Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hanoi Old Quarter

Date: 1st January 2015

The yellow motorbike belong to the shop owner in black shirt 

It’s still very early by the time we finished touring inside the Hoa Lo prison museum. We decided to head straight to Hoan Kiem, an old quarter area of Hanoi. The taxi driver had to call the hotel to get the name correct. He dropped us at the right shopping street. We can see that it will take less than 20 minutes to reach the old quarter from Hoan Kiem lake and in between there are also other attractions to stop by. It took us less than 2 hours doing quick shopping and coffee break. This old quarter is one of the reasons why Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, has attracted so many tourists over the years. It has 36 old streets and guilds.

The old quarter is an area well-known for the history, the architecture, the enormous amount and diversity of products and even the everyday life of its residents. Old Quarter marked its appearance in the 11th century, when King Ly Thai To, decided to build his palace. It means that year in 2010, Hanoi as well as the 36 old streets has turned 1000 years old. Originally a group of workshop villages surrounding the royal palace, the Old Quarter has gradually transformed into craft cooperatives, or guilds and soon gained its reputation as the business trading areas of the Red River delta. We had quite a long stop buying souvenirs from the shop where a lady in the below photo who was not happy with my bargaining skill. She talked non-stop whilst I merely said what I need to say and hugs her in the end. If you happen to see her shop (her shop address as snapped by me), do drop by as she has a heart of gold.

Skilled craftsmen migrated to the Old Quarter to live and work together in the same guilds, which were made specialized for artisans performing similar services. The new allocation of production and service helped to create a cooperative system for merchandise transportation to designated streets. Soon under French colony, the Old Quarter increasingly becoming a marketplace for trade between the local and businessmen from China, India and France.

Despite the damages that Vietnam War left in Hanoi, the Old Quarter still retained much of the original traits that interests tourists, especially those with architectural passion. These houses are neither tall buildings as people normally see in cities nor stilt houses on lines of poles, which were popular in Vietnams' mountainous regions these days. They are also called "tubular houses" which are short and narrow but have great length.

In the past, the king stipulated that "citizens' houses could not be built higher than the height of the king's palanquin". And because of the dense population in a limited area, people needed to spend the front room for stores; the inside room is widened to its length in order to divide places for manufacturing, dining and living of each family. We discovered the beautiful local coffee shop (though westernized) after we have done with our shopping. The coffee aroma has filled our nostrils as soon as we spotted this unique cafe. Surprisingly the cafe was full with foreign tourist. We had a great time with buns and coffee as afternoon coffee break.

The house is sometimes too narrow that only one person can pass by at a time. Standing close together, these tubular houses make up the ward along the soil streets; some streets were paved with stone or brick. Only until the later time, they were asphalted. The electricity supplied to this part of the city is still not being upgraded to underground cabling which are safer to the community. We hardly see any overhead cables such in below photo in other main city. It's very unique to feel the old surroundings in the Old Quarters, or rather everything seems to compliment each other. Ops, do not forget to buy laces material as it's cheaper to buy in Vietnam than in Kuala Lumpur.

Most of the tourist flooded this area. They were eager to wander along the old streets stopping by to check out the street stores and to buy local specialties, i.e. souvenirs. Here is an essential guide for tourists who would like to explore the Old Quarter, with some names of specialized streets: China bowls (Bat Su), roasted fish (Cha Ca), silver or jewelries (Hang Bac), women accessories (Cau Go), shoes and sandals (Hang Dau), silk (Hang Gai), mixed fruits (To Tich), combs (Hang Luoc), jars (Hang Chinh), tour services (Ma May), candies and dry apricot (Hang Duong), fried/roasted sour pork hash (Tam Thuong lane on Hang Bong Street), bamboo products (Hang Buom), etc.

Fall in love with a beautiful girl in white shirt who was there to assisted her mother attending Anne with her purchase. She's in a final year in local university and HAD a boyfriend!

