TY to those of you who commiserated with me over the weather. All has been dry since then. One more word about that lousy day: as I got on the dragon boat, I dropped my iPad & the bottom half of my screen shattered. Luckily, the iPad is still fully functioning which is really important because I use it for e.mail, to take photos, to write my Haber Reports, to read, to play Words with Friends, etc.
Sunday night we flew to Hanoi – capital of Vietnam & clearly yet another familiar name. We stayed at the Metropole Hotel which is an old fashionable hotel which has been renovated & modernized.
On our first day in Hanoi we were driven southeast of the city to Hoa Lu which was the capital of Vietnam from 968 to 1009. On our way there we passed lots of green rice fields & small villages. In Hoa Lu we saw 2 pagodas which are devoted to the first 2 kings of Vietnam.
For lunch that day we had a traditional pho soup.
After lunch we went to Tam Coc and took a 2 hour rowboat ride on the Dong River. We drove through 3 caves & saw lots of rock formations jutting out of the water. The rowboat ride was the highlight of the day.
We also saw a man working in the rice paddy that was adjacent to the river.
After the rowboat ride we went to another pagoda (Bich Dong), but we were not especially impressed.
Dinner that evening (in Hanoi) was our best dinner to date, BUT it was not exceptional.
We spent the next day sightseeing in Hanoi. I really enjoyed that a lot. The French influence is most noticeable here. There are many tree lined boulevards & French colonial architecture. I guess I’m just a city girl at heart!
We started our day by examining the influence of Ho Chi Minh on Vietnam. First we visited his embalmed body which was a very strange experience. He died in 1969. He looks quite lifelike. There was tons of security & many rules including the following :
We were told not to smile or talk while walking past his body.
The shrine is a huge imposing building constructed between 1973 & 1975 in a tribute to Russian architecture. The square surrounding the building reminded me of Tiannemen Square in Beijing.
Then we visited the house that was built for him.
However, he never lived in this house. He felt it was too grand; he wanted to live like the people did so they built him a more modest house up on stilts so it wouldn’t get flooded.
Within this same complex is the One Pillar Pagoda. Originally built of wood in 1049, it was burned down by the French in 1954 as they retreated from Vietnam. It was rebuilt in 1955. The structure is a Buddhist representation of the world in the form of a lotus leaf emerging from the water. (I’m not crazy about the photo I took so I’m not including it!)
From there we went to the Temple of Literature. It was originally built in 1070 for the worship of sages of Confucianism. In 1075 Vietnam’s first university was established on this site to educate the sons (but not the daughters) of the mandarins.
Next on our agenda was the Hoa Lo Prison, otherwise known as the Hamoi Hilton. I’m sure most of you know about it. It was built by the French in the early 20th century to house Vietnamese revolutionaries. It was later used to keep captured American POWs during the Vietnam War, most notably Senator John McCain. Only the main gate & part of an outer wall remain. The remainder has been turned into a museum. They made it seem like the POWs were very well treated!!
For lunch we asked the guide to recommend a French restaurant; we thought it only fitting. It turned out to be the best meal we had in Vietnam.
After lunch we had a tour of the Old Quarter which is a collection of narrow streets. Each one is named after the product sold on that street, e.g., silk, gold, shoes, art, etc.
This ends our time in Vietnam, but not our trip. Next stop: Laos.
Keep in touch.