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The ever charming old Hanoi

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A postcard of a portrait of late Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary leader of Vietnam

Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. A country full of history on how it has overcame the domination of the Chinese dynasties era and later French in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and thereafter fended off the Americans during the Battle of Khe Sanh in a revolution that brought victory in securing independence for the Vietnamese and the nation. Today, Hanoi has seen lots of changes. The developments of this Vietnam's capital though appears to be slow, it progresses rather well for a country that still lags behind Thailand. Within the Indochina region, Vietnam, from my personal observations, would still rank top among its neighbours after Thailand in terms of urban developments, its society well-being, infrastructures,transportations, income per capita as well as tourism developments. One of the most observed change was the new airport which by Indochina region standard is currently the best I think. The old airport has now turned into domestic terminal in which when I first came about 6 years ago, that was still Hanoi's only airport. Another change observed was probably the more taxis on the road as compared to 6 years ago. Perhaps the taxis outweighed the number of personal or private cars in Hanoi and small taxis were seen to be very common in Hanoi as opposed to the sedan taxis. Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart of Hanoi at the centre of the every merry and bustling activities coming from both locals and tourists. Hoan Kiem Lake is also inches away from the packed and busy Old Quarters area where shops were abundant selling all kinds of things you can think of. Here, you can just get anything you like from shoes, bags, shirts, souvenirs, food items and the place to stay and to be for drinking the iconic Vietnamese cold fresh beer, Bia Hoi. Ba Dinh Square, where Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was located would brought some memories of the Vietnam War, how this late revolutionary leader had successfully gained independence for his country and his countrymen which was a hard fought victory, not just about any other war. While the run-down St Joseph Cathedral still look as good as before. Perfect yet for couple of photographs and enjoy coffee at the nearby cafe.

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Minibus from Noi Bai International Airport to Hanoi city. VND 40,000 one way

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Never missed the banh my. in Hanoi Perfect snack at anytime and taste good too.

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Have lots of bia hoi (Vietnamese fresh beer). They are very cheap and taste superb and top it up with street food like this boil clamps

Of course, the motorbikes are still the king of the road and the ever chaotic traffics as well as the noisy vehicles' honking still be there. Else, I thought, Hanoi or even the entire Vietnam would have lost its charm without such annoyance, so used to its people and the tourists as well. The weather was rather cool at this time of the year in Hanoi because its the winter season. Therefore, its great time to enjoy some walking tour around Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter. Due to the close proximity to China, north Vietnam enjoy the similar weather as that of south China and Hong Kong. I always enjoy such cool weather as that reminds me of the Christmas as well as the Lunar New Year, two most celebrated holiday seasons in the world. Surely, its not just about any celebrations but its also a seasons of giving and remembering the unfortunates. In line with the modernisation of Hanoi over the years since my last visit, there are now many nice and thematic cafes seen sprouting all over the city mainly the Old Quarter as well as the surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake areas. Vietnam is one of world's largest coffee producer with the biggest coffee plantations being in the Buon Ma Thout province, the central highland of Vietnam. Therefore, it is not surprising that the cafe and coffee culture are part and parcel of the Vietnamese life. The people of Vietnam also stand to gain from such coffee drinking culture because tourists from all around the world visiting Vietnam would also love to enjoy Vietnamese coffee due to the aromatic and high quality of Vietnam's coffee. It is one of the things to do when in Hanoi, which is to enjoy some of Vietnamese finest coffee in these dozens of cafe and coffee house. Best still, have it on the side walkways. Vietnamese enjoy it that way and its their way of life!

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A typical street food vendors in Hanoi

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A bowl of Pho Ga (chicken soup noodle) for dinner

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Brightly lit buildings near Hanoi's Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake

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The red bridge at Hoan Kiem Lake lining to the Ngoc Son (tortoise) Temple at night

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A night view of Hoan Kiem Lake

