Highlights of Hanoi

Well, our time in Hanoi has come to an end after using it as a home base for a little over a week.  We loved Hanoi!  We stayed in the colorful, labyrinthine Old Quarter of town, full of narrow winding streets packed full of shops, vendors, markets, food stalls, etc.  There are amazing smells wafting around, delicious street food to sample on every corner.  And motorbikes!!!  Motorbikes rule here.  Every street contains a sea full of bikes going in every direction.  While surely there are some traffic rules, we cannot ascertain what they might be.  Crossing the street is not for the faint of heart as the traffic never seems to stop, and the crosswalks I think are just for decoration.  You have to slowly inch your way into the onslaught and move with steady, gentle fluid motion, and voila, the sea amazingly parts around you.  The key is staying calm and steady, which is sometimes difficult with my mother-in-law Nanny-Co (and I mean this lovingly) going “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god…”  See video below which was taken on our street, gives at least an idea of the chaos.

Our favorite activity in Hanoi, aside from eating amazing food, was simply strolling around this vibrant city.  Other highlights included walking through the many markets, visiting the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” which Coalter has already mentioned, touring a temple in the middle of a lake which had an embalmed sea turtle.  We also visited the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and saw an embalmed Ho Chi Minh.  This was a very solemn event in which we had to march two by two escorted by Vietnamese military in full military regalia carrying bayonets.  “Uncle Ho” as he is affectionately known in Vietnam looked pretty good but apparently he goes to Russia once a year for some “touch up work.”   Below are some photos of our favorite activity, eating, and a few market scenes.  For more gruesome market pictures, contact Henry and Braxton directly.

IMG_0650 IMG_0651

Coco and Boys
Coco and Boys
Braxton Gets a Lesson
Braxton Gets a Lesson
Enjoying More Street Food
Best bun cha in Hanoi

IMG_0653

The boys have been learning a lot about the Vietnam war (or the “American War” is it is called here), the events that led up to it, and the US involvement.  Prisons, guillotines, soldiers, bayonets and embalmed military leaders really help with the education process of young boys!

We visited a wonderful exhibit at the National Women’s Museum.  We saw a traditional water puppet show.  We went to a performance of traditional Vietnamese music and dance featuring a long dance of the Mother Goddess, who is worshiped by many here.   Coco had a Thai massage and was pounded, slapped, pulled and contorted like a pretzel.  Sounded a lot like assault to me, but she loved it.

While we had intended to see more of Vietnam, we opted to cut it short as we were advised to get out of the country during Tet (Chinese New Year).  During this time the country all but shuts down in celebration.  I think it would be fun to see.  You can feel the excitement build as the preparations are under way… lights, flags, lanterns and banners are being hung, trees are being planted, flowers everywhere.  I’m sure it will be quite a site!

Coco has landed

My mom touched down in Hanoi this evening to join us for a month of traveling in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  Coco is a seasoned traveler having joined both of her kids on their adventures starting with me in China in 1989 and followed by Ecuador, Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, Haiti and etc with Eva over the years.  We’re looking forward to sharing the adventures across three generation.  They started today with a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.

Coco and the boys at Uncle Ho's mausoleum
Coco and the boys at Uncle Ho’s mausoleum

Hoa Lo Prison (aka the Hanoi Hilton)

The front gate and a small section of the original Maison Centrale (Hoa Lo Prison) are still standing and now house a museum exhibiting the history of this prison perhaps best known in the US because John McCain spent some time there after being shot down during the Vietnam War. (The Vietnam War is here referred to as the American War to distinguish it from the preceding 80 years of conflict.)  A new high-rise hotel has been built on the grounds of the demolished portion of the prison.  It is not a Hilton.

As horrific as the treatment of US servicemen may have been (the Hoa Lo exhibits claim otherwise), one comes away from the museum with an appreciation of the length and intensity of the Vietnamese people’s struggle against foreign aggression.  Built in the 1880s-1890s by the French, Hoa Lo was first used to house, and in some cases to execute by guillotine, Vietnamese insurgents.  The prison was used in this capacity, mostly by the French, but also by the Japanese during World War II, until the mid-1950s.  The prison’s relatively short period of use during the Vietnam War to house US POWs felt like a mere footnote in its long and gruesome history.

Hanoi cooking class

We took a cooking class this morning which consisted of a visit to the market for ingredients followed by instruction, cooking and eating.  Green papaya salad, Hanoi spring rolls, and lemongrass chicken were on the menu.

Fresh produce (Hanoi)
Fresh produce (Hanoi)
Rice and beans (Hanoi)
Rice and beans (Hanoi)
Dried shrimp, dried bamboo (Hanoi)
Dried shrimp, dried bamboo (Hanoi)
Baked rice (looks like pork rind) (Hanoi)
Baked rice (looks like pork rind) (Hanoi)

The team took on the task under the professional tutelage of Master Chef Huang.

Prep cooks hard at work on spring roll filling
Prep cooks hard at work on spring roll filling
Braxton grates green papaya and carrots
Braxton grates green papaya and carrots

Amy Jo demonstrates her patented stuff, fold, roll n hold spring roll technique.

Stuff
Stuff
Fold
Fold
Roll
Roll
Hold
Hold

We enjoyed the sweet taste of success!

We made this (with a lot of help from Master Chef Huang . . .) (Hanoi)
We made this (with a lot of help from Master Chef Huang . . .) (Hanoi)
Final product
Final product
Proud certificate holders
Proud certificate holders
"Best meal so far"
“Best meal so far”

 

Noodles

Noodles have played a prominent role in our diet so far.  Among other things, they can be difficult to manage with chopsticks.

Our first (and second) breakfast at Moganshan centered on noodles.

wait staff: “Would you like noodles for breakfast?”
cgl: “Yes, but what else do you have?”
wait staff: “Just noodles.”
cgl: “OK. We’ll have noodles.”

hot noodles in a cold restaurant Moganshan, China
Hot noodles in a cold restaurant Moganshan, China

The chopstick skills were improving by the time we hit the town of Xingping where we enjoyed Guilin mifen (Guilin rice noodles) and Pepsi.

Guilin mi fen in Xingping, China
Guilin mi fen in Xingping, China

And Pho Tai  Nam on the streets of Hanoi was a breeze by the end of week two.  The Fanta helped disperse the overdose of hot sauce.

Pho in Hanoi, Vietnam
Pho in Hanoi, Vietnam