Winter Break: Goodbye Vietnam…

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Next: Hello Cambodia

The only thing we really wanted to accomplish on our last morning in Vietnam, before departing for Cambodia, was a visit to Hoa Lo Prison in the French Quarter, also known as the Hanoi Hilton. We had to catch the Vietnam Airlines shuttle at 11:30 in order to arrive at the airport with some time to spare prior to our 3:00 departure. Knowing we were getting comped a cook to order breakfast, which we would cash in on before leaving Vietnam later that morning, we grabbed the free hostel breakfast on the way out to provide energy for our early morning sight seeing in the mad streets of Hanoi. When we returned from Halong Bay, and checked back in to the Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel, we mentioned to them that we were taking cold showers during our previous stay. They felt bad, comped us a couple of cook to order breakfasts that you normally are charged for, and informed us of the hot water switch, which we obliviously overlooked.

The Hanoi Hilton is super close to the hostel, no more than a 10 minute walk. It was drizzling that morning, wetting us we marched towards our last sight seeing destination in Vietnam. The Hoa Lo Prison has a horrible history. Most notable for locking up US POW’s like Senator John McCain during during the Vietnam War, it’s history actually goes back quite some time before that. The French built it to detain Vietnamese dissidents in the 1880’s.

This creepy jail seems out of place in modern times, located directly next to high rise office buildings. That doesn’t change the fact that you get a little chill down your spine as you walk through the main entrance. It includes sections on the original French origins, the Vietnamese struggles throughout the years, the US POW era and some communist exhibits. We walked by guillotines, solitary confinement, eerie statues simulating rows of Vietnamese prisoners chained together and lots of artwork.

Several things appear extremely out of place. Among them, a welcome mat greets you as you walk up the wooden stairs to view the exhibits on the second floor. A day care center type play area can be seen up a few floors of the office building next door, overlooking this horrible piece of history. And it has two souvenir shops, selling all kinds of stuff, including American and Vietnamese flag patches, Obama books and various cheap trinkets.

Glad we visited, but feeling a little bummed out and overwhelmed by the imagery, we returned back to the hostel for our complimentary Big Brekkie breakfast meal. After showering and picking up our clean laundry, we grabbed our bags and experienced the most insane city walk to the Vietnamese Airlines shuttle. I had heavy bags around my neck, in my hands and balancing on my head. We weaved in and out of crowded alleys, sidewalks packed with people selling fruits and vegetables as well as dining 2 inches off the concrete, and dodged cars and trucks and motorbikes, all while being slapped in the face by rain. It was nice to reach our shuttle bus, sit down and relax.

A minute before out shuttle departed, a group of 3-4 British travelers showed up and filled the van to over capacity. I hate to continually be bagging on other travelers, but this was yet another group of disrespectful Europeans. Besides my girl and I, the rest of the van was filled with locals, and these foreigners were bashing the Vietnamese people out loud for the duration of the trip. That kind of stuff makes me sick and reflects poorly on all of us. While my girl closed her eyes and attempted to nap, I was looking for something to take my mind off these people, and was pleasantly welcomed by the shocking music on the radio. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Country music on the airwaves in Hanoi, Vietnam? No joke.

The airport in Hanoi is confusing as hell and I’m glad we arrived with some time to spare. Not a lot is listed in English. Things are not marked well. After walking a few laps trying to figure it out on our own, I ended up approaching a customer service desk and they pointed us in the right direction. After eating a damn delicious fast hot dog on a baguette, we made it through the not so secure security checkpoint and waited at the terminal for our plane to Siem Reap. We were hoping and praying for some warmth and sunshine to welcome us in to Cambodia. Be careful what you wish for because the following day our request would be granted… and then some.

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on January 25, 2010.

3 Responses to “Winter Break: Goodbye Vietnam…”

  1. […] rest of the Angkor Temples Angkor Wat Hello Cambodia Goodbye Vietnam Back to Hanoi Castaway Island Day and night on Halong Bay First full day in Hanoi Christmas in […]

  2. […] in Hanoi First full day in Hanoi Day and night on Halong Bay Castaway Island Back to Hanoi Goodbye Vietnam Hello Cambodia Angkor Wat The rest of the Angkor Temples New Year’s in Cambodia and heading […]

  3. […] Break: … Hello Cambodia Previous: Goodbye Vietnam Next: Angkor […]

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