Setting up of coffee shops and cafes would bring about source of income for the entrepreneurs and also providing jobs to the people working in the industry. When I was in Hanoi 6 years ago, I noticed many Trung Nguyen coffee retailers but now, things have changed and that was really good for it has now open competition among the coffee franchise and the people as well as tourists have got more choices on the coffee that they prefer to chose from. I returned to the guesthouse I stayed 6 years ago located at Ngo Huyen street near the Saint Joseph Cathedral and Quoc Su Temple, but it seemed to have closed now. However, I was not sure whether it was closed for good or has shifted few lots ahead because the name of that guesthouse was noticed along the same street but on different lot. It probably has moved but I did not asked. Nevertheless, I hope that that guesthouse was the same as the one being closed. Well, it may not be something that's worth the notice but sometimes when you walk down the memory lane and be able to gain the good old memories, its something that brought nostalgic and cherish-able experience back to the mind & soul after some time. The Hoan Kiem Lake was still there as proud as it used to be as ever, being in the heart of Hanoi city and this is the most iconic landmark for the Vietnam's capital. As the saying goes, you know you are in Hanoi when you are right at Hoan Kiem Lake.

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A mobile stool and table for street food dining in Hanoi. You can just about anywhere on the side walks and alleyways.

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Hoan Kiem Lake general overview

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The red bridge at Hoan Kiem Lake linking to Ngoc Son Temple

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Ngoc Son Temple entrance gate

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Bac Ma (White Horse) Temple at Hang Buom, Hanoi @ Old Quarter

SOME OF THE STREETS AND BUILDINGS @ OLD QUARTER MAINLY AROUND THE WALKING STREET AREA DURING DAY TIME

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I missed out touring the Old Quarter during my visit 6 years ago and now, back to Hanoi, I wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to have short walking tour and shopping through some of the speciality shops mostly selling coffees and local sweets/delicacies, textiles, shoes and souvenirs. The Old Quarter is also the area in Hanoi city to savour some of the best Vietnamese street food including "bun cuon" , "bun cha", "pho", "banh mi", "xoi man", "bun ca", "bun moc", "bun oc" to name a few. The never to be missed here at Old Quarter is the famous Walking Street which is where the locals and tourists would enjoy the "bia hoi" (Vietnamese fresh beer) and savouring the Vietnamese BBQ, street seafood and other Vietnamese street cuisines. The Walking Street is along Long Ngoc Quyen, Ta Hien, Hang Buom, Ma May and Hang Giay. Other than coffee and "bia hoi" cultures, it is also worth to note that dining in Hanoi mostly if not all, taking place on the side walks or side streets, where short stools are arranged for seating and slightly taller ones are used to set up as tables and a tray being put on top the higher stool for placing of food items. There you go, you are all ready to have some delicious Vietnamese "bia hoi" and street food right on the street.

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Dong Xuan Wholesale Market @ Old Quarter during night time

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Enjoy cup of aromatic Vietnamese coffee in Hanoi

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At this "revolution" themed cafe near St Joseph Cathedral

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St Joseph Cathedral

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

WALKING STREET IN THE EVENING AND ENJOYING BIA HOI THERE IS A MUST IN HANOI
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A trip to Hanoi would not be complete without side tours and the most popular one without actually need any mention would be the Halong Bay cruise. I had been to the Halong Bay back in 2010, so I decided to give this tour a skip and chose the Bai Dinh Pagoda and Trang An Eco Tour. Bai Dinh Pagoda is a place of worship and paying homage to the Lord Buddha as well as the Kuan Yin Goddess and is gaining popularity among the Vietnamese to perform thanksgiving during religious seasons. The pagoda has yet to be fully completed and highlights other than the Golden Buddha and Kuan Yin statues housed in a massive temple building, an almost completed Pagoda building as well as the sculptures of many of the late monks in Vietnam who has contributed hugely in spreading Buddhism in Vietnam in the old days. Trang An was another magnificent natural wonders and was quite similar to Tam Coc, which I had been to the last visit. yet, both were still distinctive in its own. Trang An tour will bring you across the river cruise through slow sampan paddling overlooking the massive limestone hills as well going through 9 caves, which was the highlight of the tour. It was also dubbed as the other inland Halong Bay after Tam Coc.

BAI DINH PAGODA IN NINH BINH PROVINCE
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TRANG AN ECO TOURS
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I feel happy to be able to be back in Hanoi after 6 years and walk down the memory lane. I like Hanoi and Vietnam because this country's history provides lots of inspiration and spirit on perseverance in which how Vietnam has able to ward off all its superior colonial masters in the past and that is important aspect in everything in life. To be able to withstand any hardships is not easy and patience as well as knowledge will help to improve life. Vietnam is not perfect and without its shortfall so were other countries and us as well. But the history of its leaders of the past will always be a good learning point for everyone and hopefully the young ones in country such as Vietnam will learnt that success is not by overnight but endurance of many pains, sacrifices and death had brought about the well being of the country where they live in today.

