We stayed at the budget friendly Hanoi Pearl Hotel which included a good buffet breakfast which I enjoyed since Vietnamese ice coffee was included. The rooms were clean and comfortable and the location was excellent for exploring and shopping.
My "feels like a spy film moment" was when we went for a walk on an empty street and out of nowhere, a police car suddenly drove in and policemen barged into a bar in what looked like a raid. For a moment I thought that there was a curfew that our hotel did not tell us about. The policement saw us and for a frightening moment I thought that we would be arrested.
We arrived in Hanoi at about 8pm and took a cab to our hotel, the Hanoi Pearl, in the Old Quarter. For some reason, the first thing that came to my mind was The Adventures of Tin Tin. The Old Quarter has an aura of mystery and feels like an adventure is about to begin.
My father told me that my grandfather, a frequent traveller, visited Hanoi in the 50's and it was one of the most breathtaking cities that he had ever seen. He was correct. The architecture in Hanoi is a mix of French colonial elegance and traditional Asian boldness. The pace felt slower and more relaxed than Saigon, but both cities have the ambitious buzz where people are hustling and driven to succeed. If Saigon is Vietnam's New York, Hanoi is San Francisco.
We took a private tour and visited the oldest pagoda in the city, the Tran Quoc Pagoda.
Hoa Lo Prison (originally named Maison Centrale) was built by the French and used to imprison political prisoners. It was later used by North Vietnam and was named the "Hanoi Hilton" by American prisoners of war. The prison (which looks more like a dungeon) is depressing as it has life size statues that depicts the torture (complete with guillotine) that Vietnamese prisoners endured and historically confusing as it shows a video of smiling American POWs playing basketball with the message that they were treated well and humanely. At first, I was taken aback by the video, but I know that war is a part of every country's history and one thing that traveling has showed me is that there are always different sides and interpretations of the past.
The Temple of Literature
I love the majestic building of the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum
Whimsical dancing puppets at the Thanh Long Water Puppet Theater where wooden puppets perform in a pool of water with traditional instrumental music.