Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Ngoc Son Temple
On the first full day, after having my free breakfast at the hostel (fruit pancake and a coffee) I met up with Stathis and Angellica and we went down to went to Hoàn Kiếm Lake to see Ngoc Son Temple. It costs 30,000 dong to see the temple, and it is quite small, but definitely worth it. You get some fantastic views from the lake, and the place is really beautiful.
After Ngoc Son Temple, we made our way down to get some ice-cream from the highly recommended Trang Tien ice-cream shop. I have definitely had nicer ice-cream, but it was very nice! We got the glass bowl, which had 3 different flavours to try. I think mine were Vanilla, Green Tea and Taro. There were also chocolate/mocha and Coconut options too. When you carry on down Trang Tien, at the end you will see the Opera House. Unfortunately, they had cancelled their show for the day so we could not watch, and the next one was Friday.
Instead of the Opera, we decided to go to the Vietnam History museum. You can find this by taking the first road to the left next to the Opera House, and walk about 100m. It was 40,000 to get in to the museum and there were 2 floors, including a dark room to preserve many artifacts. This was an absolutely fantastic place, with a huge array of different statues/artefacts/paintings throughout the Vietnams history! We didn’t get the audio guide but if I did this again, I would, so that I could get a full understanding of everything I was looking at. After the museum, they had to set off to sort their visa, and I started walking down towards the Hoa Lo Prison.
Hoa Lo Prison
This prison was built by the French in 1896 to hold Vietnams patriotic fighters. Between 1954 and 1964 the prison was used to house criminals. Then, for 9 years, (1964 – 1973) the prison was used to hold American pilots shot down during the Vietnam war. Only part of the prison still stands, as other parts were knocked down for local development, but the remaining sections are considered historical sites now.
The tour showed you were prisoners were kept (mass cells, solitary confinement awaiting execution, woman cells, woman and baby cells).
Inside the prison, they have used life like models to give you a better understanding of how the prisoners were kept captive, and how they spent their days in prison. During the time of Vietnamese being held captive, the conditions were poor. The areas were packed full, with the elderly being closest to the door so it was easier to breath in the stuffy rooms.
There was a separate section where female prisoners would be held, and another sepeate section for women who gave birth whilst in prison. This would be an area where they could look after the child, with other mothers and children to accompany them.
Fast forward to 1964 when the American pilots were held captive, they got relatively nice treatment by the guards, able to play sports, play games, watch films and have parties. The prison was referred to, by the American pilots, as “Hanoi Hilton”, and it´s not surprising why!
It was such an incredible and surreal experience to walk through there and learn about the prisoners´ time in captivity. I would highly recommend visiting here, it was 30,000 dong to enter, and 20,000 for the guide book which tells you more information in great detail.
The “Women Museum” was absolutely incredible. So incredible that I spent 2.5 hours walking around. If you go, I highly recommend the audio guide. It costs 30,000 to get in, and 30,000 for the audio guide, but, you get so much more information with the guide which isn’t written down. By the end my feet were getting a bit tired so I ended up skipping a few, but I would say I got through 54 out of 57 audios!
The tour started with the Marriage section, where they show the traditional Vietnamese wedding attire from around the country, traditional gifts and explained wedding traditions around the country, explaining how newly weds will, for example, spend a week with the bride´s family, then move in with the groom´s family for the remainder of their married life. There is a tribe in Vietnam where, when the girls are 15/16 years old, they essentially have a “husband finding” season! It will last for few months, and after a while the girl and her family will visit the potential future husband, and ask for his hand in marriage. If he says no, she must wait 7 days before she can ask again. This tradition is still ongoing in some areas, although, many of the couples will be together before the “husband season” begins.
The next section was all about child birth practices. There was a section about families who bring a Shaman in to perform rituals in order to bless them with the luck of conceiving. There is also a tradition amongst some tribes to keep the umbilical cord of everyone born in the family, inside a container. They tie it with a black string, and place it inside for each birth, and pass it down through the family. These tribes believe that the soul is found in the umbilical cord, and therefore, if someone from the family dies, they remove the umbilical cord from the tube, and bury it with them.
Family life taught me more about the work that many families do – farming. Showing the different methods of farming rice etc. and how they work together to get the job done quicker (i.e. men doing the heavy lifting by clearing the fields and making new holes for the seeds, and the women would fill these with seeds and cover over the area again). Near the end of this of this section, there was a chance to use a grinder or shoulder basket. The shoulder basket was SO difficult to balance! Fair play to the street vendors!!
The next sections were in regards to revolutionaries and war. This was a floor dedicated to women who had helped Vietnam to succeed in war, using their image of a street vendor to get through the streets with secret messages to help those who were fighting. It also showed those who had been captured during their time, some of which were executed for their crimes.
The final floor was all about fashion through the eras, showing you different outfits for different events, methods of making the clothing (i.e. weaving – this section included a video which was mesmerising to watch!). There is also a floor above this, a small art museum, not included on the audio guide.