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Enjoying Vietnamese street food, nem cuon (spring roll) and nom chim (roast bird salad)

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Enjoying yet another famous Vietnamese street food, the bun cha

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Morning breakfast of bun cuon

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Enjoying bun thit nuong for dinner

Posted by kidd27 08:26 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Things To Do In Hanoi

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A cyclo passing through Dong Xuan Wholesale Market in Hanoi' Old Quarter

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A man carrying a large parcels on his motorbike in Old Quarter

Whether you are first time travelling to Hanoi or repeating travellers to this Vietnam's capital, there are always things that you could do when visiting Thang Long (ascending dragon), the former name for Hanoi. People come to Hanoi for various reasons, either back for holidays for the Vietnamese who residing abroad, for work purpose, for vacation or for business purpose. For me, I travel to Hanoi to enrich my travel experience and though this was my second visit here, there are still many things that yet to be discovered and waiting to be explored. As for this trip to Hanoi, I did experience some new adventures and learnt some of the Vietnamese street food culture, the "bia hoi" (Vietnamese fresh beer) and go through some of the important Vietnamese history while travelling. When in Hanoi, there are few things that one should not missed and should always try to discover.

1. Have Bowls of "Pho" or "Bun"

Do not be mistaken for these 2 noodle dishes in Hanoi or Vietnam. Both are different soup noodle dish though they are similar. The noodle used in Pho is flat and slightly wide also known as flat noodles while the noddle in "Bun" is thin and tiny also known as rice noodles or vermicelli. While the add-ons side dish in "Pho" is rather standard, either chicken ("ga") or beef ("bo") with bean sprouts, mint leaves and chopped onions, "Bun" add-ons side dish can be either deep-fry boneless fish cakes known as "bun ca", snail known as "bun oc" and mixed of Vietnamese pork sausage, mushroom meatballs and pork ribs known as "bun moc". Both actually are soup noodles but yet they are different due to the types of noodles used as well as the add-on ingredients. Nevertheless, one thing for sure they are surely delicious and worth to try. The cost for a bowl of "pho" or "bun" should be around VND 35,000 to VND 40,000. Most hotels in Vietnam, not on specifically in Hanoi provide "pho" for breakfast but you know you never had enough of it when you travel Vietnam. I had several bowls of "pho" during this trip to Hanoi and try out the "bun ca" (fish soup noodle) and it was deliciously good.

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A bowl of pho ga (chicken soup noodle)

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A bowl of bun ca (fish soup noodle)

2. Have Cups of Vietnamese Coffee

A trip to Hanoi would not be complete without having cups of aromatic Vietnamese coffee, be it with milk or without. There are now many nice and trendy as well as thematic cafes all around Hanoi city in particular the touristy area within Old Quarters and Hoan Kiem Lake. In the past, Hanoians used to enjoy their cup-pa on the street side or walkways with coffee vendors plying their trade on mobile carts but today, the world has changed and Hanoi too would not want to be left behind. The coffee culture is so strong in Vietnam and of course being one of the world's coffee producer has also helped to spur the cafe culture in Hanoi and Vietnam. Buon Ma Thout province in Vietnam has one of the largest coffee plantations and Vietnam produce some of the best coffees within the Indochina region as well as the world. Thematic cafe which matched the struggle of the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam war has today gained much favourite from locals and the tourists. Of course the best way to savour coffee in Hanoi, would be sitting on small stools and short table, sipping it slowly while watching the people walked passed and vehicles zapping through the street. Other than that, one could also enjoy coffee or even "cacao" a type of mix bean between coffee and cocoa along the one of the few nice cafes at Dien Tien Hoang road right in front of Hoan Kiem Lake.

