We got to the train station at around noon, called a grab and were on the way to our hotel (not a hostel this time!). It was about a 15-minute ride to the hotel. When we got there, we were greeted by the staff and offered watermelon juice while we waited for the check-in process to be completed. I’ll tell you what, I always kind of thought that watermelon had little to no flavor, but here in Asia, it is bursting with it. After we checked in, we headed up to the 8th floor where our room was. When we walked into our room, it was a big step up from the homestays and hostel we have been in this far. It was nice to be in a little luxury again. After we got settled, we looked for some dinner and found a really cool restaurant that was on the rooftop of another hotel and had great views of the city. Plus, they had a tasting menu that looked amazing for a shockingly good price. We paid 460,000 Dong ($19.77) each for a five-course meal which sounded too good to be true but I assure you this could rival most $100+ tasting menus in the States. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel where we just relaxed and watched tv for the night. We were getting ready to get up early and tackle the day tomorrow because it was really our only full day in Hanoi.
The next morning we got up early, but we spent most of the morning trying to figure out our tours for the next three days. We had them booked but they were through Haley’s email which we are currently unable to get into because it had a two-part verification system app on her phone in order to sign in. So we spent a few hours on the phone with the booking company getting all the information and confirmation numbers to be sure that we could still get on our tours. After we got that taken care of, we headed out for lunch and to see the sites. Our first stop was a famous pho place that just happened to be up the street from us. It was very tasty but to be honest, I am not educated enough on pho to really tell the difference. Plus, you dress it up yourself with mint, basil, chilis, and sauces so it all kinda tastes the same to me at some point. That being said, the meat in the soup was the best we have had so they have that going for them. After our lunch, we headed to the first site which was the Hoa Lo Prison, a Hanoi war camp first built by the French to hold Vietnamese political prisoners during colonialism. It was then used by the northern Vietnamese government during the Vietnam war to hold their prisoners of war. Most of the camp’s grounds have been repurposed for other uses but a small sliver of the camp is still intact. We saw replicas of what the whole camp looked like as well as the living quarters and what the main gate looked like. After walking through the remaining grounds and picking up a cool magnet in the gift shop (where all the proceeds were advertised to go to helping the people hurt or disabled from the war) we continued to the next site.
The next site we wanted to see was the tomb of Ho Chi Mihn and the surrounding complex. Unfortunately, it was a solid 25-minute walk to the tomb and the sun was really starting to beat down on us. We got about halfway there and we were both ready to call a cab when we came across a coffee shop that had white coffee and A/C. We popped in there for a while and slowly drank our coffee and tried to cool down as much as possible. After a good 15-minute rest, we decided that it was now or never to get back out there. We walked the rest of the way trying our best to stay on the shady side of the street. Once we got to the tomb, we had to go through a security checkpoint and then we were inside the absolutely massive complex. The tomb itself was situated right in the middle of the complex and on the front side of it was a giant grass field. It must have been the length of two or three football fields and served no obvious purpose. After looking at the actual tomb, we headed into the memorial building which was a huge 4 story art and history exhibit dedicated to the life and memory to Ho Chi Mihn. We spent about an hour in there looking and reading all about him and his influences and accomplishments. After, we walked around the complex some more and saw a pagoda that was dedicated to him. After we felt like we had seen it all we moved on to our next and last site for the day.
We headed out of the complex towards a giant pagoda that was situated on the biggest lake in Hanoi. It was a short 10-minute walk from the complex. Plus, once we were halfway, we were walking alongside the water so the breeze and the scenery made the heat seem not so terrible. Once we got close, we could see the pagoda towering above the trees. It was a beautiful tower ornately painted and surrounded by offerings and incense. It was definitely a site to see and a good ending to the day. After spending 20 or 30 minutes there, we had seen the whole thing so we decided to head back to the hotel. We called a grab and were on our way home within 10 minutes. After we got back to the hotel we showered and cooled off from our long day in the sun and started looking for somewhere to go for dinner. Haley found this awesome place that was in the middle of a garden that looked beautiful and had a great looking menu. Plus, it was only five minutes from our hotel. We had a very peaceful and delicious dinner in the garden. I got scallops and Haley got duck, both seasoned and sauced with Vietnamese flare and flavor. After dinner, we returned to our hotel to rest up for our tour to Halong Bay the next morning.