Good bye Vietnam

What an amazing time we have had here in Hanoi. Such a generous welcoming people. Our hotel staff couldn’t do enough for us and as someone who knows a bit about customer service I have to say that they excelled. Well done to the Essence Palace Hotel.

Our hotel was situated in the old quarter of the city so in convenient walking distance of some of the major attractions. Being of a librarian bent I couldn’t pass up a trip to see the ‘Temple of Literature’

This was not only a monument to Confucianism and its system of thinking but also an example of tertiary education from the 10th century.

The kings of Early Vietnam realised that they needed an educated administrative class so they set up this seat of learning where men could sit exams to become mandarins. There were various stages and different tests. Not everyone made it. The ‘college’ could accommodate 300 students and they all wore simple robes.

These are some of the kings who promoted learning & wisdom as an objective in its own right.

The highest level exam is the doctorate and once achieved the mandarin had their names inscribed on these stales which are set in the backs of turtles (a sacred animal). It’s a bit like degree notification on a more permanent basis!!

I loved this gate – the gate of amazing alliteration!

After this we visited the Hanoi Hilton prison which was constructed by the French and used to hold political prisoners. I thought it was quite funny that the French didn’t trust the Vietnamese bricks so had their own imported to build a strong enough prison.

Conditions inside were particularly brutal but despite the best efforts of the French the place became a training ground for the future communist party leaders! I think that it was keeping everyone so close together that enabled ideas to spread easily.

In the Second World War the American pilot prisoners of war were housed here but were given considerable freedom and good treatment so that it was nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton! Ironically a good chunk of the site had been sold off to a large, well known hotel chain…

What remains is a moving monument to the struggle for independence by the Vietnamese people

The next day we visited the old capital of Nimh Binh. This site is surrounded by landlocked karsts which provided excellent fortification but is now known as Halong Bay inland!

Here we had an awesome boat trip in a bamboo boat for 1.5 hours. We were rowed through spectacular scenery by a lady. The technique for rowing is an unusual one to us as they use their feet !!

Boy did she have strong legs! It was quite an industry as there were hundreds of boats on the river and some of the rowers were not young!!!

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