Welcome to the inaugural Travel Tuesday post. I wasn’t quite sure where exactly to begin this series, as it’s going to be quite the behemoth. There were, of course, many many restaurants visited and food eaten, but I just felt like I couldn’t quite jump into the restaurants and leave out all the other, sometimes small, details that made up the experience. One of the best parts about this trip was just experiencing cultures that are so different from the States. Now, I won’t pretend to known everything about each place we visited, and my experience is only from a tourist perspective. I can’t claim to know what daily life is like there, or even to have an understanding of daily life there. But what I can share is my perspective on the places we were fortunate enough to visit and the impression I came away with (and of course a review of the food we ate). I figured the best way to organize and tackle the 2 week trip would be to simply follow our itinerary, starting with a brief overview of the city or excursion and follow that up with a post on food. So without further ado, let’s get started. First stop – Hanoi, Vietnam.
I missed an entire day in Hanoi thanks to flight delays and getting stranded in Hong Kong for a night, so I didn’t see quite as much of the city as I may have liked, but I did manage to at least get a feel for the city a little bit. The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi juxtaposes old-world feel with modern life. The district we stayed in, Old Quarter, is very much that – old. It’s impossibly cramped and you risk getting run over by cars and mopeds alike. But that kind of adds to the charm of it. Our hotel was down a street that was so tiny, the van that picked us up at the airport couldn’t fit down the street. So the hotel staff met the van and walked us down the street to the hotel.
One of my favorite things about our experience in Hanoi was the service. Everywhere we were, but especially at our hotel – the Serene Hotel – the service was exceptional. There was so much attention to detail and everyone was just so darn nice. As far as excursions go, we did a lot and a lot of just walking and exploring the city. We happened upon a large gothic church, a remnant of the French occupation in the country.
We also visited the “Hanoi Hilton” – the Hoa Lo Prison – which was first used by the French to hold Vietnamese political prisoners, and then used by the Vietnamese to hold American POWs during the Vietnam War (or in Vietnam’s case – the American War). Now a museum, the prison features a lot of pretty gruesome history of the treatment of it’s prisoners by the French, and a very glossed-over version of their treatment of American POWs. Senator John McCain’s flight suit, or so the description said, is on display along with a photo of him receiving medical care from their doctors. They are sure to highlight the POWs playing ping pong and celebrating Christmas as well.
All in all, Hanoi was a huge culture shock for us. It may have been because it was the first stop, or it may just have been the city or the district in the city we stayed. I wish I had managed to capture video of what it’s like simply to cross the street – but that was feat in and of itself. We didn’t encounter many streetlights, and to say the traffic is unorganized is a serious understatement. We found the best way to cross was simply to get our group together and just start walking, keeping the same speed, and hoping the mopeds would move around us. They did. We eventually got this down to a science and by the time we got to Ho Chi Minh City, we were street-crossing pros.
Definitely a great place to explore, take in completely different surroundings, and serves as a great jumping off point to head to Ha Long Bay (which deserves its own full post – to come shortly). And the exchange rate is very, very much in favor of travelers with USD. We ate, stayed, & explored so cheaply. How could I not recommend it?
Have you been to Hanoi? What did you think?