A Travellerspoint blog

Hoa Lo Prison...

....gave me the willies!

67 °F

We stumbled upon Hoa Lo Prison the other day when we only had a few hours to kill before heading to Sapa. It's located in the middle of Hanoi and was a short walk from our Hotel. It was used as a prison by the French at first, mostly for people from around Vietnam that were opposing the French occupation. But once the French moved out during the mid 1950's and the American's moved in during the 60's, it became a prison for American fighter pilots once captured by the Vietnamese. Ana and I were strolling around the prison for a while just enjoying the sights, but after turning a few corners I definitely got the creeps.

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Take for example the Guillotine. This was one of two guillotines used back in the day. Next to it was a photos of three heads that were cut off after the Hoa Lo poisoning incident (apparently a big deal). I understood that some of the prisoners poisened the food of some guards, causing the need for a little retrobution towards the prisoners. Ouch!

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This is the wall outside the prison that keeps people from jumping over. See all the broken bottles molded together in cement, then draped with barbed wire on top?

The last series of pictures...well...have a look...
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The first one is of John McCain's aviator suit he wore during the Vietnam Conflict. The was shot down by the enemy foces in Hanoi, yet, he was able to crash in to a lake and avoid death. His uniform and helmet is on display here because he spent part of his 5 years in Hoa Lo prison. Next to his uniform is a small story about his crashing in Truc Bach Lake along with a photo of him being fished out by soldiers and local towns people. The last photo is of the letter that all service men carried with them when they went into the field of battle. It was a notice for the enemy, acknowledging in a variety of languages their basic need for food and/or first aid as well as a request to be returned to their home country. Seeing all this stuff makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

After trying to digest all of the information put forth in this prison about the "American War" (as they refer to it), I kept wondering why we were even here in the first place. I'm sure there's a few answers to that question, and very different answers depending on who you ask. Nonetheless, there are no winners in war. The info i've seen here about the war with the Americans is probably just a you would expect it to be, very much in defence of the Vietnamese people and their political way of life. Only after seeing the sights around town and meeting a few people, it's hard not to become even more more intrigued with the culture here. Without going to much deeper, i'm very glad we decided to visit Vietnam and have the chance to read the other side's perspective. This has been a pretty interesting experience.

Be well and safe travels Amigos!

Keith

Posted by Sr.curtissan 05:38 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Sapa: The Invisible Town

overcast 58 °F

Greetings from Sapa, Vietnam!

Ana and I just finished a 3 day 2 night stay in Sapa, which is located in the Lao Cai providence about 40 kilometers from China in the north western section of Vietnam. Sapa is well know to the Vietnamese for a few reasons, most noteably it's recognized for it's beauty and culture rich environment. Lots of Hmong tribes in these parts.

The far eastern section of the Himalayan mountain range comes to an end here in Sapa. It's at about 1,600 meters above sea level, but a day hike will take you to Fan Si Pan Mountain which is the highest point in Vietnam sitting at around 3,100 meters above sea level.

It's no where near as cold as Minnesota, but average temps in December and January stretch anywhere from -1 to 15 degrees celcius (30-60 degrees F). It is undoubtedly the coldest place in Vietnam. The locals (Ana too) are dresssed in full winter gear: scarfs, ear muffs, mittens and layer upon layer. I wouldn't call it cold being from MN, but the fact that we're at cloud level means there is a ton of moisture in the air making it feel on the chilly side.

Although we've enjoyed a couple 12 km treks through a few local villages, we never saw the full vista of the mountains in Sapa. The clouds this time of year in Sapa are so thick that you're lucky if you see a clear during the day. In our 72 hours in Sapa 50-100 yards of sight was average, although we got a little better view yesterday. This is what Sapa looks like in summer and fall:

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This is what Sapa looked like the other day:

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Our guides have been members of one of the 5 tribes that cultivate rice and corn in the Sapa Region(Hmong, Dao, Tay, Pho Lu and Giay). They wear very traditional clothes they make themselves. The native people live in the mountains and have a very primitive way of life. They are mostly self sifficient, eating only the foods they cultivate in the hills such as vegatables, corn and Rice. They do eat meat as well; mostly pork, chicken and beef. Dog meat is common all over Vietnam, but I have no interest in giving it a try.

