Thursday, October 20, 2005

From the Hanoi Hilton

It is now Thursday night in Hanoi. I write this from the Hanoi Hilton( the Hilton Opera Hotel in Hanoi ).

Yesterday, we flew the last Vietnam Airlines leg of the trip. Again, a prop plane that was just fine. Flew out of Hue Airport, which ain't exactly O'Hare. Small airport with a tv in the waiting room, showing Tom and Jerry cartoons. Fine by me. We flew in the darkness, then a hard bump at Hanoi Airport.

With us on the plane ride and in the Hilton- a group of 18 Israeli tourists. They made a fine impression at baggage claim.

Hanoi Airport modern and efficient. A 45 minute bus ride, then into this Hilton. Which is very modern, new, and a first world hotel, a change from " developing " Vietnam that we had experienced and which is not far outside the door.

This is next to the Hanoi Opera, built by the French of course. When they were not busy oppressing the Vietnamese, they sure built these swell opera palaces- in Saigon, Nha Trang?, here, I am sure other places.

Yesterday, we saw two tombs of Vietnamese emperors. The first was Tu Duc, the last independent king.
Next, a visit to the tomb of Khai Dinh, the first French-controlled " puppet emperor ". Lots of pictures which I will post later.

Our flight was so late, that we had lots of time to kill in Hue. I experimented with my camera, taking nighttime shots.


In Hue, Hanoi, everywhere -- lots of well-scrubbed, friendly, orderly schoolkids in clean school uniforms. They just love it when you take a photo, plenty of them mugging for the camera , smiling, or bursting out laughing.


Today, a 9am meetup. First stop the Ho Chi Minh neighborhood.

We could not see his mausoleum, as he needs to get re-embalmed once a year in Moscow, which is where he now is, getting the oil changed. This whole concept of displaying the leader's dead body is of course a copy of what the Russians did with Lenin's body. Ho's own, ungranted, wish was that he would be cremated, and his ashes scattered in the three main regions of Vietnam.


The Ho Chi Minh Museum is a big place, built by the Russians. It documents the ( very interesting ) life of Ho.

Adjacent to it is the Presidential Palace, and the Stilt House. Ho would not live in the Presidential Palace, it is said, because he did not want to live in luxury while so many Vietnamese lived such horrible lives at the time. So he lived in a simple building outide with few comforts of any kind. We saw his bed and his desk.


We went to the Hoa Lo Prison, built by the French. This maison was for the housing of Vietnamese political prisoners. All the cells were nasty, but the isolation cells were of course nastiest. There was a death row, and a guillotine, which we saw.

During the Vietnam War, this was used by the North Vietnamese to imprison US pilots who had been shot down. I saw John McCain's flight helmet and uniform, and some simple articles used by the US prisoners.

There is a plaque there that says that the US prisoners were "well treated ". Such funny guys.

This evening, we went to see the Water Puppet show. We went by a "cyclo " the bicycle driven cab, a long meandering ride through crowded, wonderful streets that I would never have seen otherwise. The ride was a sensory overload of scenes that could be from the 14th Century ( conical hatted women selling fruits in the two baskets hung from a pole ) , a million cycles, motorcycles, running out at you, etc etc. through the tree lined streets.

Water puppetry is a Vietnamese art form from the 11th Century. There were six musicians, three women and three men, who sang and played traditional instruments. There was a small water pond, on which we saw small plays performed by puppets. They are really really cool. They're kind of geared to kids, showing how to plant rice, how to catch frogs, showing four dancing dragons, the four sacred animals of Vietnam ( dragon, tortoise, unicorn, phoenix ) , etc etc. At the end of the performance, the puppeteers gave a bow.


Loads of Westerners in Vietnam, but mostly Aussies and Europeans. This place has not really been discovered by Americans, but I guarantee you it will.


This Hilton has the usual Hilton ripoff pricing for minibar, but by God they make up for it with the free breakfast buffet. Great fruit, good meats and eggs, and truly wonderful melt in your mouth smoked salmon. And real orange juice, for the first time in two weeks.


Tomorrow, off on a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to the beatiful, spooky islands of Halong Bay. Not looking forward to a long bus ride on these roads, but there will be swimming in a gorgeous setting and I look forward to that. Trip is almost over. Bummer.


Post a Comment

<< Home