In addition, visitors as well as city dwellers can go to the night market taking place along the old streets. Hence, to be able exploring the old quarter, you must prepare your feet for a day of walking street to street and taking it the locals daily life, the old style narrow streets and houses, the colorful souvenir shops and of not to forget trying some of the most tasty traditional foods of Hanoians. We, however did not have that luxurious to feast the food beside having to enjoy the coffee at the locals coffee shop.

A recommended place for food with Hoan Lake as ambiance

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hanoi - Hoa Lo Prison Museum

Date: 1st January 2015

Hoa Lo Prison is located at no. 1 Hoa Lo, Hoan Kiem, open from 8.30 am till 11.30am with lunch break for 2 hours before re-open at 13.30 pm till its closure time at 16.30 pm. This prison was built by the French at the turn of the 20th century, in classical French prison design. The place is where the French imprisoned and executed many of the Vietnamese revolutionaries. The prison is now a museum albeit 2/3 of its original prison was torn down to make way for the Hanoi Towers. The museum exhibits the brutal French colonial regime and the struggle of the Vietnamese people against imperialism in chilling details.

The prison was also later known to American prisoners of war as the "Hanoi Hilton" during the Vietnam War as it held American’s POW shot down. Little emphasis is given to this period however, and the exhibits shown can be frustratingly skewed in propaganda, choosing to show solely regime sanctioned photos of prisoners being treated well and playing basketball, playing chess, and other staged events. They also claim to have John McCain's flight suit from when his plane was shot down. It was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.

Located in downtown Hanoi, the infamous Hoa Lo Prison or the Hanoi Hilton was built by the French administration in 1896. Originally intended to hold around 450 prisoners but by the 1930s the number of detainees had soared to almost 2,000. Majority of them being a political prisoners. During the Vietnam War, Hoa Lo Prison achieved notoriety as a place of incarceration for downed US pilots, who ironically nick-named it the Hanoi Hilton.

It was named Maison Centrale during the French rule  as what the original sign still hangs over the entrance. Most of the prison complex was demolished in 1997 in order to make way for the Hanoi Central Tower building. However, the architects preserved enough of the old prison to create the Hoa Lo Prison Museum.

The majority of the exhibits here include a horrifying array of shackles, whips, and other instruments of torture, as well as tiny solitary confinement cells, which date from the French-colonial period. Also on display is part of the old, narrow more than 100 prisoners escaped in August 1945. A smaller section of the museum is devoted to the American period and, predictably enough, contrives to show how well US prisoners fared in contrast to the brutality shown to the Vietnamese by the French. At the back of the museum is the guillotine. A surprisingly small, simple yet terrifyingly.

We were inside in less than an hour. This prison museum was the first and the last that we both considered visiting. Though chu chi tunnel in Phnom Penh attracted so many visitors, Anne and I mutually agree to bypass that place, as the memoirs of thousand of peoples died during the was is painful to witness. Below are display from the US/Vietnam war.

Surprisingly we quite like the Hoa Lo Prison's external displays of the prisoners monument. It brought some kind of peaceful environment. You may check it out our photos that I shared from our visit below.

Hanoi - Ho Chin Minh Museum

Date: 1st January 2015

Ho Chi Minh Museum is located at 19 Ngoc Ha St, Ba Dinh, not far from Ho Chin Minh Mausoleum. You are advised to walk from the mausoleum to the museum like we did as the 2 places are within the same neighborhood. The museum is open from 8.00 am till 11.30 am, closed for lunch and re-open back for 2 hours at 2.00 pm till 4.00 pm. An entrance fee is 25,000 vietnamese dong per pax as displayed on the ticket counted located next to the entrance door.

There's 2 different effect of the external and internal looks. On the external facade, the gleaming white museum and its gloriously ham-handed iconography are the perfect chaser to the solemnity of the mausoleum. Inside are more dim and surprisingly a lot more grandeur. The building, completed in 1990, is intended to evoke a white lotus. 

Some photos and old letters are on display on the second floor, but the main exhibition space is on the third floor. It includes cars crashing through walls to represent the chaos of post-war American capitalism, soldiers charging around with electric plugs, a cave hideout re-imagined as the inside of Ho Chi Minh's brain, and several other post-modern confections integrated with the main story of the man's life and his country's struggle.

