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Hanoi Hilton

VIETNAM | Friday, 28 December 2007 | Views [1091]

The Hanoi Hilton, so called by American prisoners of war, is a prison in downtown Hanoi, now serving as a museum to tell of all the ills inflicted on this country and her brave revolutionaries by the oppressive French colonialists, who built the prison as Maison Centrale (though it is called Hoa Lo in the local tongue). The museum is less clear about the discomforts meted out to those US pilots unfortunate enough to be felled from the skies over Hanoi, but leaves you in no doubt about the brutality of the French, with the tour of the prison culminating with a visit to the guillotine room, equipped of course with the eponymous device and decorated with images of servered heads in baskets. The only treatment provided to the American War (the name by which they refer to the Vietnam War) is a set of photographs of luminaries such as potential Republican nominee for the US presidency John McCain, who spent a few unplanned-for years as a guest of the Hanoi Hilton. Alongside these, photographs of anti-war protests in San-Francisco, Washington DC and elsewhere are presented a little misguidingly as demonstrations in favour of Vietnamese reunificaion, rather than as what they were - pleadings from American citizens to stop sending unwilling conscripts to their death in foreign jungles.

In the Military History Museum some distance away, the Vietnamese are less coy about the American War. Throughout the museum they showcase hardware, including heavy weapons, aircraft and tanks taken from the US forces during their intervention here. They also tell the story of nearly 40,000 US warplanes shot down during the war, including, interestingly, 30 shot down by militia women and 6 shot down by militia aged people.

Earlier in the day we tried to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, home to the former revolutionary leader's embalmed corpse, and the adjacent Ho Chi Minh Museum. Unfortunately neither open on Fridays, so we only got to look at them from the outside and imagine, Night at the Museum style, the dead leader come to life and give Lenin and other past politicians who'd had a trip to the taxidermist a phone call.

Ho Chi Minh himself wanted neither the mausoleum nor the museum to be built, in fact he asked in his will that his ashes be scattered to the wind in north, central and south Vietnam - symbolic of national unity. Regardless, the Communist powers that be felt it more appropriate to build monoliths in his honour, and indeed in honour of many other things. Everywhere you go here you're remineded of the Communist regime. Red flags obviously. Much, much more military than police on the streets - almost all for show, guarding embassies and the like. Enormous monuments and gigantic buildings. Interesting functions as well for some buildings - The National Political Publishing House, for example.

Much of the city is quite attractive though - the Metropole Hotel is magnificent decked out, as it currently is, in Christmas lights. The Opera House and St. Joseph's Cathedral tell of the French period with their impressive architecture. The lakes in the city centre look amazing during the daytime or set against the night-time lights.

As a final word, if you ever get the opportunity to do so, you might like to visit the Water Puppets Theatre in the Old Quarter. Only do so, our advice is, if your height is that of an eight year old, or if you're not too bothered about squeezing your knees into the back of the person in front of you. We'd say the show, interesting as it is, is edge of the seat stuff, but the edge is certainly not the part of the seat we were sitting on.

Tags: Sightseeing


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