Hanoi: Our First Vietnam Stop

Our time in Thailand was up (not to mention our visas) and we were headed to Vietnam. We took the short, cheap 2 hour flight to Hanoi, and arrived about 6pm.

You can’t get visas on arrival for Vietnam. However you can print off a pre approval letter online. Bring it to customs, pay $35 and they will issue one providing your letter is proper and your not a felon. After that process we hit the ATM and pulled out 2,000,000 Dong, or about $120 CAD (the dong jokes did not stop here). We planned to stay in the Old Quarter, the backpacker hub. About a 20 min taxi from the airport.

The Old Quarter is the place to be. It has so much character and you could never get bored walking around people watching, admiring the beautiful old buildings, eating weird food and dodging the thousands of motorbikes that clutter the small streets. Crossing the road in Vietnam is no easy feat. The Old Quarter has no traffic lights, and no one follows the stop signs. Its every man for themselves, and to get across the street alive on foot you just have to close your eyes and hope for the best.

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We had pre-booked our first night at Hanoi Lucky Guesthouse. It is a small, family run guesthouse that has two locations in the Old Quarter. The rooms were nice and big, it was really clean and cheap, and the staff was incredible. Breakfast was included, and they helped us book our Halong Bay tour from there. We would highly recommend this place!

After checking in we set out walking the streets to find dinner. The guesthouse suggested a little spot just a few blocks away. Beef Noodle was the famous dish here.

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We fully intended to dive into some history while in Vietnam. Our first taste of this educational adventure would be Hoa Lo Prison Museum. But first, lunch. Since leaving Canada we hadn’t had a proper sandwich, and Jeff had read that Vietnam was famous for their Bahn Mi’s. A Bahn Mi is a piece of French bread stuffed with pate, meat of your choice, and veggies. They were spectacular. And it wasn’t our last…

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Ok, back to the prison. Hoa Lo was used by the French Colonists to house political prisoners and then later used by North Vietnam to house US prisoners of war. The Vietnamese political prisoners were victims of horrible living conditions and torture at the hands of the French, who also made use of the guillotine here. It still stands today, definitely a creepy site.

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The US prisoners of war had a very different experience. The museum tells a story of good food, lots of leisure time and quality medical care offered to the US soldiers. Propaganda? Maybe, although it is said the US soldiers themselves coined this place the “Hanoi Hilton”. US senator John Mcain was one of the soldiers held here.

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Senator John McCain’s pilot gear, extracted from his plane.

The museum takes a couple hours to go through and costs about $1.50.Hearing about the war from this side is a unique experience.We knew little about it before coming to Vietnam, but our interest was peaked and it left us craving more.

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The rest of the day was spent walking around the Old Quarter, taking in the sights and craziness and stopping to enjoy some of the local brew. The next day we were heading to Halong Bay. Our time in Hanoi was short, but was the perfect introduction to Vietnam. A country we were quickly falling in love with.

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St. Joseph’s Cathedral

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