Hello from Hanoi. I have worked here for several months - and people ask me what is there to see and do in and around Hanoi. So, here are some thoughts.
First, the Vietnamese are over the war, although Americans largely are not. In Hanoi there are several museums that portray the struggle of the Northern Vietnamese and portray they way they outlasted, outsmarted, and utlimately triumphed over the "imperial powers." (This is the Vietnamese viewpoint, obviously. Vietnam Vets will tell you the real deal.)
A brief background: The Northern Vietnamese during the war were inspired and led by Ho Chi Minh. "Uncle Ho" as the Vietnamese sometimes refer to him, is viewed as a common citizen that led the country without enriching himself or his family.
Ho Chi Minh Stuff:
(1) Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Open 8 to 11:30 AM, closed Monday and Friday and all of November. Built by the Soviet Union in 1975 as a gift to the Vietnamese people. There are strict rule for visiting the mausoleum, like no shorts, tank tops, cameras, bags, etc.
(2) Ho Chi Minh Stilt House. Behind the Mausoleum, set in the Presidential Garden. The house is made of polished wood and in a tranquil setting. There is also a "peaceful" lake in front of the house.
(3) Ho Chi Minh Museum. Tel 845-5435. 8:30-11:00; 1:30-4:30pm. Closed Mon and Friday. A symbolic exhibition relating the history of Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam's struggle for national independence. Has some US war related photos and displays including old US uniforms, nick nacks, guitars, etc.
(1) Ha Lo Prison Museam. 1 Ho Lo. Tel 824-6358, 8:30 - 11am, 1:30 - 4:30 pm. Closed Monday. Probably the most visited place in all Hanoi by Americans. This is the original site of the famous "Hanoi Hilton" where the Vietnamese held American POWs, including John McCain. The prison in the 1970s occupied an entire city block. However, 80% of the city block has been replaced by a high-rise serviced apartment and office tower which together are referred to the "Hanoi Towers (See below)."
What remains of the Ha Lo Prison is a strange museum to the "strength and will of the Vietnamese people." The Prison focuses on the time before the US Vietnam war - when the Vietnamese were held prisoner by the French Occupation forces in the early 20th century. However, there is a section that shows where the American's were held with interesting displays that show how the Vietnamese provided health care, clothing, food, entertainment, and books to the American prisoners. Basically, lots of pro-Vietnamese propoganda. But what do you expect from a museum in Vietnam?
Incidently, I am writing this from Hanoi Towers apartment block. The name of the serviced apartments here is "Somerset Grand Hanoi, 49 Hai Ba Trung." It is up-scale here and provides executive-level accomodations and service. There is a great restaurant on the 4th floor called "Jaccs" that has good buffets and is popular for lunch. Lots of expats hang out here.
(2) Museum of the Revolution. 25 Ton Dan. Tel 825-4151. Same hours as Ho Lo Prison above. "Documents the struggle of the Vietnamese people agains foreign domination and the development of communism in Vietnam."
(3) The Army Museum. 86 Truong Chinh. Tel 563-0630. Same hours as Ho Lo Prison, except closed Monday and Friday. Aircraft and weapons on display and working model of the Dien Bien Phu victory and other battles.
(4) Air Force Museum. 86 Trong Chinh. Same hours as Army Muesem. Very interesting place to visit for those interested in war and its history. Planes, helicopters, and weapons. Again, very pro-vietnamese.
(5) Truc Bach Lake. Often overlooked as this is a smaller lake separated from West Lake by a causeway. Truc Bach Lake is where McCain was shot down and landed. (When coming down in a parashute it is best to seek a safe, unobstructed landing - and this lake was the best spot I guess). A vietnamese man "resued" him and there is actually a memorial to this "rescue" along the causeway.
Pagodas, Temples, Lakes. Many web sites and guide books provide info on the Pagoda and temples around Hanoi. So many they make your head swim. The most popular lake is the "Hoan Kiem Lake" which is the symbolic center of the city, surrounded by summer flowering trees. Well used by locals who like to sit, talk, play, excerise around the lake. Also, they have a "Starbucks sytle" coffee cafe that is a great spot to sit and watch all the people and surroundings.
That is it for now. Interesting city with a unique history. And, it is growing very fast as the economy is expanding at an impressive clip. Many new building being built and the Vietnames are incresingly becoming accustomed to Western syle lifestyles. You will see shop after shop filled with the latest color TVs, stereos, cell phones, and electronics (many imported from nearby China) as well as clothing shops (filled with western brands manufactured in both Vietnam and China).