Vietnam. Hanoi. A prison, a temple, a mausoleum and a palace.

Rather a sobering start to this post I’m afraid, but an important and interesting part of Vietnam’s history.  We paid a visit to Hỏa Lò Prison. The prison was built by the French, when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina. It was intended to hold Vietnamese prisoners, particularly political prisoners agitating for independence, and they were often subject to torture and execution. Originally built in 1896 to hold 460 inmates, by 1954 it held more than 2000 people in horrific conditions.  Later on it was used by North Vietnam for U.S. prisoners of war during the Vietnam War and was known to them as the Hanoi Hilton.  The photographs and captions at the prison depict much better conditions for them, as does the guide book that we bought.  There are photographs of them having a Christmas day lunch, and playing basketball in the yard, but interestingly, according to Wikipedia, severe torture methods were employed, such as rope bindings, irons, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement. When prisoners of war began to be released their testimonies revealed widespread and systematic abuse of prisoners of war.  It’s apparent that there is a very one sided story being told in Vietnam these days….

The plaques below are on walls outside and each one is about 7′ long by 3′ high.

One very dark room inside is filled with life sized statues that depict the conditions that prisoners had to endure. Each face is different and very haunting.

Women and children were also held there in a different block but they didn’t appear to have been shackled.

In the 1960s and 1970s there were literally hundreds of protests which were part of a movement in opposition to United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, and as such took place mainly in the U.S.  I was a child/teenager in the UK and not very interested in worldwide news at the time, so I hadn’t really been aware of the reasons for the war, so with apologies to my American and other friends who probably know all this, here’s an explanation.

The causes of the Vietnam War revolve around the simple belief held by America that Communism was threatening to expand all over south-east Asia and they were terrified of the consequences of that. Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States could risk an all-out war against each other, such was the nuclear military might of both. However, when it suited both, they had client states that could carry on the fight for them. In Vietnam, the Americans actually fought, but the USSR could not. However, to support the Communist cause, the Soviet Union armed its fellow Communist state, China, who would, in turn, arm and equip the North Vietnamese who fought the Americans.

Another day in Hanoi and we’d spent quite a lot of time in the apartment in the mornings due to heavy rain. We decided to take Grab taxis (the Vietnamese equivalent of Uber) to save time on slow walks due to congested pavements, crazy traffic, and Google Maps on my phone taking us round in circles:( The fares for a ride of up to 20 minutes averaged at less than £1.   The photos below are taken at Hoan Kiem lake. Peaceful and quiet, the lake surrounds Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda sitting in the centre on a small island.

Due to the lack of tourists I was able to capture this stick of incense against a dark room with nobody behind.

The dragon on the roof makes me smile – it looks like it’s just fallen over and faceplanted.

Another dragon on a roof – I chose to under expose the photograph as I like silhouettes.

One day we took a walk to see the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. His embalmed body lies in a glass case, and is on show and protected by a military honour guard. Apparently it often has queues of people wanting to file past and see it, but it was closed when we were there.  Seeing his embalmed body wasn’t high on our list of priorities anyway!! It’s interesting that each Autumn his embalmed body goes to Russia for ‘maintenance’. As you can see, the building is extremely austere!

Not far from the mausoleum is the Presidential Palace.  It was intended to be Ho Chi Minh’s official residence but he opted for a traditional Vietnamese stilt-house instead. We couldn’t get any closer to the palace than this, but had a walk around its very beautiful gardens.

Yet more buildings painted yellow with green shutters.

As we were heading out of the complex we walked past this bamboo grove and Judith saw a lady in the distance.  I immediately grabbed a shot. The fact she’s wearing the traditional hat makes it for me. Well spotted Judith!

Finally, a word about the traffic in Hanoi.  IT’S CRAZY!  All traffic just weaves around anything that’s oncoming.  We saw scooters driving on the wrong side of the road, going across crossroads when traffic was also going through them, and as for stopping at red lights – well, some did and plenty of others didn’t!  Motorbikes and mopeds outnumber cars easily, and each time you cross a road it feels like you’re risking your life.  Nobody stops and even on zebra crossings it seems as if only the cars stop when the traffic lights turn red, whereas scooters often just carry on.  Crossing a road is literally a case of ‘take a deep breath, start walking and keep walking’ and let the traffic weave around you.  You can’t dither or stop, and just breath a sigh of relief when you make it safely to the other side.  As for trying to walk on the pavements – it’s often impossible as you can see from the photo on the right below.   We spent 3 days in Hanoi, packed in a lot, and were then glad to fly down to our next destination, Hoi An ………



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