We landed at the new Hanoi airport (it opened yesterday). We drove to the hotel on the new highway and the new bridge which took 20 years to build with help from Japan. There are motorcycles everywhere, like a swarm of bees. We find out that motorcycles are the favorite mode of transportation, as cars are expensive and the price of gas is controlled by the government.
The contrast between the temples and rice fields of Cambodia to the busy streets of Hanoi makes me feel as though I am in a different planet, a different civilization. It’s not only the new airport but the amount of people and being in a city where you are immediately immersed in the busy life.
The Metropole Hotel, where we stay is an old magnificent hotel. We are staying in the original wing and our room was used as the first Israeli embassy in Hanoi in the years 1994-1995. There is a plaque outside our room (111) dedicated by President Shimon Peres. What an interesting coincidence! During the Vietnam War (or as the Vietnamese call it the “American War”) Hanoi was bombed. There is a bunker in the hotel where the guests took shelter. It’s three narrow rooms with low ceilings and feels like a prison. Joan Baez who came to visit the American soldiers in prison composed the song “where are you my son?” during the Christmas bombing of 1972.
Here is a link to the full story.
We had one full day to explore the city. Early morning we headed to see the Ho Chi Minh memorial, well it is a mausoleum. You walk in line, soldiers in white uniform watch you and make sure that your behavior is respectful of the dead president. I entered the room where Ho Chi Minh is lying on a bed, the body is embalmed but he looks alive. I did not expect to see a body. You cannot stop or talk, but just keep walking. We walked to see the house where he lived in the last three years of his life. He was “married ‘ to politics and lived a spartan life. He brought communism to his country. He believed that order will save the Viet-Nam nation. (Viet is the name of the people who live in the country which is Nam which means South as in South of China)
We then went to see the one pillar pagoda which was build by a king who prayed for son everyday till his wish came true. We continued to the Temple of Literature and were introduced to Confucius who supported education, respect for one’s elders and much more. It is the university of the past. There are 82 doctorate stelae standing on top of turtles and engraved with the names of the royal court doctors who passed the royal exams from 15th to 18th century.
We took a ride on a motorcycle, it was scary to sit behind the driver while he maneuvered in between the throng of motorcycles and cars. We arrived at the “Hanoi HIlton”. It’s not the hotel but the oldest prison in Hanoi where the French and then the Japanese kept their prisoners shackled at night and the American prisoners were kept during the war.
We walked around the lake, saw a water puppet show and ended the day with a fabulous Vietnamese/French diner.
Hanoi is the second biggest city in Viet-Nam and was the capital of the North.