Chuck Hillig's Travel Blog

Well, I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next 6-7 months so I thought that I'd better re-activate my travel blog. The last time I posted anything here was way back in 2006 when I was traveling through SE Asia. Feel free to read my entries back then about my earlier adventures through India,Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Hong Kong. This time (at least for the next six weeks), I'll be traveling through Greece and Turkey.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Relaxing by the lake...

I had breakfast at the Kangaroo Cafe, a very western little place just a half a block from the central lake. After that, I found my way over to the infamous Hoa Lo Prison...better known to the American pilots who were kept there during the war as the "Hanoi Hilton." The prison has actually been around since 1896 and, over the years, was used to house thousands of patriots, revolutionary fighters and Americans between that time and the the mid-70's. Between 1964 and 1973, the prison's inmates included Douglas "Pete" Peterson, America's first Ambassador to Vietnam, and, of course, the well-known U.S. Senator from Arizona, John McCain. In fact, along with his picture, the museum still displays McCain's flight suit, parachute and other survival equipment that he was using on that date back in 1967. Most of the original prison was demolished in 1993 to make way for an apartment complex but they are still preserving the southeastern corner of the structure as a memorial to those terrible days and to the thousands of tortured people who passed through the facility...especially during the occupation by the French. After the tour, I found a large bookstore and bought a few book in English that I could wrap myself around for a while back in my room. As I was walking by the lake again and heading back to my hotel, I ran into Tuan, the Vietnamese student that I had had lunch with a few days ago. We continued our converstion, and he graciously invited me for some black tea at one of the nearby stalls. Excellent stuff. We plan to meet at 10 A.M. tomorrow for breakfast. He's going to take me to see the remains of a downed B-52 bomber that's also being preserved as a war memorial. Some more quick impressions around the town: 1) It's not uncommon to see someone driving their motorbike the wrong way on a one-way street...and/or with the lights off at night. 2) In the Old Quarter (which absolutely everyone should check out if they ever make it to Hanoi), the sidewalks are not really used very much by pedestrians. Instead, they're mostly filled with parked motorbikes and those small tables and chairs where whole families are cooking and eating their meals. Also, of course, many of the shops simple spill their wares out onto the sidewalk and take up any remaining space. The shops...all next to each other... open directly onto the sidewalk and are closed at night by some kind of sliding metal garage door. Because of the limited sidewalk space, the street itself has to be shared equally by pedestrians, buses, trucks, cars and the ever-present motorbikes. 3) Even though the vans and cars are all equipped with seat belts, absolutely no one bothers to wear them. (In India, too.) 4) It's not uncommon at all to see three full-sized adults sandwiched together on a small motorbike or two adults and two children all squished together...zipping in and out of the traffic. Naturally, of course, no one is ever wearing a helmet. Obviously dangerous, but, amazingly, I've yet to see anything even remotely resembling an accident. Everyone seems really quite adept at handling the chaos-of-the-street. I'm kicking back tonight and getting ready to enjoy my last full day in Hanoi tomorrow before I head off to Laos early Wednesday morning. More later...

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