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Published: April 11th 2018
Woolly says – Good Morning Vietnam! You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to say that. The wonderful film starring the late great Robin Williams as a radio DJ on Armed Forces Radio Service, who proves hugely popular with the troops, but infuriates his superiors with what they call his "irreverent tendency". The story is loosely based on the experiences of AFRS radio DJ Adrian Cronauer and although a comedy does give some insight into the Vietnam war. Vietnam is officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and was once part of Imperial China, the country has not had an easy time, having been occupied by the Japanese in the 1940’s followed by the French and then a split between the North and the South which lead to conflict which involved the United states of America which ended in 1975 with the North Koreans winning. Since then the country has slowly but surely come into its own not only in trade but as a tourist destination. It wasn’t actually much of a good morning, having stuck my trunk out of the window to find it lashing with rain and being woken before six by a building being drilled next door, it
wasn’t the greatest of starts. Breakfast consumed and having talked to our host instead of setting off to start our discoveries we moved rooms, not just rooms but a whole building several roads away, having dropped our bags and accessed the need for raincoats (which were defiantly needed) we finally set off.
The traffic was insane, motorbikes seemed to rule the roads and the pavements and crossing the road really was a case of taking your life in your hands, as we followed our map my small companion gave us an overview of the city we were in. Woolly says - Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the country's second largest city by population. From 1010 until 1802, it was the most important political centre of Vietnam until it was eclipsed by Huế, until 1873 when Hanoi was conquered by the French and became the administrative centre of the colony of French Indochina. Following the departure of the French, Ho Chi Minh decided on January 6th 1946, to make Hanoi the capital of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. From 1954 to 1976, it was the capital of North Vietnam, and it
became the capital of a reunified Vietnam in 1976. Having dodged motorbikes coming from all directions and nearly been run over sixty or so times I was most relieved to arrive at our first destination. A fairly recent addition to the cities tourist attractions having only been opened in 2015, the Police Museum charts the setting up of the force in 1946 to it’s current activities. Having left the women to put the sodden coats and bags into a locker I sped off to the first floor to start formal investigations.
Although quite a lot of information was given it was worth reading and gave a real insight into not only the police force but the country itself as a major part of their role in the early days was to find conspirators that had gone against the state during the French administration. Woolly says – Each section dealt with a different period of history and also showed us displays of paperwork, passports and photographs which were really interesting. As we reached the modern days we got to look at pictures of drug smugglers, con men and forgers being arrested as
well as seeing the booty on display. With so much having gone on in Vietnam the police seemed to have done an excellent job and should be very proud of there museum, the fact that it was free was an added bonus! The rain seemed to have stopped as we took to the pavement once more, Jo had promised to take me to the Hanoi Hilton and I was rather looking forward to a nice cocktail and some lunch, having walked through a road aptly named Book Street, which had book store after book store we found our second port of call, it didn’t look quite as I had expected it to. The entrance didn’t have the usual Hilton sign just an arch with the words ‘Masion Centrale’ and having wandered inside as the girls bought some tickets I found a long dark corridor, maybe there was a terrace for the cocktails! The path led me into a room called Cell C which showed blueprints and the building materials used to create the building, having not found a menu or a chair I carried on to the next room.
Hỏa Lò Prison was a prison
used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. Prisoners of War during the Vietnam War. During this later period, it was ironically known to American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton, due to the treatment they had received there. The prison was demolished during the 1990’s with only a small part of it being retained as a museum. Woolly says – Cell D was far worse than the former area and had lines of men sitting on wooden boards with there feet chained, I’m not sure hotel guests expect that sort of treatment in this day and age! A doorway took me into the welcome daylight and an area that would have once been used for exercise, it had a huge almond tree at it’s centre which had played an integral part in the day to day life of the prisoners, being a place to leave messages, bark to make pens from and leaves and blooms to use for healing wounds inflicted by the guards. A further door took us into a narrow corridor where prisoners on death sentences would have lived for ten months awaiting their execution, it
was grim and had a feeling of doom, I hurried out passing a guillotine as I went. Next came a large courtyard with board after board telling the stories of those that had been incarnated and the tales of those that had escaped through the incredibly small sewers which would have been a tight fit for me let alone a fully grown man. Each of the political prisoners had been subjected to beatings, starvation and humiliation by their French captors, behind the information boards was an open space dedicated to those that had remained strong during those years and returned to continue the fight for independence as soon as they had been released.
It must have been grim and very unlike the Americans experience that followed. Woolly says – Having climbed up to the second floor I found photographs and relics left from the men who had been captured in the Vietnam war, pictures showing them decorating Christmas trees, exercising and learning about the Vietnamese culture, a film told us how at the end of the conflict the Americans had been given new clothes, money and hand made gifts from the people
of the country to take back with them. It showed a very different side to the country, having failed to find any form of food, drink or tables at the Hilton I suggested some lunch near the lake.
With full bellies and rested feet, we wandered round the large expanse of water. Woolly says - Hoan Kiem Lake (meaning "Lake of the Returned Sword") is in the historical centre of Hanoi and has a story to tell. According to the legend, in early 1428, Emperor Lê Lợi was boating on the lake when a Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) surfaced and asked for his magic sword, the Emperor gave the sword back to the turtle after he finished fighting off the Chinese, to commemorate this event the lake was renamed. In the very centre on a small island we could see a small building that is known as The Turtle Tower which is linked to the legend, it is known that large soft shelled turtles do live in the water so maybe they use the tower to sleep in at night. It looked like a lovely place to go to but not
one that you can access, we took some pictures and carried on ambling along the lakeside. We came to a red bridge and having no clue as to what we were paying for Zoe handed over several thousand Dong and we made our way over. Behind the trees I was rather surprised to find a temple, known as Jade Island stands the Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple). Erected in the 18th century it honours the 13th
century military leader Tran Hung Dao who distinguished himself in the fight against the Yuan Dynasty, Van Xuong, (a scholar), and Nguyen Van Sieu, (a Confucian master and famous writer in charge of repairs) constructed the temple in 1864. It was rather sweet although crowded with visitors and having paid our respects to the military man we headed back to the road side and the never ending stream of traffic. A fabulous start to Hanoi and hopefully we can find our way back for a good nights sleep, were going to need it!
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