Well, we arrived this morning around 9:30 after 17 hours of traveling. We got to the hotel around 10 and luckily were able to get into our rooms.
After a quick, refreshing shower, a group of us headed out to the Old Quarter to have lunch at the Cha Ca La Vong restaurant. This restaurant is so well known that they named the street after it. The restaurant was also written up in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, and I can see why.
We sat down and were told (by a laminated piece of paper) that there was only one dish - fried fish. They brought out a charcoal grill w/ a pan on top containing curried garoupa fish and other seasonings. We then added a pile of dill and scallions to the mixture to cook. Once cooked, you added the mixture, along w/ a fish sauce, to a bowl of rice vermicelli noodles and peanuts. It was soooo good and definitely worth it.
Afterwards, we took a quick cab to Hoa Long, which we know in the US as the Hanoi Hilton. It was a bit emotional for a few reasons. First, it was a prison and some of its uses and conditions prior to the Vietnam war were just awful. Second, there were 2 rooms set aside for what they call the American war. It was emotional reading about the pilots and watching the propaganda video about how the US bombed the people of Hanoi.
Finally, the most emotional part was seeing my cousin Neil in the pictures of the POWs kept at the prison. I had been warned his picture was there by another cousin who had been to Hanoi last fall. As I looked thru the pictures, I thought maybe she was wrong, b/c none of the men really looked like Neil. However, as I looked at one of the last pictures in the room, there was no mistaking Neil in the picture. He looked just like his older brother. The picture was of POWs playing ball in the courtyard. At one point the Vietnamese put together a propaganda campaign on how well the POWs were treated: playing ball, eating, etc. My grandmother told me that when they saw these pictures on the news, that's how they knew that Neil was alive. It really is surreal to be on the other side of the world and see your cousin. I want to believe that they were not treated and housed like the Vietnamese prisoners prior to the war, but I know it wasn't all peaches and cream.
Once we finished, we took a cab to the Sofitel Metropole in the French Quarter. This is one of the nicest hotels in Hanoi and has a lot of history. We met up w/ some other folks in our group for high tea (like we did @ the peninsula in Hong Kong) and a chocolate buffet. It was a beautiful room and beautiful hotel.
We are staying @ the other Sofitel, which is on the Hoan Kiem lake. We have a nice view of part of the lake and the city.
We stayed at the hotel for dinner for our "welcome" to Vietnam. Afterwards, I could barely keep my eyes open and finally crashed around 9pm. Good thing is I am now adjusted to the time change and ready to roll!