Day 2 – Hanoi
My first full day in Hanoi. I went for breakfast in the hotel – which had a decent range of things. You could have traditional Vietnamese beef noodle soup called Poh, fruit, toast (French or otherwise), bacon, eggs etc, pancakes, crème caramel … lots available.
The hotel also gave me a map of the city. I had not really planned where I was going to go, up until my arrival. I had briefly flicked through my guidebook, but mostly I left it until arrival. After breakfast I planned what I was going to see that day. I decided I would try and find the so-called ‘Hanoi Hilton’, where American PoWs, including US Senator John McCain, were kept during the Vietnam War. After this I’d go to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum which seemed close by.
So I set out into the busy streets of Hanoi, a little unsure exactly where I was going. There were bikes everywhere. A few years ago, the BBC television series Top Gear did a special in Vietnam with the presenters riding across the country on motorbikes. I can see why. Whilst cars do exist, the city (and country; it was the same, though perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, in Ho Chi Minh City) is awash with motorbikes and scooters. In fact, pavements no longer seem to be for walking on, they are now bike parking places. There are even people who sit there on the pavement and watch your bike whilst you, presumably, go off to work.
Anyway, following the map, I got hopelessly lost, and at a crucial junction, turned left instead of right. I ended up by a lake, which is in the centre of the city. Now, this was on the map, and I was able to navigate successfully from there. The lake had a temple in the middle (which I explored later in the week).
The Women’s Museum was close by that and so after a pause by the lake, to rest, replenish my fluids and take in the environment, I found the museum. It is great to have a museum dedicated to the role of women in society, and covered both history and different ethnic groups within the country. I spent a couple of hours looking around there, and bought a couple of postcards when I left.
Although it was lunchtime, I didn’t have much of an appetite, having stocked up at breakfast. I did, however, want to find the Vietnam National Museum of History. After going down the wrong road (again) I found the entrance, and immediately discovered it was closed for lunch (a common occurrence in Vietnam; lunch is taken very seriously). So I decided to try and find the water puppet theatre whilst I waited, which I did. I planned on going to this the following day. I then found somewhere to sit and wait, near the opera house, and watched the world go by (I didn’t have to wait very long).
The museum itself was a little disappointing, if I’m honest. It did not have many English descriptions and whilst it was laid out over two sites – ancient and medieval Vietnam in one building and modern history in another – there were few information boards in English explaining what happened in that period. But it killed a couple of hours, again and there were some interesting exhibits in there.
Following this, it was getting close to tea time, and I was starting to get a little hungry. I walked back to the hotel (and nearby restaurants), by way of the Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph. This imposing building seemed to be open most days and had some interesting stained glass windows of different saints, though the descriptions were in French only so were sometimes difficult to work out who they were.
The cathedral was close to my hotel – about a ten minute walk away – so I returned to the hotel, showered and went out for food in a nearby restaurant.
At this point, I should say that the country was preparing for Tet – Vietnamese New Year – and so many restaurants would be closed. Therefore, the hotel had sent me a list of some restaurants close by which were open for the New Year holiday.