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Enjoy cup of Vietnamese coffee on the side walkways in a cafe at Old Quarter

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Have some aromatic coconut milk coffee at a revolution themed cafe ner St Joseph Cathedral

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Have "cacao" at traditional style coffee house at Dien Tien Hoang Street near Tourist Information Centre in Hoan Kiem Lake

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3. Go for the "Bia Hoi"

Just as you are in Dublin or Ireland, (though I have not been there), in Hanoi, a trip here would not be complete without a taste on this fresh Vietnamese cold beer. The best place to have "bia hoi" is along the Walking Street located along the few intersection streets in the Old Quarters area namely, Luong Ngoc Quyen, Hang Buom, Ma May, Hang Giay and Ta Hien. To enjoy "bia hoi" in the most lively atmosphere is to sit on short stool and table (arranged from slightly taller stools than the one used for sitting) with tray spread over. And there you go, you are ready for glasses of "bia hoi" to be served one after another right on the street side, walkways of alleyways. It is not only the drinking atmosphere that made "bia hoi" drinking so distinctive and special, but the beer itself is so smooth, crisp and aromatic that keeps you wanting for more once you sip it.

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4. Savour the Vietnamese street food

The Vietnamese food is good and quite healthy. To sum it up, they are tasty and delicious. "Pho" is a must-try in Hanoi. Though most people learnt that "pho" is a type of soup noodle, the "bun" is yet another noodle dish that worth to taste. "Bun" is also a type of soup noodle but it has more varieties as compared to "pho" which consists of chicken meat or beef meat with bean sprout, mint leaves and cut onions. While for "bun", you can have it with deep-fry fish cake ('bun ca") , snails ("bun oc") or mixed of pork ribs, mushroom meatballs and pork sausages ("bun moc").

"Bun cha" is a type of noodle dish as well but still, this is different type of noodle dish. Bun cha being served with plate of rice noodle similar to the noodle used in "bun ca", "bun oc" and "bun moc", a plate of char-grilled pork (thit nuong), a bowl of special soup (sometimes with pork sausage add-on). How to eat Bun cha? You would dipped the noodles into the special soup together with the char-grilled pork, mixed them all in and then start to pick everything from the soup and crunch in the mouth. It was tasty, little sweet and salty but the end result, its a very delicious noodle and meat dish.

"Bun cuon" is a type of Vietnamese breakfast, available mostly before mid-afternoon. This dish is made of wide flat noodles, wrapped with minced pork and then sprinkled with deep fry cut shallots. A bowl of special soup also being served and the "bun cuon" being dipped into the soup to add-on the flavour to the overall dish.

"Bun thit nuong" is a kind of mix noodle salad, where bowl of rice noodles with char-grilled pork, cold salad and Vietnamese deep-fry spring roll are all add-in and then mixed with the special sauce.

Also worth to note that char-grilled pork is available from the mobile pushcart on the street and cost as low as VND 10,000 per stick. Its good to have it with bottle of cold beer or "bia hoi" and its tasty, sweet and the meat is fresh and tender.

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Bun cuon

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Bun cha

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Char-grilled pork with bia hoi

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Bun thit nuong

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Cha gio or nem ran (Vietnamese deep-fry spring roll)

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Boiled Oc or snail

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A bowl of "xoi man" (sticky rice with mix of cucumber, deep-fry egg and pork sausage)

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Street side "nem cuon" or Vietnamese fresh spring roll with sweet peanut dipping sauce

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Nom chim (grilled pigeon salad). Also available in dried beef (nom bo kho) has gained popularity among Vietnamese street food lovers

5. Eat "Banh Mi or Banh My"

Another Vietnamese national dish is the "Banh My", the French loaf wrapped with variety of choices of scramble eggs, roast pork, pork sausages, beef sausages and add-on with cucumber, tomato, mint leaves topped with chilli or tomato sauce. This is one of the most comforting and easy to eat food and you can just have it on the go.

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Banh My with coffee

6. Stroll along the Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the most iconic landmark of Hanoi city. As the saying goes, you would not have landed in Hanoi without stepping your foot at Hoan Kiem Lake. The best time to stroll around this lake is during the early morning when the weather is cool and traffic yet to get busy. The water in Hoan Kiem Lake was so calm in contrast to the hectic and chaotic Hanoi's traffic. Things to note at Hoan Kiem Lake is the Tortoise Tower, a 3 tiered pagoda, right at the south of the Hoan Kiem Lake, the red bridge which connects to the Ngoc Son Temple (Tortoise Temple), the Ngoc Son Temple and the King Ly Thai To statue.

