A day in Hanoi

Trip Start Feb 17, 2013
Trip End Mar 21, 2013

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beginning our morning with a scrumptious breakfast at the Hanoi Moment Hotel, we each had an omelet that came decorated with fruit and vegetables in pretty designs, much like we would see on a cruise.  Exotic fruit juices such as mango and papaya were offered, and the best croissant we have tasted.  The presentation was beautiful -- much better than the continental breakfasts we are used to in the United States.  After breakfast we walked around the block to explore a little of what we had seen last night.  Businesses seem to open very early, as we were out and about before 9 a.m.  It appears the shop owners may live upstairs and have their stores downstairs.  We also got the impression, from the night before, they stay open until the last customer wanders past -- well after dark.

Our day really began when our Hanoi Kids tour guides arrived at our hotel.  Hanoi Kids is a student club where about 100 university students volunteer their time to give private tours to tourists from all over the world.  Zhu (male) and Ha (female) are both in their second year of university, both majoring in economics.  We were also joined by Phuong who is a journalism student and is working on her thesis for graduation in four months.  Her thesis is an interview for a student show on Radio Hanoi, the national radio station.  She observed the Hanoi Kids working as tour guides, and spent time interviewing Zhu, Ha, and both Tom and me.  The radio program will air next Tuesday but, unfortunately, we will not be where we can hear it.

We walked from the hotel  a few blocks to Hoan Kiem Lake which is a large park area for the local residents. On the shore of the lake is Ngoc Son Temple, a Buddhist temple built as a memorial to some of the historical figures of Vietnam’s past.  After a walk around the lake, we walked to the French Quarter where Zhu helped me purchase a sim card so that my iPhone will work in Vietnam and Cambodia.  Not really knowing what I got, thinking I should only have 100 minutes of phone time, I have been using the Internet.  We are hoping I actually paid for this service and I don’t find a Verizon bill of thousands of dollars when we return home.  :)  

After walking and talking for about 2 hours, the Kids suggested we have lunch at the New Day Restaurant in the old quarter of Hanoi.  We were encouraged by the authenticity of the restaurant because there were no other Caucasian tourists -- everyone appeared to be a local.  We were taken upstairs to a private room where we sat on pillows on the floor.  Because we are novices at ordering Vietnamese food, we asked Zhu to order for us.  He ordered a seafood hot pot, which came with several types of delectable seafood, a variety of vegetables, and rice noodles which were placed in a large bowl on a hotplate.  The food was put into boiling broth to cook.  We also had spring rolls -- both fresh and fried -- a pork dish and a chicken dish.  Too much food, but it worked out well and plays into the later part of our day’s story.

After lunch, Phuong had to leave for an appointment and Zhu and Ha took us to the Hoa Lo Prison which was better known during the Vietnam/American War as the Hanoi Hilton.  This is where our prisoners of war were taken.  The prison was built in the late 1800s as the French contribution to the annals of world torture.  The French used it to imprison political independence revolutionaries during their occupation of Vietnam.  The Vietnamese used the prison as a training ground for early Communist Party leaders while locked up.  By 1954 the French were out, the Vietnamese were in, and they continued the sordid history of the prison until 1975 when the last American prisoner was released.  Interestingly, Zhu’s great-grandfather was one of the Viet Cong prisoners during the 1950s.  He survived the torture and the guillotine to live to be nearly 100 years old.  

When we were finished at the prison, as we headed back to the hotel to pick up our bags to head to the train station for the next leg of our adventure, Ha received a frantic phone call from the hotel that our train was leaving in 10 minutes.  We had made reservations for the 7 p.m. train, so we were under the assumption we had a few more hours to get to the train station.  However, the train company changed our reservations to an earlier train at 3:45.  The hotel staff took our bags to the train station, our taxi driver and guides took us to the train station, and with the help of the hotel staff, we ran for our train.  Literally ran, jumping on board just as the conductor blew his whistle.  The luxury cabin consists of four bunks, of which we were supposed to have one bottom and one top.  However, the older-than-us French couple who arrived earlier than we did were firmly planted on the two bottom bunks and were not about to budge.  Tom made it somewhat clear to the train car porter that he was not happy.  About a half hour after “take off” the porter came to the cabin, asked who was sleeping on the top bunks, and when I said Tom and I were, he told Tom he wanted to see him in the hallway -- now.  He took Tom down the car to an empty cabin and in the best tradition of third world bartering, negotiated a price for us to have this cabin all to ourselves -- a price that will never be divulged on an official receipt.  A little under the table negotiations resulted in him having a new best friend and us having a private cabin.

Now, the compartment is, according to Tom, a 3 star train compartment.  I would rate it a 1 star hotel room normally rented on an hourly rate during the day.  We have been sitting on one of the bunks for the past three hours and it is so hard my tailbone is getting sore.  And, we get to sleep on this “soft” mattress.  Rocking and rolling down the track, this train is so old Ho Chi Minh probably used it on his honeymoon.  The bedding looks as if it might have been laundered within the past month or two.  As Tom says from all his Air Force experience in Southeast Asia, once you close your eyes, all hotels look the same.  On the bright side, we are sitting here watching the scenery pass by and we will awaken early tomorrow morning in Hue.
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Bob on

I hope you're having a great time.
I hear the chihauhau is excellent although the portions are a a bit small.
Seriously all is going well here .I didn't see todays update on the blog yet.
Dayna you are quite informative. TB you are damn funny. keep it up. it's the only reality show I tune into.

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