After an amazing 3 weeks in Laos with my travel partner, Vivien and the dutch boys, we were ready to continue our journey to another country, Vietnam! Vivien and I said goodbye to the boys in Thakhek and told them we would see them this summer in Amsterdam. We hopped on a bus to Vientiane where we would take another 24-hour bus to Hanoi, Vietnam for my final stop in Southeast Asia. This bus ride was luckily one of the best ones that I have taken in SE Asia to date. It was surprisingly relaxing and we met a ton of other backpackers heading to Vietnam. When we arrived in Hanoi, we quickly realized that Northern Vietnam was going to quite chilly, which I was not prepared for after having 2 months of sunshine beaming down on me to keep me warm.
With our new friends from the bus, Vivien and I went out to explore Hanoi and grab a quick bite to eat. I knew the first order of business in Vietnam was to try some real Vietnamese Pho. After some quick research, I came across Pho Gia Truyen, on Bat Dan Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. When we arrived, it didn’t look like much from the outside. There was a very small room with some small tables. The “cooks” were taking everyone’s order and making their Pho right in front of the customers over their giant cauldrons and huge slabs of meat on the other side. But I didn’t let the appearance fool me, the beef pho that I received was absolutely delicious (especially for $1USD!). The soup stock was delicious with so much flavor, your taste buds could explode and the thinly sliced beef was the perfect t
Since I only had 5 days in Hanoi until my flight to India, Vivien and I wanted to look at exploring Ha Long Bay (another UNESCO World Heritage Site). Unfortunately for my budget, everything was extremely overpriced and looking at the weather, high 50’s and rain, I decided to stay in Hanoi while Vivien booked her 4-day boat tour. Unfortunately, we said our goodbyes after a month of traveling together and promised to meet each other in Germany this summer as well as plan a trip for Vivi to visit me in NYC next year!
The two attractions that the locals and other backpackers told me to go to were Hoa Lo Prison and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. I decided to walk from my hostel to Hoa Lo Prison which is located in Hanoi’s French District. I was interested in visiting this Prison because, during the Vietnam War in 1955-1975, this prison was used to hold American POW’s. As soon as you walk into the small corridors, it was as if you were stepping into hell. While these American POW’s were here, they faced inhumane treatment and horrific conditions. In these rooms, the Vietnamese government used all sorts of methods to extract military information out of the US soldiers that they captured (…think starvation, solitary confinement, shackles, and beatings). After visiting the grounds, I found this article written by an American POW that was very powerful. As I was leaving the prison, the last face I saw was John McCain’s when he re-visited this prison in 2009, 50 years after he was held there for 5 years.
The next place I went to visit that day was the famous Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which w as actually rated as the #6 ugliest buildings in the world. It was pretty funny to view it that way, I guess it is because the building is very plain and dull…but then again it was built in 1973. Even though it is rated as one of the ugliest buildings in the world, people come to view it by the masses because their great leader’s body, Ho Chi Minh, is preserved in a glass case. Locals absolutely worship this building and the museum but I personally didn’t have that much interest in it and only walked around for an hour.
Other than seeing those two museums, I spent the next couple of days walking around, talking to the locals, resting, binge watching Netflix and getting prepared for the upcoming 3 weeks in India. Honestly, I completely crashed in Vietnam and needed to rest up before I embarked on my Indian adventures. A little Netflix binge is healthy right?
Observations of Vietnam:
- Vietnam is a very LOUD city with lots of blaring horns 24/7. On our bus ride from Vientiene to Hanoi, our bus driver probably honked his horn 10,000 times to make sure at every turn the cars woudl know we were on the other side. Drivers also honk their horn everytime they see a car or a pedestrian to let them know they are there.
- Mopeds are everywhere you look. It seemed more like a game of frogger when trying to cross a road because instead of watching out for 3-4 cars, you have to jump across the road trying to avoid 15 motorbikes coming out you from every angle.
- Pho and Bahn Mi are the go to meals in Vietnam each costing around $1 USD and equally tasty.
- Always bargain wherever you go and cut the price by half and only pay up to that ammount or walk away. Bargaining became exhausting after 5 days, I don’t know how people do this everyday.
- After walking around the streets for a coupel days, I understood why the women and men are so short. They are carrying an insane amount of weight on their shoulders around the city to sell to the locals or tourists on the streets. This is probably stunting their growth since the band holding all th weight up is propped on their sholders and right above their spine!
- Vietnam was extemely clean compared to Thailand and Bali with lots of trashcans to dispose of your garbage.