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7. Visit Ba Dinh Square

Ba Dinh Square is where Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is located together with the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda. Ho Chi Minh was a well-remembered Vietnamese revolutionary hero who fought relentlessly against colonialism of the European and later the West. A walk along the Ba Dinh Square would bring some memory of the war time struggle by this revolutionary Vietnamese to gain independence. It was not easy for how Ho Chi Minh has been working throughout his life to fight off the mighty colonialism. Bloods were shed with many died on the battlefields but perseverance prevail and victory became reality. Vietnam finally subdued the colonists. If they can finished off the great Chinese dynasties dominations, they too can do it when facing the Europeans and Westerners colonialism.

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One Pillar Pagoda near Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

8. Walk through the Old Quarter

Old quarters or French Quarters, whichever name you call it, this is another not to be missed walking tour when in Hanoi. There were said to be 36 streets along this quarter of Hanoi with the name of the streets supposedly to denominate the activities along that street. For example Hang Bac (Silver Products), Hang Bong (Cotton Street), Hang Ga (Chicken Street), Hang Dao (Silk Street), Hang Giay (Paper Steet). Today, these streets no longer represent the activity of business taking place on shops along the name of the street. For example, Hang Dao now has turned into textile street, Hang Dau is now a footwear street and Hang Buom today is a coffee street. The Old Quarter has now turned into hot spots for shopping for variety of items including souvenirs, Vietnamese sweets and delicacies, coffees, shoes, textiles and other accessories for daily use and also to savour some of the best Vietnamese cuisines, street food and cold beers.

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9. Visit Ho Tay or West Lake

This lake is of no comparison to the iconic Hoan Kiem Lake but still interesting to take a stroll watching the scenic lake and people fishing at the edge of the lake. One of the most notable landmark at West Lake is the Tran Quoc Pagoda

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Ho Tay or West Lake

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Tran Quoc Pagoda

10. Visit Quan Thanh Pagoda

This pagoda located not far away from West Lake and Tran Quoc Pagoda. If you do visit West Lake, you should include this unique old temple, which has a 2 tiered entrance gate. a mid-size concourse and a main temple building

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11. Visit St. Joseph Cathedral

This cathedral is so closely associated to Hanoi other than Hoan Kiem Lake. Most about to wed couples would love to come here for dozens of nice wedding photos taken after Hoan Kiem Lake. The church may looked run down yet it is still stands charming and proud at the edge of Hoan Kiem Lake.

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12. Visit Quoc Su Pagoda

When you are at St. Joseph Cathedral, you can also walk further down to have a brief visit the Quan Su Pagoda situated at Ly Quoc Su street

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13. Visit Quan Su Pagoda

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14. Visit Hoa Lo Prison

Built during the French colonisation period, it was a symbol of hate among the Vietnamese due to the poor cell conditions and the tortures as well as sufferings that inmates had to endure while serving time at this prison. It was also a symbol of revolution in the eyes of the Vietnamese because many Vietnamese freedom fighters were developed here where it was seen as a independence institution in waging tactical war against the French occupation. Later, when Americans came, they named it Hanoi Hilton because of the confessions that was later revealed as not voluntary where the American POWs said they were well treated and that it was a mistake that America occupied Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

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15. Visit Thang Long Citadel

This Imperial Citadel of Hanoi was only revealed to the public recently. What remained today were basically the main gate wall and the princess pagoda of what actually formed part of the larger royal palace. There were exhibition halls displaying artefacts, porcelains, photos, antiques from the royal dynasties era as well as a single storey home converted to military meeting room known as D67 Building which was built during the Vietnam War period as well as the D67 Bunker, which is a tunnel area housing several secret rooms including meeting room, communication room and equipment room.

