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

Photo Journal: Vietnam War Tour in HCMC

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

The Vietnam War officially ended in 1975 but its legacy still cuts deep in the Far East.

“History is written by the victors” is the famous quote by Winston Churchill and that rings true more so in Vietnam than anywhere else. This photo journal will cover three important locations of the Vietnam War in relation to the former capital of the south, Saigon, known nowadays as Ho Chi Minh City.

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Independence Palace: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Cu Chi Tunnels: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the War Remnants Museum: Click Here

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The immaculate lawn of the Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City

The Independence Palace (Reunification Palace)

The Independence Palace of Ho Chi Minh City is a landmark of the South Vietnamese government during the Vietnam War. A symbol of the fall and subsequent reunification of Vietnam when on April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank crashed through its gates. The palace is known nowadays as the Reunification Palace and is a museum to the southern fall and northern conquest. From rooftop party decks to underground bunkers, the site is immaculately kept and open to all visitors.

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
One of the many meeting rooms in the Independence Palace

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The President’s desk and office
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The Presidential Library
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The palace’s retro-style movie theater

 

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The original bar that was used during presidential shindigs – and next to it a mark of American-style capitalist influence
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
A commandeered chopper next to two markers where the United States had dropped bombs during the Vietnam War

 

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The exit to the bunker from the rooftop for a quick escape
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The first room of the underground command center used during the war

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
These tunnel labyrinths were used extensively during the war
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
There are two levels to the underground tunnel system (that we know of!) Each is more claustrophobic than the last

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
One of the tunnel exits leads to the kitchen

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The backside of the Independence Palace – the vertical columns in the middle of the building are part of an open-air ventilation system

The Cu Chi Tunnels

I’ve covered the Cu Chi Tunnels extensively in a lengthy post here however for the sake of this post here are a few of my favorite shots from the thick-jungle of Southeast Asia. The tunnels, as I’m sure you’re aware of, were used by the Vietcong to ambush the American/Australian/British troops during the Vietnam War.

Cu Chi Tunnels
Jungle Warfare mixed with Guerilla Warfare… a terrifying combination
Cu Chi Tunnels
On hands and knees during the crawl through the “reinforced” and tourist-ized section of the tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels
The real size of the cramped and dirt-carved tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels
Absolute relief and joy upon exited the cramped and tight tunnel system

The Vietnam War Remnants Museum

A last bit of Vietnam War-related travel in Ho Chi Minh City that is a must in order to understand the Northern Vietnamese perspective is at the War Remnants Museum. The museum features many pieces of hardware from the war including captured and left behind planes, helicopters, tanks, missile shells and casings, guns, gas masks and much much more, all presented in a manner completely (no pun intended) foreign to an American-educated lad such as myself.

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

 

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum
As democracy fought communism on Southeast Asian soil, the Cubans along with others lent their support to the Northern Vietnamese cause
War Remnants Museum
Captured guns and weapons, along with war stories from Vietnamese soldiers, line the walls of the museum. I’ve decided to cut the really graphic stuff from here but you can see them on Facebook via the link here
Ho Chi Minh City
Still one of the most powerful images from Vietnam and snapped with my phone nonetheless – the Communist sickle and hammer coupled next to the icon of American capitalism – Starbucks

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Independence Palace: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Cu Chi Tunnels: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the War Remnants Museum: Click Here

Claustrophobic Cu Chi Tunnels of Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi Tunnels

Have you ever been terrified on  your travels? I have, and the Cu Chi Tunnels are as frightening as they are incredible.

Vietnam’s (and neighboring Laos) natural beauty is engulfing; yet a legacy of war remains prominent when visiting the Pacific-rim country and the Cu Chi Tunnels are a prime example of that.

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Cu Chi Tunnels: Click Here

Cu Chi Tunnels
A path cleared for the tour through the thick jungle of Southern Vietnam

Vietnam is one of those countries that, no matter how much culture, heritage or even change that has taken place, it still bears the scarred reputation as being the focal point of one of the worst theaters of war to have existed on Earth. Napalm, gasses of all kinds, bombs of all sizes and more all did terrible damage to a gorgeous country that is now rebounding in a big way. One of the main remnants of the war that is now a must-see tourist (or backpacker!) destination is the Cu Chi Tunnels of what was known then as Saigon but nowadays, Ho Chi Minh City.

