Capturing the Corpses, Lakes & Prisons of Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Gorgeous lakes, Communist shrines, French-inspired colonial architecture and a sprawling modern city make Hanoi, Vietnam, a must-see city in Southeast Asia

From the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Hanoi Hilton to the brand-new buildings of downtown Hanoi, Vietnam, the capital is alive with economic progress while maintaining strong ties to its roots.

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For all the high-resolution photos from Hanoi, Vietnam: Click Here

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi! The capital city of Vietnam is one of the most interesting places to visit in the country from a historical perspective – I mean there is the infamous Hanoi Hilton Prison, the Soviet-Communist inspiration of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and of course, the French colonial architecture of the Old Town. But there is also massive economic progress being made as the communist ruling government embraces progress via foreign investment and capitalist principles.

Hanoi, Vietnam
The famous Hoan Kiem Lake & Bridge to the Ngoc Son Temple

Hanoi, Vietnam

For most visitors to Hanoi, the first stop is usually the Hoan Kiem Lake & Bridge to the Ngoc Son Temple. Open from dawn till dusk, the ‘Temple of the Jade Mountain’ is Hanoi’s most-visited temple and sits on a small island in the northern part the lake. The scarlet bridge is constructed in classical Vietnamese style and the temple itself is dedicated to a general who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century, the patron saint of physicians and a famous Vietnamese scholar. It’s free to enter which is great because I could spend that money on overpriced drinks that night at a rooftop bar overlooking the awesome cityscape of Hanoi. Check out the quick video below!

Hanoi, Vietnam

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WreNtO-kV1Q”]

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Hanoi, Vietnam

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a sight to behold and entering the mausoleum is an unforgettable experience. Styled after Vladimir Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, Russia, the Vietnamese version features a traditional sloping roof and imposing gray granite which looms over the Ba Dinh Square below. Strict rules upon entrance mean giving up your phones, cameras and electronic devices. The dress code is enforced at all times, meaning no shorts or skirts. Visitors enter in rows of two-by-two and the honor guard you pass on the way in is dressed in all white, pristine makeup and are meant to be intimidating. Upon entrance, silence is mandatory, no hands in pockets (a soldier actually grabbed my arm and put it by my side), no smoking, eating, drinking, photography or video is allowed. The body of Ho Chi Minh is on display in a very cool and air-conditioned central chamber and you are meant to walking rather quickly in a U-shape around the embalmed body.

Hanoi, Vietnam
Vietnamese guards turn away all visitors in skirts and shorts
Hanoi, Vietnam
The expansive square is used often for military parades

 

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum has open hours usually from: Tuesday-Thursday 07:30 – 10:30; Saturday & Sunday 07:30 – 11:00. I recommend checking in with your hostel or hotel staff to the open hours on that day as schedule changes quite often and sometimes it is closed for maintenance.  After the mausoleum we headed next door to check out the Ho Chi Minh Museum for a bit of history before heading on to the Hanoi Hilton Prison.

Hanoi, Vietnam
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is located next to the mausoleum

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam
Artifacts and trinkets from all around Vietnam are on display at the museum
Hanoi, Vietnam
A wax figure of Ho Chi Minh at his desk

 

The Infamous Hanoi Hilton Prison

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original Maison Centrale gatehouse of Hoa Lo Prison

I’ve written before about how “History is written by the victors” using the famous Winston Churchill quote when discussing Vietnam and modern attitudes towards the War with America. In fairness I try to present both sides because, honestly, both sides’ arguments had merit and both sides’ actions were at times atrocious and inexcusable. The example I commonly use is this: dropping napalm (USA) vs. torturing and killing prisoners (Vietnamese). And that’s all I’ll touch on that.

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

For a short history, the Hoa Lo Prison was originally built by the French during the Indochina Colonial days and was used mostly for incarcerating political prisoners. Known then as the Maison Centrale (Central House), the French’s cruelty towards those agitating for independence was notorious and well documented. Torture and execution were frequent occurrences and a guillotine still exists and is on display today at the museum. Such was the horror under the French that the locals dubbed the prison Hoa Lo, the fiery furnace or hell hole.

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Most of the history on display at the Hoa Lo Prison concerns the inhumane treatment of the Vietnamese prisoners under French rule and praises the treatment given to the Americans under Vietnamese rule. When the French departed, the North Vietnamese assumed control of the prison and used it to hold American POWs during the Vietnam War. Known infamously as the Hanoi Hilton by the American prisoners in an ironic twist, the Vietnamese actually grew to “resent” the nickname as it went against the propaganda of how “humane” they treated the American prisoners. Again, a point of contention that both sides would dispute greatly but as always, I present both sides.