In the Hmong tribes people marry at a very early age, some time between 15-17 years of age. They also grow marijuana, yet it is used exclusively for the hemp to make clothes and small items sold on the street to people in the town of Sapa. There clothes were quite authentic:

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Our tours have consisted of Ana and I, as well as other couples from all over the place. During each of our hikes we were accompanied by several other tourists as well as a collection of women from the neighboring vliiages. At first we we're hoping it was just to bless the journey with good juju, but their efforts soon became relentless in trying to sell us their handmade goods. Here's a shot of the group along with the village people:

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People say Sapa is a very Romantic town, especially in the Summer and Fall when the rice fields are maturing. We knew we wouldn't be privy to the view of the rice in January or be able to wax romance under a sunny sky; however, witnessing the design of the rice fields on the mountain side, eating the local rice noodle soup and confronting a simpler way of life has provided a fresh take on the meaning of romance.

Be well and safe travels amigos!

Keith

Posted by Sr.curtissan 04:45 Archived in Vietnam Tagged sapa_trek_january Comments (0)

Chào down morning, noon and night...

Hanoi, Vietnam

63 °F

Sìn chào!
(hello)

"Chàu" is pronounced just like "ciào", again, a measure of the influence the French had on the Vietnamese. "Sìn" sounds like "seen". Vualet! You speak Vietnamese!

There was no way possible for me to be here and not learn some Vietnamese along the way. Apparently you can say "Sìn chào" any time of day and it would be an appropriate greeting for the Vietnamese. I've got this one down, but there are a few other sayings i'm failing at miserably. I'm over the embarrasment of getting it wrong, as no matter where you are people always appreciate giving the language your best effort. Hence, "cô lên," or KEEP TRYING!

So i'm just starting to get ised to the VND, the Vietnamese Dong. It's the currency they use here in Vietnam. After doing a little research it's become clear the the dollar carries a lot of weight here, as in it will hold it's value a lot longer than the Dong. When I cashed in a crispy $100 bill and the hotel manger at the Golden Legend Hotel gave me 2,100,000 dong in return she said, "You Millionaire!". Woo hoo! If I did the math right she didn't even charge me a fee to exchange. If so, it was way less than %1.

Let me tell you friends, if you work at it you can really strech money here too. With the exception of the 70 min $7 foot massage ( which had a happy hour discount of %20 off if you go between 10am and 1:00pm), the $0.25 bus ticket and items at the super market you really can negociate just about anything.

Be well everyone!

Photos coming soon...

Posted by Sr.curtissan 14:27 Archived in Vietnam Tagged language_dong_negociation Comments (1)

Getting my feet on the ground...and a foot massage

Hanoi, Vietnam

semi-overcast 62 °F

Greetings from Hà Nôi! After a couple days i'm settling in quite well to Vietnam. It hasn't been nearly as hard as I thought it would be. After mustering up the guts to leave the hotel room friday morning (my first morning) and braving the side walk traffic of vendors and scooters I managed to see a good chunk of the Old Quarter. It reminds me a lot of the french quarter in New Orleans, which makes sense since the French colonized Vietnam and played central role in it's developement throughout the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries. Lots of tiny buildings packed together, hundreds of powerlines weaved like spagetti from post to post above the head and most streets narrow enough to allow one way traffic only.

If I didn't mention it to you before I left the U.S., one of the many reasons we chose this area to visit is the price tag. Friday I got a 90 min full body massage for $10. Since tipping is not expected this was the entire fee. I went back yesterday for a 70 minute $7 foot massage, only I was a little confused after she threw a pair of shorts on the sofa chair and told me to change. I went with the flow, as expected. Included in the "foot massage" was about 20 min of upper body, followed by 30 min of foot rubbing and them another 10 min or so of upper bod massage. How could this 4' 10", 100 lb woman be so strong? At one point she hit me so hard I almost turned around to fight back. I was ultimately very happy with the service, as it was as good a massage that I've had anywhere else in my 34 years.

There's loads of massage/spas around here, so in the event you make it here this one is called R & M, No. 29 Ly Quoc Su Street, Hoam Kiem District. It would have been very easy to walk into another spa more expensive, especially since all the hotels offers brosures for this sort of thing.

Cheers!

New photos coming soon...

Posted by Sr.curtissan 15:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged massage_hanoi_oldquarter Comments (0)

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