Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Vietnam & Cambodia

I had been to Cambodia some years ago, when it first opened to tourism, but I hadn't ever been to Vietnam, even though everyone I know who's been there raves about it. Finally, in March 2007, I decided it was time to explore Vietnam. For reasons known only to the tour company, they routed us from LA to Bangkok, and then back to Hanoi, even though the plane to Bangkok flew right over Hanoi, but ours not to reason why... Anyway, Bangkok's a lovely city, even if you only get to spend overnight there. Just look at this charming shrine and the lotus and water lilies growing right outside the hotel.

Ha Noi itself is a typical Asian city in many ways, encompassing lovely old colonial buildings, serene temples, and perfectly mad traffic.

Ha Noi Hilton

Everyone seems interested in Hoa Lo prison, better known to Americans as the "Ha Noi Hilton," so let's get right to it. Built in 1896 by the French, Hoa Lo prison was one of the largest in Indochina. In October 1954, after the French left, Hoa Lo prison was used by the Vietnamese to detain ordinary lawbreakers. From August 5, 1964 to March 29, 1973, Hoa Lo prison was home to American pilots shot down or arrested during the bombing of North Vietnam. In 1993, much of the prison was torn down and replaced by modern office buildings, but this fragment is kept as it was for tourists and locals.

Cells, as you can see, are very small, but most prisoners were not in individual cells like this, but in large rooms, shown in the earlier post, with everyone shackled to wooden platforms.
This is one of two guillotines used by French colonialists to despatch prisoners in the 1930s.
John McCain's flight suit and paraphernalia; he was pulled from Hoan Kiem Lake in Ha Noi, which I will show you photographs of later, when his plane was shot down October 26, 1967

Ho Chi Minh home

After the Ha Noi Hilton, the next most popular destination in Hanoi is the home where Ho Chi Minh lived from 1954 until his death in 1969. While the compound is large, his house is rather modest and his bedroom, tiny.

Ho Chi Minh grounds

But aren't the grounds lovely?

Uncle Ho, as he's called there, may have lived simply in life, but despite his wish to be cremated and his ashes scattered, he has instead been enshrined in this very fascist monument, his body embalmed like Lenin's and open to view several hours each day. In fact, his body was recently sent back to Moscow for a "tune-up!"

Nearby is the wonderful One-Pillar Pagoda, a unique pagoda built originally in 1049 under the Ly dynasty in the shape of a lotus blooming on its stem, based on a dream of King Ly Thai Tong (1028- 1054)
Below is a dragon railing, leading up to a statue of Ly Cong Uan, the first King of the Ly Dynasty (1010 - 1225), who made the strategic determination to move the capital city of Viet Nam from Hoa Lu (110 km south of Ha Noi) to Dai La (the former name of Ha Noi). Hoa Lu was surounded by mountains; although that had made it easy to defend, it was inconvenient for the development of the economy and transportation. Ly Cong Uan renamed it Thang Long, which is now Ha Noi.

Finally, here's the Presidential Palace, a strictly ceremonial building today

Ha Noi Market

But me, when I travel, I like to poke around in the local markets, checking out the beautiful produce, wondering about vegetables I've never seen before, especially looking for mangosteens, my favorite tropical fruit, which isn't allowed into the U.S. Here are a few images from the main Ha Noi market. Aren't those pink and green dragonfruit beautiful?

more Ha Noi market

Even songbirds are for sale here
...and flowers
Or you can have a little beauty treatment, right on the sidewalk...
Even the market is no proof against Ha Noi traffic.

Water puppets

One of the pleasures of Hanoi is its magical water puppet shows:

You have to be able to swim to be a puppeteer in these productions!

Ha Noi architecture

The architecture of older cities is my special love, however. Look at these three and four story houses, sometimes barely 12 feet wide, with shops on the street level and living quarters above. You see this type of housing all over Vietnam, even where land is not at a premium.

Isn't this a gorgeous wall?