Saturday, February 7, 2009

Leaving Vietnam - Last Day in Hanoi

Thursday January 22nd 2009

The first time that I was here in Vietnam, I could not wait to get out and go home. It was a different time, a different feeling, a different circumstance. In fact, one of the theme songs of those serving in Vietnam was We Gotta Get Out Of This Place. I don’t want to go home now, not yet, it was too soon. I wanted to Stay just a little bit longer.

So, after a week in Vietnam, we would be leaving today. It was not enough time. We saw so much, but, there is so much more to see, DaNang and China Beach, the Cu Chi Tunnels, Nha Trang and Vung Tau. Before we were to leave, we would be visiting the Hao Lo Prison.

Hao Lo was used as a Prisoner of War Camp during the Vietnam War. The Hoa Lo (Prison) POW Camp is located in downtown Hanoi. The first prisoner was incarcerated there in 1964 when Lieutentant Commander E. Alvarez of the U.S. Navy was captured. All known U.S. POWs captured in North Vietnam were moved into Hoa Lo in November and December 1970, after the Son Tay rescue attempt. Probably the most reknowned prisoner of Hao Lo was Senator John McCain, who spent about five years there. The prison was nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton”.

There was very little dedicated to the “American” War at the prison. One room held the flight suit worn by Senator McCain when his plane was shot down and he was captured. Seeing the uniform was a bit eerie. I had seen it during an episode of the Amazing Race but to be standing there next to it, well the feelings cannot be explained. To be standing where so many of our men were held, tortured and died was extremely emotional. To some they are heroes, to others they were less than that, but luckily, as Americans, we can express whatever view we believe in. Emotion has been a large part of this trip but this visit to Hao Lo was an unexplainable feeling of sadness, as well as, a bit of hatred. Being in a Communist country, one cannot fully express feelings or say exactly what is on your mind. So, I kept my feelings to myself and toured the last areas of the prison before leaving.

The other room displayed artifacts and text about the American participation in the bombing and destruction of North Vietnam. It was originally built by the French in 1905 to incarcerate local prisoners and it was called Maisson Centrale. Only part of the prison exists today, a good part of the land was used to develop a high rise building. Much of the historical references were to the Vietnamese political prisoners that were held under the French occupation.
We walked out of there in silence and proceeded back to the busy streets of Hanoi. We took a cab back to an area of shopping near the Old Quarter but in a more upscale area.

Stacy had her best shopping day in this area of Hanoi. A new bag, silk scarves, neat chopsticks, all in a great part of Hanoi.

We found a quaint restaurant – La --which was run by an Australian owner. Before we went in we were looking at the menu and a mother and her newly adopted Vietnamese baby was standing outside and we asked about the place and she recommended it. The other half of her family was already inside. Her recommendation was right on, the food was great.
I met a guy sitting at the bar who was from Kansas City. He had come to Vietnam, nine years previously, to help rebuild the infrastructure. He met a Vietnamese girl, got married and settled there. But, he longs to return to the states and may be doing so before his son is ready for school.

Before leaving La, I saw a great shirt I wanted to buy. It had a “Trailer Trash Music” label on it, but there were none in my size.

So, we returned to the Hanoi Hilton Opera Hotel to prepare for our trip to the airport. The hotel offered limo service in a BMW 530i, so we treated ourselves to a luxury ride after all of those small taxis the past seven days, this was a treat. The driver maneuvered his way through the crowded Vietnam streets a bit more gingerly than the taxi drivers had. And yes, there is street repair and construction in Vietnam, too. We received looks from those passing by, but, as Westerners, we received the same looks in a little Toyota taxi, as well.

There were other parents with adoptees waiting at the airport for the flight to Hong Kong. One mother was traveling from Hanoi to Hong Kong to San Francisco and finally South Carolina with her new baby.

It was good-bye to Vietnam as our Dragon Air flight left the ground and headed for Hong Kong. We would take many memories with us and would leave behind many new friends. Our two plus hour flight arrived 10:50 PM local time, it was 9:50 in Hanoi. We grabbed a van to the hotel, about a 45 minute ride and 480 Hong Kong Dollars later – or about $70 US.

Thanks to my son-in-law, Jon, we were able to stay for free at one of the better hotels in Hong Kong – the J W Marriott .
We had a corner room with great views. It was very late, so no exploring this night. We would welcome sleep, after Stacy had photographed the room, of course, and get up early and begin exploring in the morning.


  1. hi there, I am a Vietnamese, just go to this blog by chance. The prison you mentioned above should be Hoa Lo Prison, which has the meaning of a hot oven or hot trap.
    Glad that you love Vietnam!