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
American Senator John McCain, in a rare photo, was one of the most high-profile prisoners held at the “Hanoi Hilton”

 

From the beginning, U.S. POWs endured miserable conditions, including poor food and unsanitary conditions. The “Hanoi Hilton” moniker was given sarcastically in a reference to the famous Hilton Hotel chain. Kids nowadays may be more familiar with the heiress to the Hilton fortune, Paris Hilton. Most of the POWs who were held at the prison were American pilots who were shot down during bombing raids. Straight from Wiki, “Although North Vietnam was a signatory of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 which demanded “decent and humane treatment” of prisoners of war, severe torture methods were employed, such as rope bindings, irons, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement.” Regarding treatment at Hỏa Lò and other prisons, Communists countered by stating that prisoners were treated well and in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
One of the beds provided to captured American servicemen during the war

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original guillotine used by the French at the Hoa Lo Prison

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original New Year’s greeting from Ho Chi Minh on display at the prison

Hanoi, Vietnam, has so much to see and do and I hope this post helped convince you to make the trip!

For all the high-resolution photos from Hanoi, Vietnam: Click Here

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Hanoi, Vietnam: Click Here

Riding Motorbikes in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Meeting a friend from Israel in Vietnam? Time to take the bikes out for a proper ride in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam, is a top travel destination which draws tourists from all over the world to its lush limestone mountains which jut violently from the sea. What few realize is that a whole adventure waits for you just outside the city of Ha Long Bay itself.

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For all the high-resolution photos from the motorbike ride around Halong Bay: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the cruise around Halong Bay: Click Here

Halong Bay, Vietnam
#squadgoals

Of all the travel destinations I’ve wanted to see most in Southeast Asia, Halong Bay, Vietnam, was top of my list. World renowned for its brilliant karst limestone mountains which seem to impossibly rise out from the surrounding bay, I was more than thrilled by the sites but less impressed by the weather. July is hit-or-miss in Asia in terms of weather as the monsoon can be unforgiving. I hit a one-for-one with one day wet and rainy and the next nice and cool albeit quite gray with clouds.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

I’ve gone in-depth before on the Halong Bay itself however in this post I’ll focus on the surrounding area.  I met a good mate of mine from Israel who had been studying abroad in Hong Kong and he joined me along with two of his classmates, one from Germany and the other from Singapore. Taken aback by the sheer number of tourists descending upon the bay, we spent our second day renting motorbikes for 200,000 Vietnamese Dong (about $10 USD each for the day, quite expensive in Vietnam but expected for a tourist area like this) and by using Google Maps traveling throughout the countryside in a makeshift loop.

Our makeshift loop around Halong Bay
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Google Maps works in Vietnam… a welcome luxury after suffering through Myanmar with my basic Burmese
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The city of Halong Bay doesn’t have much to offer… but the countryside is another world altogether
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The powerful water buffalos of Southeast Asia are nothing to mess about with

The loop we chose was a large elliptical surrounding the outskirts of the city – past farmland, karst limestone mountains (the very same that dot the famous bay, just formed on land) and massive quarries which deplete the area of its natural beauty and resources, not too mention they brew up a nasty dust storm which makes biking through the area quite unpleasant. My sunglasses where even chipped by stones being kicked up by massive trucks moving huge piles of the stuff through the area.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Landscapes all day
Halong Bay, Vietnam
And the ‘progress’ which is destroying them
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The Bãi Cháy Bridge from the outer loop swampland

The landscapes surrounding the city are almost as stunning as the bay itself. Unfortunately they may not be around for long as economic exploitation of the region is shifting into high gear as Vietnam modernizes and raw materials are needed to build the massive buildings and structures already underway in places such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. But I digress… as we explored the countryside it slowly morphed into swampland but we were still able to visit a temple sat back behind the paved road via a sketchy dirt path.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Metal wires help mold the trees outside the temple into unique shapes

Beautiful lakes, well-paved roads (for the most part), pristine surroundings… if it weren’t for the development of these large-scale factories the areas around Halong Bay would be perfect for trekking and exploration. I will say that in the rainy season it would be quite difficult but well worth it. Anyways our loop took us from the southwest corner of the city all the way past bridges and towards Hanoi, then back up and around the northern tip of Halong Bay region and back along the coast south into the city.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Trying to chart our progress… OK I got us lost….
Halong Bay, Vietnam
And made it to the coast! The monsoon was setting in but with some lucky lighting I got in a few shots

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Doesn’t this look like a “Lord of the Rings” set?

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Well that more or less wraps up our motorbike ride around the Halong Bay, Vietnam. With clear weather we decided to take our bikes for a little drag race to see who’s was faster. Mine was an embarrassment and I came in last by a long shot. With that defeat in mind but a fun day overall, I highly recommend the outer loop of Halong Bay. Till next time in Hanoi.

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the motorbike ride around Halong Bay: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the cruise around Halong Bay: Click Here

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Ready, Set, Go!
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Nuu… faster!