After jumping on an old turbo prop plane (that takes me back) to Ha Noi we were waiting for the baggage carousel to send back our bags when I experienced an oh-o moment. As the carousel slowly started I noticed that people were moving boxes of polystyrene, and more importantly those boxes were leaking…at a surprisingly alarming rate. Then the real issue hit, not only were these jerks flying squid across the country – a practice well outlawed in Australia it leaked all over my bag…needless to say I was not super impressed but you can’t let the little things ruin a good holiday.
In Hanoi I took a real chance to try and relax and properly kick a cold that I have been dealing with since Hoi An. Getting sick while travelling sucks, but when you travel for months, or years at a time it is always something that you have to deal with. That said despite only having a day in Hanoi we did take the chance to explore.
First stop – Hao Lo prison. Hao Lo was originally set up by the French nearly 100 years ago, and was a detention facility for violent criminals and political prisoners. Perhaps unsurprisingly the living conditions in the prison were abhorrent and incredibly cruel, the prisoners were kept chained for most of the day often having to sit in their own filth, brutally tortured for information. Hao Lo was home to several famous members of the Vietnamese communist party including police chiefs, and senior ministers in the future government.
After the French left Hao Lo became a prison controlled by the Viet Cong and nicknamed “the Hanoi Hilton” by its new inmates, American prisoners of war. Hao Lo was home to mostly American pilots shot down, including Sen. John McCain, 2012 republican candidate for president. It was interesting to get two sides to the story on the prison during the war. Inside we read about the pleasant conditions and saw photos of American pilots playing basketball in the exercise yard, however follow up research tells a different story. When asked if his time in the POW prison was like the Vietnamese tell McCain said that it was quite a different story.
Another American pilot, whose name escapes me, told of brutality at the hands of Vietnamese captors. Soldiers were often tortured for information and between them agreed to stay quiet giving little away when being pressed for even the most innocuous information. The extent to which they held out served to deter the Vietnamese captors.
We were using Hanoi as a stopover for our trip onwards to Sa Pa – a hidden jewel in the north. We spent our next day relaxing, enjoying some of the food on the street, and sipping coffee by the beautiful Hoam Kiem lake, waiting around for what would be a long sleepless night on the train to Sa Pa – but more on that to come.