The big Indochina trip: hanging out in Hanoi 

We’ve spent several days in Hanoi taking on the sights at a relaxed pace and generally just kind of hanging out in the city, walking around in the old quarter. Thanks to Yinis research we’ve also some really good meals in nice restaurants. 

Except for the markets in the old quarter, most of the things to see in Hanoi are museums. 

 Hoa Lo prison museum is pretty powerful as the old cells are still there and you can sense the brutal life of the prisoners. 

The old door looks very solid and imposing 

Being shackled to the bed couldn’t have been fun

Some cells

An actual guillotine 

At the etymology museum you get to see tools, clothes and plenty of pictures of the many different ethnic groups in this country, which is really interesting.  No pictures there I’m afraid.

The Ho Chi Minh museum showcases the life and work of President Ho. Except for a few artefacts it’s mostly text and pictures but it’s good none the less. It’s always  interesting to get a different perspective on things, and here you get to see the Vietnamese perspective on the struggle against the French colonists.

Ho Chi Minh statue in the museum

Right next door to the museum is Ho Chi Minhs mausoleum. We times our visit badly as his body is in Russia for maintenance at the moment. This is actually the third time I’ve been at a communist leader mausoleum and failed to see the body: first chairman Mao in Beijing, then Lenin in Moscow and now Ho Chi Minh. It’s like I’m cursed or something. Well, the mausoleum itself is an impressive piece of communist architecture anyway.

Ho Chi Minh mausoleum 

Mausoleum selfie

Close to the mausoleum is the army museum. Like the war museum in HCMC it has a number of tanks and aircraft outside which is always cool to see. Inside there’s a small section about older wars, the rest is dedicated to the struggle against the French and the Americans. It has a large collection of various small arms and the little description plaques are very patriotic, describing how Hero captain such and such used a certain gun to annihilate a certain number of enemies. What’s interesting is that there were even some primitive weapons used by guerilla fighters such as flint lock rifles and even crossbows. 

Yini playing MIG jet

American helicopter 

APC 

Missile launcher

This sculpture made from parts of downed planes is cool

Various bombs

The collection of vehicles and aircraft from above

Hanoi flag tower 

Nearby Lenin statue

Lastly there’s the Vietnam Women Musuem. Like the name suggests it showcases the life of Vietnamese women, from the marriage and childbirth traditions of the various ethnic  groups to the women fighting in the war against the French and the Americans, to the modern day life and fashion. It’s very good, and again  a different perspective from other museums. 

Yini trying her hand at being a street vendor

Grinding is hard work 

That’s it as far as museums go. My favorite was the Ho Chi Minh museum. I mentioned we also had some really good food. We had some fried fish called Cha Ca which wasn’t what you think of as typically Vietnamese but very tasty. Vietnamese sandwiches called banh mi are a must for anyone coming here and the best we’ve had are at Banh Mi 25.

Banh Mi 25 sandwiches 

A speciality of Vietnam is something called egg coffee. It sounds really strange but it’s super good. It’s basically sweetened egg foam mixed with coffee, it tastes a bit like tiramisu. Definitely try it if you come here. We went to a small place called Cafe Giang on Nguyen Huu Huan street.

Egg coffee

Thanks to the recommendation from my mom we got some excellent creme caramel at a place called Quan Kem Caramen. 

Simple interior but excellent creme caramel 

As for evening activities, Hanoi is known for water puppet theater. I’m always a bit auspicious of theatre I. Foreign countrie, going to a play when you don’t understand the language can be pretty  boring. Using water as a stage however, is cool so I figured it would be worth a try, I did not regret it. It’s not so much a play  as a number of short sketches and musical numbers that are easy enough to understand. Some of the slapstick comedy was actually very funny.

The band taking their seats. 

Dancing puppets

More dancing puppets

Puppets with fire in their hands

Like I mentioned, we also spent a fair bit of time strolling around the old quarter. One thing that Hanoi city does really well is that every weekend, starting Friday night,  they close off the streets near Hoan Kiem lake for traffic and the whole area turns into a kind of street festival. There are street performances, bands playing, vendors and just generally merriment. I think it’s great and we really enjoyed walking around there in the evenings. 

Hoan Kiem lake at night

Korean orchestra and street dancers

Violin backed by a band, they were pretty good. 

I’m normally not a big city guy but we’ve had a lovely couple of days here in Hanoi.


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