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Posted by kidd27 07:22 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

From Hanoi to Sapa

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Hanoi train station

Getting from Hanoi to Sapa turned out to be a very smooth affair and without hassle. I chose to travel with the train as I had never before experience the rail journey in Vietnam. Travel journey took approximately 8 hours, departing from Hanoi train station at 2200 with the SP3 train and arriving at Sapa train station about 0600 the next morning. The furthest I had ever travelled in Vietnam was an overland regular bus journey from Savannakhet, Laos crossing the Dansavanh/Lao Bao border over to Dong Ha, then finally arriving at Hue, Vietnam, which took about overall a 10 hours ride, crossing over 2 countries. And that was one of the best and memorable journey in my backpacking travel experience. Before arriving at Savannakhet, I was on a sleeper coach travelling from Vientiane, capital of Laos to Savannakhet which took about 8 hours travel time. There was also a choice of a sleeper coach from Hanoi to Sapa, which takes about 5 to 6 hours journey. There a few ways on how train ticket can be booked for the Hanoi-Sapa-Hanoi trip. First and most hassle-free would be purchasing it from your hotel's reception. However, the only setback by buying ticket this way is that there was added cost to it. A normal Hanoi-Sapa train ticket for SP train is VND 600,000. SP train is a soft-sleeper coach with each compartments having 4 berths, 2 lower and 2 upper berths. If you booked ticket from the hotel reception, additional of about VND 75,0000 will be added for transportation cost, which is still acceptable because the costs of taxi to and back from the train station will be more than that. Of course if you chose to walk, then that would be different calculation altogether. The second way to book the train is through online. Search through the net and you shall be able to find the website to book it. The third surely would be to head to the train station to book the ticket by yourself. I chose the first one because that save me some time and the trouble of getting to the train station multiple times. But still, the choice is yours. Booking ticket from the hotel reception, you will not get the train ticket immediately. What you would be given is a receipt which would be then exchange for train ticket at the train station on the day of the train journey . The ticket is a print-out slip with details of the train destination (Hanoi-Sapa), train type (SP 3), travel date and time and coach and compartment number. When arriving at the train station, head to a small ticket exchange room on the left of the waiting lobby to exchange the ticket.

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Hanoi to Sapa train ticket

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The train from Hanoi to Sapa

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The interior of Hanoi-Sapa train

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The 4 berth sleeping compartment of the train from Hanoi to Sapa

The overall train journey was reasonably comfortable. Free coffee or tea provided at the beginning and end of the train journey. You should be able to sleep through the whole journey without much trouble which will be good to re-energised your body for hill tribes trekking when arriving in Sapa the next early morning. The weather in Sapa during my arrival was chilly with temperature about 15 degree Celsius or lower with slight rain. Arriving at the Lao Cai train station, you need to then transfer to Sapa town which was about 38 km from Lao Cai town. The most widely available transportation was the shared minibus. Be aware that these minibus operators and their "agents" would be right on the railway tracks "welcoming" you just as you disembarked from the train. Yes, you read that right. These touts were allowed freely to access to the tracks without any restrictions and yes, there isn't a proper platform for passengers to disembark and to walk through the platform walkways to the main train station area to exit. Take note that the minibus fare from Lao Cai train station to Sapa town should costs VND 50,000 for one way journey per person. These touts will charged a ridiculous fare of VND 200,000. From what I gathered, travellers paid the same fare of VND 200,000 whether you are Westerners, Europeans or Asians. Bargain the fare and you probably will only pay VND 50,000.

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Lao Cai train station

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The minibus from Lao Cai train station to Sapa town

Posted by kidd27 22:23 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Trekking Cat Cat Village, Sapa

