights mean nothing. Walk confidently and hope to not get hit...we didn't!
The main point of our trip here was that it was a good hopping off point for tours to Ha Long Bay. This meant we had about a day before and after our cruise to explore Hanoi. We started with a walking tour around the Old Quarter. Streets are named for the goods they sell (or used to sell), so it was cool to see an entire street dedicated to jewelry, electronics or silk.
We ended our walking tour at Hoan Kiem Lake. Everyone congregates here and it is a great little break from the craziness. Hoan Kiem means the Lake of the Restored Sword. As the story goes, the King of Vietnam was given a sword by the Turtle God. After the king defeated the Chinese, a large turtle came from this lake and took his sword back from him, it's mission being accomplished. There is still a Turtle Pagoda to commemorate the lake's turtles today.
We also visited the Ngoc Son Temple on an island in the middle of the lake. We reached it by crossing the famous Huc (Rising Sun) bridge. When we got inside, we saw offerings of cookies, beer and incense - interesting?
The last thing we really wanted to do in our short time here was visit Hoa Lo Prison (aka Hanoi Hilton). This was a prison used by the French and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. Probably the most famous prisoner was Senator John McCain. We went through the museum and kind of saved our commentary to each other until we got back to our hotel. We both felt that it was funny that when the Vietnamese were detained there by the French, it was "horrible and they were faced with unsanitary conditions", but when the US prisoners were there, it was "fair and humane". I have read some accounts of US soldiers there and it seemed far from humane. As always, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. We took everything we read there with a grain of salt, but it was interesting nonetheless.
John McCain's flight suit
One thing people have asked me a lot is how we were treated being Americans in Vietnam. We were only there a short time, but we mostly encountered extremely friendly people. I know it's still a sensitive topic for the older generation, but I really feel like this should be a place more Americans visit. We didn't meet a single American person when we were in Vietnam and I think this is sad. Honestly though, we didn't encounter very many Americans in SE Asia in general.
We enjoyed Hanoi, but we were glad we only had 2 days there. There wasn't a ton to do outside of what we did. Next up - our 2 day cruise around Halong Bay!