Hanoi- Hoa Lo Prison, Museums and Nightlife

I know I always go on about how much I love each place, but I really, really love Hanoi. I’ve never been somewhere so lively, even on Monday nights the locals sit outside their houses and shops drinking and eating on small plastic chairs, listening to loud music, doing balloons and smoking bamboo pipes. There is so much history here too- so many amazing museums and temples and prisons. There’s real sense of culture and I love it.

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I’m not sure if it’s the Malaria tablets or that fact I’m not sleeping in my own bed, but I keep having really random and weird dreams. I always remember them when I’m in limbo between sleep and being awake, but then I usually forget them. I had one the other day where I was meant to be staying in a jungle but the second I got there I had these two animals hanging off my hand that I couldn’t see. One hand felt like it was inside a fish covered in cold guts and when I pulled it away I had a giant, bloody hole in my hand. Jenny had one where because she had a receipt in the shape of Picasso, she won thousands of pounds worth of Prett vouchers. Anyway, my point is, that because of these weird dreams and disturbed sleep, my morningly caffeine addiction has resurfaced. A couple of years ago my friend and old housemate Markie, who used to work in Starbucks, brought me back some Vietnamese coffee to try and since then I have been clucking to try some more. The first thing I did one morning, after some yoga and meditation, is take a walk to the nearest coffee shop. I admired every small detail walking down the street; there was a different smell every ten steps, usually meaty or herby and everyone seemed hard at work either cooking on the street or working in their shops.

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I picked up a strong black coffee, no milk and no sugar, from OHi Tree and Coffee (photo from Google images), and it did not disappoint. Usually I’m not a fan of bitter coffee, but the slight bitterness of Vietnamese coffee is one of the things that makes it so nice! The only weird thing was they microwaved the coffee to make hot, which then made me realised (after I drank it) they probably used the tap water. Luckily I’m fine, but in the past I have found myself vigorously throwing up for about a week after drinking tap water in Bulgaria, so I’m trying to avoid tap water where I can.

Our first museum trip was to the Vietnamese Women’s museum, where we learnt so much not just about the brave women throughout the wars, but also about family life, marriage and traditions in Vietnam. Women in Vietnam seem highly respected and valued. There is a real sense of equality which is refreshing when comparing to other places in the world.

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Honestly, reading about these women made me realise what a sheltered life I have a made me feel like a bit of a pathetic human being haha. You see these women in the streets getting on their bikes with huge baskets either side to go down to the markets to sell goods (pottery, veg, flowers) in scorching heat and also in torrential rain. Other women carry their babies on the hips or backs in carriers whilst they work on fields and crops. They’re up at the crack of dawn, return when everything is sold/ done and are then in charge of seeing to their family’s needs.

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It was interesting to read about how much of an influence women had on the wars in Vietnam. How many were executed and imprisoned and leaders of armies. Specifically the Guerrillas. If you’re coming to Vietnam, it is definitely worth a visit to this museum, it’s a real eye opener. I also got myself another bracelet from here, so now I have one from each country (excluding Japan because there was other things I wanted to get there instead).

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Hoa Lo prison was SOOO creepy and disturbing and fascinating all at the same time. You HAVE to go if you ever go to Hanoi. It was a prison used for political prisoners by French Colonists and also (a bit later down the line) used for US prisoners by North Vietnam during the Vietnamese war. The building is still standing and you can go through to each of the actual cells and dungeons where people used to be held.

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There is such a heavy energy in the place you can almost feel it trapped there. It’s dark and dull and you can imagine it being damp and depressing during the colder months. There are large cells where lots of prisoners were kept at once and also tiny, secluded cells where death row prisoners were kept isolated from the rest of the world. There were separate dungeons for women and others for prisoners who had stepped out of line and were left to be tortured.

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It was really sad walking around aware of what used to go on exactly where you were standing. Literally gave me chills. There’s lot of information (in Vietnamese, English and French) in each room, so you get a proper understanding about what it was like.

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The natural history museum was also quite interesting, but it just has the kind of stuff you see at the museums in London. Lots of rocks and pottery and old plates and bowls. There are a few statues and old weapons too which is quite cool. We ended up sat outside the museum for about an hour afterwards in ridiculously heavy rain, before we realised it wasn’t going to end any time soon so we jumped in a cab.

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We went out for an all- you- can-eat dinner one night, for a stupidly cheap price. It had every type of seafood and sushi, fruit for dessert, noodles, curries, rice, literally everything. Being that full after a long day of walking and forty degree heat really takes it out of you, but we still made it to the night market after.

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The stalls at the night market were all very repetitive, but they sold such nice stuff! Lots of patterned, colourful trousers with elephants on them and shorts and matching tops. There were handmade bags and Buddha statues and bracelets and wall hangings. One of the pair of trousers I brought with me are way too long, so I bought a pair of green, patterned ones with elephants on them from the market for £2.04 to replace my other ones. It was sooo hard not buying everything for my family. If I had enough room in my case I would have, but instead I’m just going to wait until I meet my mum and sister in Thailand and dump the weight on them to take back to everyone. Postage can be way too expensive.

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We wanted to go and get some Pho one night, because you can’t come to Vietnam and not get Pho. Unfortunately the only places around us only served it with beef. There are places that do veggie Pho too, but they were quite far, so we’re going to wait until we’ve travelled down South a bit. We went to this Tropical Café place instead which was really good and dirt cheap (less than a quid for a beer and about £2 for a decent main meal). It served all sorts of Vietnamese and Asian food there.

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We couldn’t leave Hanoi without properly experiencing the nightlife here. So after a few more beers and when our food had gone down a bit we ended to the Old Quarter to see what was going on. We stumbled across somewhere really lively, called 1990. The music was not to my taste (it was like over the top electronic) but I’ve accepted I probably won’t find many D’n’B places around here, and when you’re drunk any kind of music ends up being alright.

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It was so weird that people were smoking inside and even weirder that staff were walking around with nos balloons twice the size of your head. The dance floor was just full of happy people dancing and doing these balloons, making them last a good ten/fifteen minutes because they were so big. We had to do the classic ‘sorry we’re lesbians and we’re in a relationship’ when this guy decided to latch on to us and kept trying to grope us. I probably would have smacked him around the face, but he bought us a beer and about four shots of neat whiskey on the rocks, so I thought f**k it, if he’s going to be a creep I’m at least going to make the most of a couple of free drinks before running off haha.

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After turning him down and pushing him away numerous times, he then turned to ask me IF I WAS A MAN OR A WOMAN??!?! WHAT!! I don’t know whether he actually meant that quite that literally, but either way I was just a bit confused and laughed in his face. He ended up going away in the end when he realised he wasn’t going to get anything out of us. The only things I haven’t liked about Hanoi so far are the cockroaches (massive ones) and that’s about it, so nothing bad to say as of yet! The next adventure we have booked is Halong Bay. I will also be posting some information about the best and cheapest ways of travelling around Vietnam.