We spent the last two days of our Vietnam trip in Hanoi. After checking into our hotel, (this was a seven-different-hotels-in-nine-nights kind of a trip), we set off on foot to find the notorious Hoa Lo Prison, otherwise known as the “Hanoi Hilton”.
We learned that it was customary to decorate your home with a kumquat tree, or other flowering branch, for the lunar new year. We saw these trees everywhere, including being transported on the back of motorbikes!
This is the main entrance to the prison. It was built in 1896 by the French and initially used to imprison Vietnamese revolutionaries, and later American soldiers. Most of the original complex was destroyed, and the remaining buildings were turned into the museum.
These are the huge doors into one of the chambers. The materials used at the time, were of the highest French standards. It was a little odd to see fancy doorknobs, intricate woodwork, and beautiful black and white French tile floors in some of the rooms of a prison.
The majority of the museum depicted the suffering on the part of the Vietnamese, during the French occupation. The prisoners were shackled in a large room like this, or held in the same manner in a private cell.
So far, the entire museum had been about the horrible treatment of the Vietnamese by the French. We were very curious to see how the treatment of American soldiers would be presented. At the very end of the museum, there was one small room dedicated to the wonderful treatment of the Americans imprisoned there. This was supposedly John McCain’s flight suit. (In an interview by him, he said that his flight suit was cut from his body. Interesting.)
And for the best part of all, in the next room were a series of many photographs showing American soldiers engaged in all sorts of joyful activities, including; enjoying a Christmas dinner, games of all kinds, sending and receiving mail from home, etc. Quite a different story from those told by US POW’s about the torture that occurred daily at the hands of the Vietnamese. (McCain also noted in an interview, that he refused to take part in these types of propaganda pictures.) I also had to chuckle that the Vietnamese proudly claim the nickname “Hanoi Hilton” as proof that the accommodations were very nice. Apparently, sarcasm is lost in translation!
Propaganda. This was a word my girls had not heard before and Ella, especially, was fascinated with the concept. She asked questions for the remainder of the day about life in the prison and wanted to know what really happened. At the hotel that night, we googled different POW accounts of the prison and she voraciously read everything I could find. We told her the takeaway message should be, don’t take anything you hear or read at face value, no matter the source. Always do your own investigation.
Later that evening, we were getting ready for bed, and we heard a live band playing outside- again! We decided to go down and check it out. It seemed to be some sort of holiday celebration happening on the steps of the opera house.
Finally, we found a guy with pretty good English, and asked him what was going on. He said that the city was performing an emergency exercise, and it was a routine event. Oh. Okay. A very odd ending to an otherwise great day! On to our last day in Hanoi tomorrow….