After taking a look a my travel blog I realized I never finished recounting my trip through Vietnam. As this blog is a place to not only share my travels with friends and family but to keep the memories of my trip for posterity, I have a late addition to post. If only for my own record of the trip.
I head over to the local Starbucks for a cup of coffee and some breakfast. It’s the largest and nicest Starbucks I’ve seen in Asia – and might be the nicest one I’ve seen anywhere.
As I look out the window I notice a jet black and silver Rolls Royce. It seems out of place in a city where most people seem to ride motor scooters and bicycles.
With breakfast taken care of I decide to do some sightseeing near the Thai Embassy so I could easily pickup my visa in the afternoon. I use the Grab app on my phone to get a car to take me to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Hanoi so I thought I best check it out.
The car drops me off just outside the fence where I can see the Mausoleum in the distance, but no gate for me to enter. I walk around for a bit before I finally discover the entrance.
I hadn’t done much planning for the visit other than a quick look on TripAdvisor for things to do, so I followed the other tourists to see where they were headed. The first stop was the One Pillar Pagoda.
It was originally built in 1049 and said to represent a lotus blossom sprouting up from a pond. It was destroyed by the French Army in 1954 and had to be reconstructed. It is one of the most revered Buddhist temples in Hanoi and Vietnam.
A short walk from the temple is the Ho Chi Minh Museum. I head over to give it a look. As I make it to the doors I realize the temple is closed. I really should have planned ahead before hopping in a car and heading over.
All is not lost and I make my way over to the main attraction, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It’s a giant stone building where the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is displayed in a glass case.
When I arrive I see the changing of the honor guard that protects the building.
After the show I try to head over and see if I can get in. Turns out this too was closed. It is only open from 7:30 – 10:30 AM. While it wasn’t a complete write off, not planning ahead made this visit a bit of a waste.
I only had a short time to stay in Hanoi so I wanted to try and salvage the day with a little sightseeing. I checked on nearby sites and found the Temple of Literature wasn’t too far away. I decided to walk and it took me about 20 minutes.
Temple Of Literature
I arrive at the Temple just in time to beat a tour bus full of passengers to the ticket counter. I get a map and begin the self guided tour of the site.
It was originally built in 1040 as a university for royalty and the elite of society. It’s been exceptionally well preserved and is known as one of the best representations of Vietnamese architecture from that era.
The tour takes you through several court yards that are comprised of gardens and ponds. There aren’t many tourists about and it is a quiet and peaceful walk.
In the third courtyard is a large pond called the Well of Heavenly Clarity. Although the water was a murky green and not really clear at all.
As I enter the fourth courtyard I see it is setup with dozens of small blue stools. They are preparing for some sort of event later in the day.
There is a large statue of Confucius in the building at the far end and this area is often used for ceremonies. But I’m not able to figure out what might be going on here today.
I make my way to the final courtyard which has a building at the far end with more statues of Confucius and a few museum pieces to look at which detail some of the history of the temple.
Once back outside, I find two towers on opposite sides of the building. One holding a giant bell, the other holding a huge drum.
The temple is one of the most important cultural and historic sites in Hanoi. It’s a short tour, depending on how much time you spend lingering around the gardens and courtyards. I think I was done in about an hour and a half.
It was now time to go pickup my Thai visa. I order another car from Grab and headed over to pick up my visa for Thailand. There isn’t a line and I’m in and out in just a few minutes.
I still had some time left to take in one more sight and decided on the Hoa Lo prison, which was only a 5 minute walk away.
The Hanoi Hilton – Hoa Lo Prison
The front of the prison is bright yellow which makes it hard to miss. The words above the doorway say “Maison Centrale”, and to someone like myself who doesn’t speak French it sounds pretty harmless. A quick google translate and I see it means Central House which is what they call prison in France. So I was definitely in the right place.
The prison was built by the French colonialists in the late 1880’s to hold political prisoners. It had a terrible reputation for the treatment and torture of prisoners. During the Vietnam War it was used to hold U.S. POWs and was nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton.
It was once a sprawling prison, but much of it was torn down in the 1990’s and only the gate house remains as a museum.
Being that it is Vietnam, much of the stories and displays are centered around the Vietnamese who were held here in subhuman conditions by the French. There is a small part of the museum dedicated to the Americans held here during the war.
They have a large hall showing where prisoners slept in ankle shackles on hard wooden platforms.
One room houses the original guillotine used by the French for executions.
I wander around the grounds looking at old cells, the original front gate, and several of the smaller museum collections.
In one of the outside areas is a large memorial with giant figures of prisoners carved into granite walls.
It’s not the most uplifting tour to take, but an important part of the history of Hanoi.
It was time to head back to the hotel and get some dinner. I had a flight out to Thailand the next day. I enjoyed my time in Hanoi, but didn’t give myself enough time to see all the sights.
There are many places that I would have liked to see like the Perfume Pagoda and the Citadel. Combined with all those missed sights in Hue and Hoi An due to rain it gives me a reason to make another trip back and visit. Vietnam was an unexpected delight and I enjoyed it a lot more than I anticipated.
Thailand And Final Thoughts
My next stop would be returning to Thailand. I was going to slow down and relax for a few months. I would find a condo by the beach and enjoy life for a while before heading back to the real world. I didn’t bring out my camera much during that time and wasn’t doing much in the way of sightseeing so I think this shall be my last post about my trip.
It was a great way to wrap up my around the world trip and I was torn between staying an extra month or two or heading home. In hind sight, heading home was the right move. I have no regrets about the time and money this trip cost me. It was worth every penny.