When we got back from Ha Long Bay, we set right out on our evening Vietnamese Food Tour with the classiest Vietnamese lady named Tam.
Next we went to this place with thick yellow mashed beans and shredded chicken. It was maybe my favorite.
Here's how that restaurant looked from the outside:
Here's a little snippet of how it felt to try to cross the roads:
This next place was awesome...they had these little fondue pot things where they cooked fish and you could add all these veggies.
The last place served these:
Wrapped in rice paper and filled with a whole bunch of lettuce. They were good but boy oh boy by this time we were so dang full.
The next morning we took a Motorcycle Tour of Hanoi.
They hooked us up with these little walky-talky things in our ears so we could communicate as we drove around.
Dave gave everyone code-names for the radio signal and we were off, so full of excitement.
It was fascinating to learn about Vietnamese history right while we were in the middle of the city. We had done our little family "reports" on these things before we left Shanghai, but I was in awe about how it all comes to life so much when you are there.
I learned SO much I never knew about the Vietnam War and communism and how the North and South parts of Vietnam are still so incredibly different.
A few facts we learned about Vietnam through our time there:
--Vietnam, like China, is still a communist country but is a little more lax than China is. For one thing, they had open, uncensored internet which is such a small thing but felt so nice and free to us!
--Before 1986 all property belonged to the Vienamese government. After that they opened the market to attract foreign investors. The government allowed the farmers to own their own rice fields but they pay rather large monthly taxes to the government.
--In Vietnam you can have two children as opposed to the rule in China where you can only have one (although this is changing now)
--Elections, like in China, are just a declaration. No real voting or say in who leaders are (like they're trying to get going in Hong Kong).
--From what we heard from our different guides, it sounds like there is growing corruption. Many people have to pay to get a job, hospitals are getting more expensive, lots of bribing involved.
--90% of the population in Vietnam are "king people" (native) and the remaining 10% of the population is made up of 53 minorities.
--China ruled over Vietnam for 1,000 years. Those two countries don't have a great relationship.
--Eating dog, cat, rat and snake are popular I think mostly in the South...they believe that eating dog will keep them away from unlucky things.
But back to the motorbikes...first we went to the presidential palace, which was obviously built when the French were in power.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is right in that same area. It was closed for renovation. They say that Ho Chi Minh's actual preserved body is in there for people to come view. Not sure I was too sad that it was closed...
The One Pillar Pagoda is a pretty famous Buddhist temple you can go to to send up extra fervent prayers when in need.
Here's the Ho Chi Minh museum which we had to run through pretty darn quick.
And here's Claire with Ho Chi Minh himself.
We had a little side-trip to the medical place by the museum since Lucy fell pretty hard from a step she couldn't see (more about my worry about that back HERE).
The Temple of Literature was pretty cool where Vietnam's first university was established in 1076.
The sacred animals in Vietnam (and all over much of Asia) are the dragon first and foremost (which symbolizes power), the phoenix (grace and virtue), then the turtle (strength and longevity), the unicorn (which actually looks like a mix between a dod and a lion and symbolizes prestige, peace and good luck).
Here our tour guide is showing us how this phoenix standing on top of a turtle is good luck to touch.
The Temple is dedicated to Confucius (below) and honors the finest scholars in Vietnam.
The Hoa Lo Prison or "Hanoi Hilton" (as it was nicknamed by the American prisoners of war who were kept there) was pretty sad and was, to me, the most fascinating part of the day.
This is where they kept many Prisoners of War during the Vietnam War (including John McCain). But before that the French used it to imprison the Vietnamese political prisoners when they were in power. Torture and executions were rampant there.
This was the sewer where some escaped. I have no idea how...check out those bars.
So many interesting discussions with the (big) kids over what we saw there. Things like this are depicted so differently in American textbooks than they are visiting a place like this. I loved walking through that place so deep in reverent conversation about humanity and how we deal with terror and horror. So grateful for the interesting questions the kids bring up and their eyes, wide as saucers, as they internalized some of the history we waded through both in Vietnam and Cambodia. Wish I could have captured that some how.
Then we were off again through a bigger part of the city.
They took us to lunch on a little crowded patio overlooking the big, muddy river below. I loved sitting around that table, all of us together with our drivers, with smiles and a little English to try to communicate.
I had read online that you could get "fish" foot massages on our trip so I was hot on the trail to find those until I realized the place we were supposed to do them was in Cambodia. Dang!
So we settled for this place across the street from our hotel for some funny massages. There were a lot of things that happened in that little room on the top floor that made us all laugh so hard...too hard to explain but it was one of those nights where everything just turned out funny. See that lady in the back sitting on Max's back? That was just one of them.
A little shopping for shoes:
Then we went to the water puppet show which is a must in all the guide books, but it turned out to be a pretty funny experience too...this was the leg room for reals:
And Lucy, so tired from too many late nights, just kept whispering in my ear that she did NOT like puppet shows and she wanted to go back to the hotel. Great. She was the main reason we were there!
But to me it was pretty cool to hear all the traditional Vietnamese music and see how the water puppetiers work.
Lu was pretty happy when I told her maybe she and Claire should ride in one of these back to the hotel:
If anyone ever goes to Hanoi you must stay at this hotel. They took such amazingly great care of us, from booking our little tours to helping us with anything we needed. So awesome to have a place like that when you're traveling.
This was our airplane on the way home the next morning. Does that look like the party bus or what?
These kids have sure learned to travel I tell you! I think we flew on seven different flights that week.
They made us go through all the customs places one by one. Loved seeing Lu take control of her passport stamping.
And then we were home. Scrambling to get ready to get back to early-morning seminary and school the next day.
So incredibly grateful for that time to hold my family close and learn so much more than we bargained for...about each other, history, culture and humankind in this big, beautiful world we are part of.