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The early morning weather in Sapa was cold, crisp, windy, misty with slight rain. Arriving from Hanoi, I had expected that the temperature in Sapa to be low but not as cold as this situation that I experienced. It was indeed gravely chilly and the rain turned the start of the day into further difficult predicament. But, I was not deterred. I have not been experiencing such chilly, windy and rainy weather for as long as I could remember. The last one was probably when I travelled to Mae Sai in Chiang Rai province, Thailand. It was some kind of nice experience to feel and be in such condition, I thought. It made me thinking, if I were to be in Europe, live, work or travel, such extreme weather or even worst should be expected. It was still too early to check-in when I arrived at the acomodation facility in Sapa from Lao Cai. town. The hotel appeared to be run by a husband and wife assisted by their in-house workers. They offer a room just in front of the reception, which later I found, was being utilised as the husband-wife owner's room to rest and sleep for guests to keep their luggage temporarily while waiting to check-in or returned to Lao Cai town. Information that I had was to trek the nearby Cat Cat Village which houses the Hmong hill tribes community, one of the indigenous community in the highlands of Sapa region. This hill tribes village was the closest indigenous hill tribes village travellers to Sapa could access to. Though the weather was misty, chilly and windy, I brave myself to step out from my hotel and walk towards the direction of Cat Cat Village. The rain seemed to have stopped, briefly. To trek the Cat Cat Hmong Village, first you would descend from the edge of Sapa town down to the valley of the hill. Be prepared to be hosted by the hill tribes women who main aim was to sell your their native village items. If you like what you see, you can buy from them. If no, just politely say thank you. They can speak some basic English. As I descended down, it started to rain again, from slight drizzle it then turned into slight rain, still walkable though you get shoes wet and clothing damped. After few kilometres of trekking, I came across a very interesting coffee house cum an art house. It was interesting because it reminds me of being in Europe. Not that I had been to Europe though but have seen it on tv before. It has few seating arrangements, tables and chairs with dozens of drawings being displayed on the walls and floors of the makeshift coffee shop cum art shop. It was interesting because it has a heater, not any type of heater where it doesn't use the electricity but the thick woods as source of fire to heat up the place. It feel so good with the warmness and the heat of the fire from the burning wood to shelter oneself from the cold, windy weather just outside the coffee house. Take a good brief rest before continuing the trekking journey to the Cat Cat Village, that would be rewarding enough though just for awhile. Have some coffee and relax added up to the nice relaxing warm atmosphere. Just as I stepped out, the rain started to get slightly heavy but no worries because most of the coffee shops or any other shops selling all kinds of things, they have rain coats and umbrella on sale too. So, you are all ready to be on the trek again with all these ready.

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"Bun cuon" for breakfast after arrival at Sapa from Lao Cai

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Hill tribes women will be around the trekking area from Sapa town to Cat Cat Village to try to sell you some items

SOME OF THE SCENES WHILE TREKKING TO CAT CAT HMONG HILL TRIBES VILLAGE
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ENJOY COFFEE AND TO WARM UP DUE TO THE CHILLY WEATHER WHILE TREKKING TO CAT CAT VILLAGE
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Entrance to the Cat Cat Village is VND 40,000. There was a welcoming arch and ticket booth right at the entrance to the Cat Cat Village. As I trek, I started to witness the village homes on the left and right of the walkways. Most parts of the Cat Cat Village walkways were covered with paved surface, so, its not too slippery or muddy as you trek through the village. Immediately passing through the Hmong homes which also has makeshift stalls set-up beside the houses fronting the walkways and side of walkways, I came across the beautiful, amazing and scenic rice fields overlooking the wonderful, green mountains. The thick mist can been seen on the background of the mountains due to the chilly weather and rain. The scenery was just marvellous. The rice fields and the scenic mountains scenery were best viewed just as I started trekking the cat Cat Village. There were also few Hmong homes which trekkers could access to to witness with their own eyes on how such interior of hill tribes home look like. The Hmong homes basically can be either single or 2 storey wooden structures, with all items used to built it were from wood. A view on a 2 storey Hmong home revealed a living hall, a kitchen and working hall on the ground floor of the home. The sleeping rooms were not seen on the ground floor and I assumed this must be on the upper floor. Some Hmong household also rear the black boar which were seen roaming around the village as I trek through. It was also noted that fresh water was sourced from the mountains which then flow to the rice fields through a traditional equipment which also doubles up as rice pounder.

ARRIVING AT CAT CAT VILLAGE
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SOME OF THE SCENES, LANDSCAPES, HMONG HOMES AND ITEMS SOLD IN THE CAT CAT VILLAGE

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The makeshift shops mostly displaying traditional hand-made textiles, kitchenwares made from bamboo and Hmong hill tribes herbs, dry food such as nuts and buffalo meat and souvenir items. I remember I had the same buffalo meat when I travelled to Phnom Penh in 2012 and here, I was overwhelmed to see such meat also widely available at Sapa. Due to the cold weather, it was also nice to have some hot char-grilled eggs sole in some shops to heat up. At the end of the Cat cat Village, there was a waterfall and a stream which was quite serene and enchanting for some photography sessions. After few kilometres of walk from the stream, there was a bridge to cross over the stream which was the end of the Cat Cat Village territory. From here, its all the way to trek back up the hill to get back to Sapa town.

