Eating From The Gutter

Day 18 – Hanoi – Saturday March 19th 2011

After a chilly night’s sleep I hadn’t managed to shake off my bad mood. We checked out of the Atlantic and headed for David Guesthouse. We walked past this guesthouse last night, and were pretty horrified by the scene. There was litter all over the street, massive rats, and a family huddled around a bin-fire.

Today, the scene was infinitely improved. There was a bustling street market, which explains the rats and litter. The room was actually OK, and very cheap.

First we booked trips to Halong Bay and then spent the day walking around Hanoi, which is not as easy as it sounds. It often involves playing chicken with the traffic. Walking round a new city is a great way to get a feel for a place, especially when you’re on a tight budget. It’s one of my favourite free activities.

Hanoi Hilton

We had lunch by the lake and then visited Hoa Lo prison (The Hanoi Hilton). This historical prison had been in use for years, most recently during the Vietnam War to house and torture prisoners of war.

Hoa Lo Prison Stairs
Hoa Lo Prison Stairs

Outside the prison we were targeted by another scam, but we were ready for this one. A woman jumps off the back of a scooter and says she is learning English. If you agree to help then they do various things to extort money from you, from running up huge bar bills (which they get a cut of), to muggings and other dodgy things. We just told her firmly NO, and then walked off. Luckily somebody had warned us of this scam.

Read my tips to avoid airport taxi scams here.

At 4:30pm we found the Ho Chi Minh Museum but it had just closed, so we went to find the St. Joseph Cathedral before heading back to our guesthouse.

We freshened up and then walked a few blocks looking for somewhere to eat. We ended up at a “cook your own” place. Perched on childs’ plastic chairs, we were given a plate of meat, onions and veg, and dishes with salt, pepper, chilli and lime. We had a solid fuel camping stove on the table so lobbed on some steak and onions and cooked our own dinner. It was really tasty, but I can’t help thinking we should have gone for the goat option.

French Bread

The best thing about Hanoi’s French heritage is arguably the bread. Most bread in asia is horrible sweet crumbly stuff, but the baguettes in Hanoi are perfect. Look on any street corner and you will see a woman selling an armful of bread rolls. We even saw a woman on the hard shoulder of the motorway, selling bread to passing motorbike riders.

After eating we walked back to the lake to see it at night. It was really busy, with free dance classes and groups of people playing foot-badminton. I had never even heard of foot-badminton, but it looks like it takes a lot of skill.

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