Thursday, November 15, 2012

Exploring Hanoi

Thursday - the day we set aside for exploring Hà Nội, doing the tourist thing.  But before we set out, the smokers needed to light up.  Cigarettes are very, very cheap here... and there's one brand that I haven't seen in Australia since I was a child... 'Craven A'.   It became the catch cry for the smokers: 

"Crav'n, A?"

Dũng is studying tourism, and jumped at the opportunity to be our tour guide, so we booked a car for the day and had our own customised tour of Hà Nội.   First up we visited The Vietnamese Women's Museum - dedicated to recognising the role of women in Vietnamese society. It gives a really interesting insight into their lives - not just their heroism during times of war, but their daily lives, marriage and childbirth.

Xuân and Hanny in a wedding tent

Then a harrowing visit to Hỏa Lò Prison - a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the American (Vietnam) War when it was sarcastically known to American prisoners of war as the "Hanoi Hilton".
The prison was built by the French in 1886, when Việt Nam was part of French Indochina. It was built to punish Vietnamese political prisoners agitating for independence and they were kept in sub-human conditions and often subjected to torture and execution.   The French even used the guillotine to behead revolutionaries as recently as 1932.  How astounding and horrific is that!  To think that just 80 years ago the French government condoned such barbaric punishment is absolutely appalling. Only the gatehouse remains today as a museum, but it was extremely disturbing to see the replica cells where the men, women and children were imprisoned in very overcrowded conditions.  We couldn't begin to imagine what it must have been like....  they weren't criminals - they were patriots, fighting for what was rightfully theirs!

They even incarcerated women and children ... way more jammed into this cell than depicted by the figures here...  and to think that children were imprisoned in this dark, dank place is horrific.
See the strange ball of light above the figure on the right? We don't know what that is... it wasn't on the camera lens because it doesn't appear on the photos taken immediately before or after.

 What you can't see from this photo is that the floor is sloping away so that when the prisoner lies down, his head is lower than his feet, so the blood rushes to his head... as well as that this cell has no windows - pitch dark... The French were treating political prisoners like this only 60 years ago!   Appalling.

This is the memorial courtyard. 

We were all gutted after realising what those people suffered - all they wanted was freedom from colonial rule.  Being confronted with the stark reality of the depths of man's inhumanity is very distressing.

After visiting that monument to a dark time in this country's history, we headed for a much more ancient monument to the sophistication of the rulers of Việt Nam of 1,000 years ago - the Temple of Literature.

The Temple of Literature hosts the "Imperial Academy" (Quốc Tử Giám), Vietnam's first national university. It was built in 1070 at the time of King Lý Nhân Tông and is one of several temples in Vietnam which are dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. The various pavilions, halls, statues and stelae of doctors are places where offering ceremonies, study sessions and the strict exams of the Dai Việt took place. You could go nuts taking photos here.


How cute are these little kids!


By then we were ready for lunch, so we jumped into the car and our driver took us by the 'scenic route' (ie he had no idea where he was going) to KOTO restaurant ... all of 200m from our starting point, only in the opposite direction!  KOTO stands for Know One, Teach One and reflects their belief that if you're in a position to help someone less fortunate, then you should help them and the greatest thanks you can receive is to one day see that person be in a position to do the same for someone else. They run a two year all inclusive program for destitute teens, teaching them all aspects of running a restaurant as well as life skills. The restaurant was busy with tourists, keen to support this excellent venture... 
 Gene was in Hà Nội for the day, so we met up with her for lunch.  Not cheap, but very nice.
After lunch Khánh and Dũng went to meet Nathan and Callum (they had been to Cát Bà and Hạ Long Bay and come to Hà Nội to buy a couple of bikes for the next leg of their trip) and a mate of Dũng's who had a motorbike for sale while Katie, Hannah, Adam, Xuân and I went to the Fine Arts Museum ... again so many things to photograph!


... Paintings ...
...traditional ... and modern, with bright, lively colours...
Some artefacts were many hundreds of years old...

These are ancient rulers.

Modern sculptures remembering the horrors of war.

 And pottery hundreds of years old, looking as fresh as if it was fired yesterday.

Khánh and Dũng rejoined us just as we finished looking at everything. After the Fine Arts Museum we had one more stop - the One Pillar Pagoda.

 gorgeous flowers...

 I think the boys were inspired by this old man minding his own business, just doing his exercises in this most public of places!  So Xuân decided to test his muscles too ... LOL


And that was it for sight-seeing for the day!  It was a beaut way to do a "tour" ... Dũng is a great tour-guide.   One last time we piled into the hire car and headed for the Green Gecko Restaurant (where Dũng is the manager) for a relax, and for Katie to have a cooking lesson!!  But that's worth its own blog...

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