Last night I watched the Hanoi Hilton. Today I went to Hao Lo prison in Hanoi. It is yet another brutal reminder of the reality of the horrific abuses humans will inflict on each other. For the record the movie was a piece of 1987 propaganda and acting garbage.
Hao Lo was not only used for American Airman during the Vietnam War/ War with America. The prison was built by the French in the late 1880's and was used to house, torture and execute political prisoners who rallies for Vietnam independence from France. The French were brutal with Hao Lo and other prisons in Vietnam in order to illicit fear and control over the Vietnamese thus supporting colonial rule.
I ended up having a 20 minute conversation with this older Aussie dude and his wife as we were looking at some of the artifacts and displays. I had commented that the entire complex was a testament to the suffering of the Vietnamese at the hands of the French. The propaganda against the American criminals and how well they were treated was nonsense. I understood that the museum was going to be what it was but it still took my aback a bit. His response was simple and on point. "Each side writes it's own version of history. The truth is somewhere in the middle". I like to think I always understood that and "History is written by the victors" narrative. I was a great to have someone verbally smack me upside the head and knock some sense into me as I was a bit agitated during most of the tour. With my thoughts back on track I wandered the jail and took in the history for the reality that it was, regardless of the narrative.
Located on Hao Lo street and easy to find the prison itself is quite large but only about 25% of it has been opened and curated for the general public. The fee is 30000 Dong, or about $2C.
Hanoi is a great city and as with all large cities in Asia chaotic with the adjective of choice. My hotel was in the heart of the ancient quarter. The Hanoi Brother hotel was a great choice at $14 a night for a single room, private bath and air conditioning. It included breakfast that I could chose from a menu plus if I was still hungry I could order extra. Coffee, juice and water was free all day.
Across the street was a family business that had incredible Banh Mi. It was open air as most places are with a large TV screen where friends were made every night over $1 bottles of Hanoi beer while watching the world cup. Over the course of 5 nights there were Canadians, Americans, Mexicans, Germans, Aussies, A Dane, French, Spanish, and a couple of very sad Italians. The owners did not even bother to get out of their chairs when I started walking in and grabbing my own beer from the fridge . They just smiled. A home on the road.
This city is packed. There is a great bar scene / bar zone with a few places serving up live music nightly. I found it was all acoustic and mostly serving Budweiser, for whatever reason. There are plenty of museums, the Ho Chi Minh memorial and mausoleum (which was closed when I went) and as many food choices as you can handle. I was talking to a few Expats who ran the hotel next to where I was staying, after all they were giving away free beer before the world cup games.
Anyways, they were telling me that there is a real seedy underbelly to Hanoi. The latest thing being inhaling CO2 cartridges. The young crowd just can not get enough of them. Open them, suck back the CO2 and off you go into la la land. That is dumb enough but is not the real issue. The trouble is that they are running out of CO2 and the locals are filling the cartridges with whatever gas they can get their hands on. Naturally the results are awful and sometimes tragic.
I found a cheap flight on Trip.com, my new go to for flights. $49 got me from Hoi An to Hanoi. It was great to be in the North and my only Vietnam regret is that I did not come here sooner. I read so many blogs and articles warning me about the fact that Vietnam was bigger than you think. Lesson learned.
My visa was expiring and so Sapa, Halong Bay and Dien Bien Phu would have to wait until next time, and there will be a next time for Vietnam.