22 Days In Vietnam: Day 16

I’m currently a few days behind I know. I will catch up as soon as I get chance though. So much to do and so little time to write! Anyway, I apologies for my lateness and here is day 16.

Another wet morning in Hanoi! Although it is nowhere near as bad as Barnstaple usually is though, plus it cleared up by 9am. Today we took a free city tour of Hanoi through Hanoikids (they have a Facebook page if you wanted to organise your own tour). Like Saigon Hotpot, the organisation is a group of students who want to better their English and promote Vietnam and it’s culture. We had two young students who were both friendly and again very knowledgeable about where we visited.

Our first stop was The Temple of Literature. This is a temple of Confucius built in 1070. The temple contains the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first national university. Our guides told us the history of the temple as well as how the temple is now where the students of Hanoi gather just before gradation for luck, fortune in the future and photos. Next year it will be their turn and they were both excited about it.

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The temple is a beautiful example of a Vietnamese pagoda, with stunning architecture. The grounds were alluring with bewitching Bosnia trees twisting in every direction. We were also treated to traditional Vietnamese music with magical sounding instruments made from bamboo. We may have to go back if we get time. It’s is a great place to visit and only 20,000 VND

Our second stop was the “Hanoi Hilton”, also known as Hỏa Lò Prison museum. Used by the French colonists for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War, hence its nickname. Most of the prison was demolished during the 90’s, with the exception of the gatehouse, which remains as the museum. Among the famous prisoners was Senator John McCain and the Vietnamese-American poet and dissident Nguyễn Chí Thiện, who mentions the last years of the prison, partly in fictional form, in Hỏa Lò/Hanoi Hilton Stories. Thiện spent a total of 27 years in prison. The first time was fortelling a group of students that America had ended World War Two, instead of the “official” story of the Soviet Union defeating the Japanese army.

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The prison is a dark, yet interesting place, full of atmosphere, information and sadness. You get a sense of the terrifying conditions the vietnamese were kept in, including the sloped floors in solitary confinement where prisoners were shackled so they couldn’t sleep because of blood rushing to their heads, as well as, their urine and faeces they were forced to live in day in day out. There is also a guillotine and gory photos of beheaded political prisoners of the French period. It was compelling look into a harsh existence, for only 20,000 VND

After the prison we went for lunch in the old quarter. It wasn’t anything special and with so many restaurants around its easy to forget names. Like with Saigon Hotpot lunch for guides is on you, but it’s all so cheap anyway. The six of us ate for roughly 550,000 VND

From lunch we took a taxI to the Ho Chi Minh complex and one pillar pagoda. It was fascinating to look into the life of their most famous and loved leader, Uncle Ho. The grounds are beautiful and his two homes are intriguing. It is definitely worth a look. We would have liked to see the museum and mausoleum too, but we have time and are planning to go back. Alas, the guides didn’t want to do them as they it would have been “too busy” and others in our group were feeling the heat and wanted to return to the hotel for rest. Entry is 20,000 VND, so cheap enough to go back.

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The one puller is a historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi. The temple was built by Emperor Lý Thái Tông, who ruled from 1028 to 1054. Legend has it that Tông met the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who handed him a baby son while sitting on a lotus flower. Lý Thái Tông then married a peasant girl that he had met and she bore him a son. The emperor constructed the temple in thanks in 1049, after a monk named Thiền Tuệ told him to build the temple. The emperor erecting a pillar in the middle of the lotus pond, similar to that in the dream.

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It is an elegant and charming pagoda, only needing about ten minutes to view, but worth checking out. It is literally as you exit the Ho Chi Minh complex, so it can be done at the same time. Take a look!

Another beautiful day in Vietnam with some amazing company. The people are all very friendly and the country is fascinating and magnificent. I am really enjoying my time here.

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