Cu Chi Tunnels
Tiny entrances and exits – this is why the Viet Cong was so deadly and effective

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels are located about an hour and a half outside the city, especially if you sign up for a bus tour near the Bui Vien/Pham Ngu Lao backpackers’ area like I did. Southeast Asia is known for the possible scam or two and our trip was no different as the bus conveniently stopped near a workshop to try and get travelers to purchase locally-made goods from “victims” of Agent Orange. I do recommend taking a bus from the city instead of trying to drive it via rented car (lots of traffic) or motorbike (quite dangerous roads) and I won’t spend too much time on this but as a travel blog with travel tips, I will say a few things to watch out for: firstly it’s great to always contribute to the local economy when visiting a much-poorer country like Vietnam, however with the inflated prices at the shop you could easily purchase similar goods for a fraction of the price in the city markets and with the prices listed, there is more “value” in this little market than at an entire Gucci or Versace store – no joke. So that’s one thing, another is that they book you for a half-day trip and spend an hour at a place like this wasting your precious travel time. So after 15 to 20 minutes I started rallying the bus and telling the guide that it was time to head out as no one was going to buy anything. Do this and your sorted. One last tip – never leave your bags or any valuables on the bus even if you pop off to grab a quick soda.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels
While the goods are handmade, those making it may or may not have been affected by chemical agents left over from the war

And now to the tunnels! The Cu Chi Tunnels were dug by the Communist Viet Cong forces and at one time spanned “tens of thousands of miles.” Whether or not that number is entirely accurate they do span for miles and miles.  In terms of engineering, they really are a marvel – dug mostly by hoe in the post-monsoon rainy season, the tunnels have air vents, booby traps, living quarters, hospitals and more! The small, narrow tunnels were easier for the smaller Vietnamese to navigate vs. the larger American, British and Australian forces, however life was incredibly difficult underground and living in these tunnels meant dealing with rampant malaria and disease, poisonous centipedes and scorpions, even vermin and rodents infested the cramped quarters.  They were highly effective nonetheless and were the launching point of the Tet Offensive in 1968.

Cu Chi Tunnels
The 90-meter long stretch of tunnel was made larger, wider and reinforced for tourists
Cu Chi Tunnels
The original tunnel is truly frightening
Cu Chi Tunnels
Successfully made it through! Had to suck in the gut, obviously

After a guide explains to you the basic history, runs you through some of the terrifying booby traps and tactics used by the Viet Cong vs. the foreign forces, brave visitors can try their hand at crawling through an enlarged version of the tunnels. The 90-meter long stretch has several exits for the claustrophobic and larger travelers as they get progressively smaller towards the end. About halfway through I seriously reconsidered why I thought this was a good idea. I think the look on my face above shows how absolutely thrilled I was to get out of there. Honestly looking up through the exit sent chills down my spine. What if I don’t fit through? I’m getting clammy thinking about it, but check out my size 10.5’s (American, like 45? in European) next to the exit below.

Cu Chi Tunnels
Too small…
Cu Chi Tunnels
… and way too tight!

A half-day trip is all you need at the Cu Chi Tunnels although I do recommend  reading up on the history of the place beforehand. At the conclusion of the tour we stopped by the gun range where you can shoot old rifles and even some Jeep-mounted machine guns. The prices are a bit steep and it’ll set you back around $20 USD to get down onto the field. I passed as having grown up around veterans who have had to actually shoot guns in Vietnam for real, it is thankfully something I’ve never had to do and really not a vibe I want to get in to. But if you have some extra dough it does go back into keeping the grounds meticulous and they really are.

Cu Chi Tunnels
The path towards the shooting range at Cu Chi
Cu Chi Tunnels
Booby traps made the tunnels impassible for invading soldiers

As you can see, the photos here are less quality than my normal pics as I was shooting entirely from the GoPro on a rainy day. I’ll be back with more from Vietnam soon!

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Cu Chi Tunnels: Click Here

Cu Chi Tunnels
A captured American tank during the “War of American Aggression”

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels
The Vietnamese used fake ant hills as disguised air vents