It is one of the more informative museums in Vietnam, albeit with a high dose of personality cult and political propaganda. Guides are available in English, French, Chinese and Russian, but we both were relying only on the displays that are properly labelled in English and French to understand about the history and the fight of Vietnam people for their independence. 

The museum is equipped with all facilities for its visitors, i.e. clean toilets, restaurants and gift short. For those who wishes to know more about Ho Chin Minh are welcome to buy a biography as well as other articles and magazines written about him. I'm sharing the rest of the areas and a piece of arts worthy to see for your viewing pleasure.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Hanoi - Ho Chin Minh Mausoleum

Date: 1st January 2015

The hotel staff advised that it would be too late for us to visit the mausoleum of Ho Chin Minh as the ceremony starts at 8am and completed at 11am. She offered to book us on following day. however, since we have set a day trip to Ha Long Bay, we proceeded with our plan to view on the external side without going into the ceremonial procedure, which is least important. The mausoleum is located on the west side of Ba Dinh Square, a heavy grey structure, built on stone quarried from Marble Mountain near Danang. It is here the late Ho Chi Minh’s, father of Vietnam’s Independence rest, i.e. his last resting place.

Ho Chin Minh was an unassuming man, who notably shunned the comforts and trapping of power. He had specially requested that he be cremated and his ashes scattered in Northern, Central, and Southern Vietnam, symbolizing the national unity to which he had devoted his life. In keeping with these beliefs, he had also vetoed the construction of a small museum on his life at his home village near Kim Lien, Nam Dan District, Nghe An Province, arguing that the funds could be better employed in building a school.

Ba Dinh Square, set similar function as KL's Merdeka Square & Beijing Tianamen's Squrae

However, after Ho Chi Minh’s death in 1969, the leading members of the Vietnamese politburo altered his final testament by deleting his request to be cremated. Instead, with the help of Soviet specialists, the leader was embalmed and installed at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in 1975. Although the mausoleum is not as grandeur as Mao Tse Dung mausoleum in Tianamen Square in Beijing, Ho Chin Minh Mausoleum has becoming a biggest attraction in Hanoi.

The building’s exterior is considered by many as both ponderous and unappealing. Astonishingly, the architects apparently intended the structure to represent a lotus flower, though it is difficult to understand how. Inside, the mood is somber and decidedly respectful, if somewhat overpowering at times. Ho Chi Minh, dressed in simple clothing favored by Chinese nationalist leader Sun Yat Sen, lies in a chilled, dim room, his crossed hands resting on dark cloth covers. Way back in 2005, I was able to see the Mao Tse Dong body in his mausoleum, a pity that I was not able to see another ex communist leader preserved body in Hanoi. But then later, I was able to see more of him at the Museum, which museum built specially dedicated to this great man of his nation 

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is open from 8.00 am till 11.00 am and closed on Monday and Friday. The last entrance  is at 10:15. The city down south (Saigon) may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion and against his wishes. The mausoleum becoming an important pilgrimage site for many Vietnamese, especially from the north which should be approached with respect and reverence. Any kind of noisy behavior, loitering, and inappropriate clothing is strictly forbidden. No talking, revealing clothing (shorts should be knee length and no exposed shoulders), or other signs of disrespect allowed while viewing. Photos are allowed only from outside, facing the grand Ba Dinh Square.

Take note that there’s so much restrictions inside the tom, where only purses are allowed into the tomb strictly no camera. The soldiers shall be performing body search and left luggage is handled in a complicated scheme. There is an office near the street for large bags, with separate windows for Vietnamese and foreigners, and a further office for cameras, which will be transported to a third office right outside the exit of the mausoleum. Items checked in at the first office, however, will stay there. Note that small digital cameras can be taken into the mausoleum despite their use not being permitted inside. The mausoleum is usually closed for a couple months around the end of the year, when the body is taken abroad for maintenance.

Information as obtain from various website.