When we first arrived to Hanoi we took a food tour to help us learn what to eat and how to eat it. The tour went to six places and we got to try a variety of foods. We started with Banh Coun, a steamed rice rolled pancake you add cinnamon roasted pork and fish oil to. We then tried Bun Bo Nam Bo, beef noodle salad. It is very sweet so you add rice vinegar to it to balance it with some sourness. Next we tried Banh Xeo and Nam Lui. The Banh Xeo is a crispy pancake and the Nam Lui is a grilled pork. We wrapped them in rice paper with different type of herbs and pickled green papaya to make spring rolls. We dipped them in peanut and pineapple sauce. They were delicious! We tried the pork and pate Bahn Mi (sandwich) next followed by Rice Wine and Snake Wine (Chris tried that, not me). Lastly we had a Vietnamese dessert, Che Buoi. It’s a very sweet soup made with green bean powder, ginger, lotus, coconut milk and jelly. The tour was very fun and taught us a lot about food in Vietnam.
Later that afternoon we went to the Military History Museum. We didn’t realize the hours it was open and arrived 45 minutes before it closed. It was not enough time to see and read about everything. But what we saw was very interesting. Outside of the museum they have a lot of US helicopters, planes, and tanks that were abandoned at the military bases in Southern Vietnam. It was very thought-provoking to see this history from the other country's perspective. After visiting the Army Museum we walked around the city for a bit before heading to see a water puppet show. It was very touristy, but we had never seen anything like it before. The show is done in a pool of water and the puppets are controlled by bamboo rods underwater. The show was accompanied with a small group of musicians playing Vietnamese instruments.
The next morning, we walked along Hoan Kiem Lake before heading to Hoa La Prison. The prison was originally used by the French to imprison Vietnamese people who wanted independence and were considered a threat. It then housed most American POWs during the Vietnam war, most famously John McCain. They had a few artifacts from captured Americans and pictures of them playing volleyball and celebrating Christmas. They painted a pretty picture of the treatment of the Americans, and acted like the nickname "Hanoi Hilton" was giving from sincerity instead of sarcasm. We were both frustrated to see this part but it was still very enlightening. Any political or history buff would find the war sights in Vietnam very interesting. It adds a certain perspective to war that we don't often see because our battles are always fought on others soil. The friendliness toward American visitors in the country now was also a strong reminder that wars are usually fought between governments and not people.
After the prison, we visited the Temple of Literature which was Vietnam's first university and is dedicated to Confucius. There are some beautiful courtyards and lots of altars to Confucius and his disciples. We walked around taking pictures for a bit before heading back to the Old Quarter to get some Banh Mi for lunch (so yummy!!). After lunch we wandered around the Old Quarter stopping in the Dong Xuan Market and other little shops to browse around. The Market was crazy. There were tons of vendors with thousands of items each. The streets of Hanoi are setup so each street has an overall theme. The road our hostel was on was the Rug street with almost every store selling rugs and carpet. Then there was a coffee street, shoe street, convenient store street, etc. We enjoyed getting lost in chaos of it. We ended the night with eating Pho (Vietnamese noodles) and grabbing some beers on a street corner where we could people watch for a while.
Chris & Taylor
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