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A buffalo meat trader at Cat Cat Cillage

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Herbs and knifes sold in Cat Cat Village

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The Cat Cat Bridge that signals the end of the Cat Cat Village boundary

Posted by kidd27 22:25 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoa Lo Prison

overcast 22 °C

Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi is not just any prison facility. The prison has gone through 3 phases of political hierarchy changes, namely the French domination era, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam era after which French troops were defeated in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and signing of Geneva Accords in 1954 and the Vietnam War era of which Vietnam battled a hard fought war to fence off the mighty Americans in the Battle of Khe Sanh and Tet Offensive . This 120 years old prison was built during the French colonialism era to imprisoned Vietnamese law breakers as well as revolutionists deemed as criminals to the French due to the fact that the French position in Vietnam was being threatened by the offensive Vietnamese independent fighters. It was known as Maison Centrale (Central House) during the French occupation. The prison was being extended in 1913 to accommodate the increasing number of prisoners. The prison facility continued to be overcrowded with the huge number of inmates over the years and as a result, the prisoners held at Hoa Lo Prison were confronted with very poor cell condition. In the eyes of the Vietnamese, Hoa Lo prison has turned into a symbol of hate towards the French.

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The main entrance to Hoa Lo Prison

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Prison cell that was fitted with metal chain to lock inmates' foot

After French colonial government left with the defeat in Dien Bien Phu Battle and signing of the Geneva Accords in 1954, Hoa Lo Prison was seen as a symbol of "revolutionary centre" where dozens of revolutionary fighters turned it into a platform for them to further enhanced their morale and spirit and developing ways to fight all their way to gain independence for their countrymen and the nation.

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The prison cells' condition @ Hoa Lo Prison

During the Vietnam War era, the Americans POWs were sent to Hoa Lo Prison. Many of them were subjected to great tortures thus suffering tremendous pains during their time at Hoa Lo Prison. They were being chained, subjected to harsh beatings and other forms of tortures. They were said to be forced to made statements to portray how well they were being treated by the North Vietnamese force and how the US were at fault for causing the war in Vietnam. As the Vietnam war continued over the years, the torture finally subsided where new batches of American POWs even called Hoa Lo Prison the Hanoi Hilton, referring to the well known hotel chain of the Hilton Hotel. By 1967, Hoa Lo Prison has seen great changes and tremendous improvement and was even names as Little Vegas by the American POWs.

SOME ITEMS & PHOTOS OF PRISONERS ON DISPLAY @ HOA LO PRISON
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Hoa Lo Prison was demolished in 1990s to make way for commercial buildings development. What being left today of the Hoa Lo Prison was only the main gate area as well as parts of the front prison building with some open spaces in between as well as some extensions on remaining prison building for purpose of developing it into exhibition halls. Hoa Lo Prison or Maison Centrale is today a history museum in Hanoi which in fact provide important education as well as information to not only the Vietnamese but also to tourists who are interested in gaining more insights into the life of the prisoners in this "hell" which served as a reminders that independence was gained through such horrendous and tough sufferings. As mentioned earlier, Hoa Lo Prison was formerly a symbol of revolution because this was the place that many Vietnamese independent fighters being put behind bars due to their unrelenting cause to achieve their ultimate dream that was independence. Touring this "reconstructed" old prison can be quite eerie as I walked through the "reconstructed" cells where prisoners sculptures were placed in these cells. Some of them had their legs chained with thick metal chain locks depicting on how the Hoa Lo inmates were being tortured and made to suffer. The historic museum also display the cells' conditions, items that were used to execute prisoners, old photos of those of those being jailed at Hoa Lo Prison and those who were executed as well a section where preserved parts of the prison area where prisoners escaped while serving time at Hoa Lo Prison and awaiting for execution. Hoa Lo Prison today may have been forgotten by north Vietnamese as a centre of revolution that triggered a nationwide success towards the road to independence but it is still worth a visit just to gain some insights on how the historic former prison became such important establishment which formed what Vietnam is today.

PARTS OF HOA LO PRISON WHERE INMATES ESCAPED BEING DISPLAYED
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Posted by kidd27 07:34 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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