We started today with an 8am breakfast in the 7th floor Executive Lounge. As yesterday, DOS had had his full Vietnamese breakfast and buffet and I had the buffet with a side order of pancakes and yogurt. The staff at this hotel is so wonderful and we asked to have a photo taken with one of our favorite waiters in the lounge.
At 9am we had our first meeting with our AMA Waterways group. There are 74 people taking the land portion of the trip, while the boat Ama Dara holds 124. Mr. Son is our cruise/tour manager, ‘Son’ he said to call him, went thru some of the logistics of the trip. It was also our first opportunity to meet our fellow passengers, and we were seated at a table with a group from California, some even from Napa which we love to visit.
Our first tour started around 10am. We were divided into three groups of 25 or so, which made the tour much more manageable and less crowded, each group with their own bus and local tour guide. We are the ‘Orange’ Family group.
We stopped first at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, the famous prison, and not the hotel we stayed at last Thursday night on our late night arrival to Hanoi. The prison was very somber and sobering and a sad reminder to the some 58 thousand Americans and some two million Vietnamese and others who died in the war. The prison was held regular prisoners, political prisoners, and American pilots, including US Senator and former Presidential candidate John McCain. Shown below us is his flight suit, and some photos of the prison. It’s hard to imagine the horrors these prisoners went thru.
Next we went to the Ho Chi Min Masaleoum , a huge site with big red banners adorning either side of the actual Masaleoum. The huge area is cleared for foot traffic only and the site is very spread out.
The next stop was a busy, busy, busy Temple;one similar to the mobs of tourists we encountered at The Grand Palace in Bangkok. We went through this area and took a few photos, including a statue of Confucius in the rear temple.
We had a quick lunch break in between tours, which we took at the Bamboo Cafe by the pool.
At 2pm we took a special historical tour of the Metropole Hotel’s underground bunker which was used during the Vietnam War. The tour is about an hour and is limited to 10 people due to the low ceilings and cramped conditions. Our hotel guide was fantastic and truly spoke from her heart about her experiences during the war when she was 14. The bunker was forgotten for years, but rediscovered back in 2011 by hotel maintenance workers. Various artifics are on display in the lobby, including a signed album cover by Joan Baez, who was a guest during Christmas 1972, and wrote part of the song ‘My Son, where are you’ while in the bunker. She returned years later, donating a piece of shrapnel to the hotel. John McCain also was a guest on 2008 during his Presidential run, and the guide spoke highly of him. I didn’t realize he was a POW for over six years, however could have been released after two, deciding instead to stay as others had been there longer than him and weren’t released.
Next was a walk thru the Old Town Quarter, where you really got the feel for Hanoi!
We then saw an amazing water puppet show. The water puppet show originated back in the 11th century. I thought it was going to take place outside by the water, but it was inside, in a large elegant theater, with stadium style seating! It was a total of 12 acts, including the last act when the puppeteers come out from behind the stage, and out of waist deep water. They have a bamboo stick to control the puppets and they are controlled by puppeteers behind a bamboo curtain. There are six people (3 on either side of the stage) that provide mystical music and singing, while 6 puppeteers work very hard behind the scenes, and come out of the curtain at the end of the show.
Now it’s six pm, and heading to Happy Hour in the Executive Lounge. . .
Tomorrow off to Halong Bay.