Travel: Our Macau/Hong Kong Getaway (6D/6N)!

Follow our 6 day, 6 night adventure in these lands of amazing food, awesome culture and astounding sights. See how we ate, shopped and laughed our way through Macau and Hong Kong! :)

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Travel: Hanoi Day #2 - Vietnam Military History Museum @ Ba Dinh, Hanoi

Previous post on Hanoi: Thanh Long Water Puppet Show @ Hoan Kiem

Note: And it's back to Hanoi! Finally getting started on the Day 2 posts - this is gonna be a pretty picture-heavy one. :)

Day #2 of Hanoi got off to a bit of a later start than expected. We were pretty tired from our early morning flight the day before, so we woke up late and had a leisurely breakfast at our hotel. We knew we wanted to venture into Ba Dinh district today, to visit the Vietnam Military History Museum & from there, Dong Da district, to see the Temple & University of Literature.

Our hotel advised us to take a cab which would be much faster, but we walked out to hail several cabs and I think they were quoting us pretty high prices, instead of using the meter, if I recall correctly. Anyway, as luck would have it, we decided to go on foot. Armed with just a trusty map and a want to take in the local street sights, off we went!

Early morning sights around the Old Quarter near our hotel - vendor preparing their trade and lines of customers having their breakfast on tiny stools

A vendor hanging up colourful dolls & masks

Before we set off any further, we also dropped by a travel agency to book our Ha Long Bay cruise! *excited* More on that for Day #3.

Spotted on the cab who wanted a high fee to take us to Ba Dinh - Mati with a z. Not exactly the best omen in the world for a car! They'll never be able to sell this in Malaysia. :D

Some sights along our way - A boiling kettle by the side of the road, father & son playing Chinese chess, crazy looking load for a bike!

The journey from Old QuarterHoan Kiem to Ba Dinh on foot took us approximately 40 minutes but we would really recommend it especially if you're visiting Hanoi in the cooler months. The weather wasn't too hot, and we feel we got to see a lot more of everyday Hanoi life by going on foot. I loved every second of it :)

More sights - pretty, detailed paintings, more crazy wiring, and an uncle squishing himself into a narrow space between shops to read his morning paper

More methods of reading the papers - perched back on your bike, on the curb! *mindblown*

We crossed some train tracks that were still in use - quick picture! :D

As you get further away from Hoan Kiem (where everything is generally more touristy around Old Quarter), you'll find that the locals speak less English. Case in point, this stall selling kem (ice cream) below.

The lady manning the stall impatiently pointed out the various flavours and it took us a few tries to understand what the flavours were. When we got our change, we realized she charged us 20,000 VND for each stick, of which we felt conned by, because there was nothing that says 20,000 VND on their menu!

(Of course, we can't read any Viet so the menu could have been something altogether.. but just a sneaky feeling :S) We did some pointing to the board but she wouldn't budge so... oh well. 20,000 VND is equivalent to RM 3, plus we were really craving ice cream. -_-

At least, a blessing in disguise was that the coffee ice cream we had (on the left) was really amazing! The coffee flavour was strong, and there was a creamy milk ice cream centre to it. One of the best coffee ice creams we've all ever had. Though if you see this same store, make sure you ask for the price first!

After a long time exploring the streets and stopping for pictures & ice cream, we made it to our first destination of the day: the Vietnam Military History Museum in Ba Dinh. Unfortunately, they were closed for lunch, so we hung around for a short while with the other tourists till they opened again at 1pm.

All the various ATMs clustered together, in air-conditioned booths right outside the museum - such a great idea!

Finally, the gates opened at 1pm! Actually now that we've been there, we would recommend you spend an entire day in this part of Hanoi covering the must-visit places here. Get an early start so you can visit the museum before it closes for lunch. Also in Ba Dinh, you can visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and its grounds (we skipped this because the mausoleum is closed for maintenance every November). After that you can move on to the Temple of Literature in the evening like we did, to walk around before it closes at 5pm.

Also, make sure you pack enough water and essentials for the day you spend in Ba Dinh because we really spent the entire day on our feet. My handbag was full of maps (which were essential because we navigated a lot), water bottles, my Moleskin travel journal for notes for the blog, the iPad, wet wipes and god knows what else. Having a large, dump-it-all-in tote really makes all the difference. Saw some spacious yet stylish totes on Zalora Malaysia that would really have come in handy. (Alternatively, hmm, I also saw some backpacks in the men's section - maybe next time I'll just make Adam carry the weight instead :P)

Anyway, enough of itinerary tips and onto the museum itself! This museum, one of the oldest in Vietnam, is actually divided into sections, one floor in each building for every era in Vietnamese military history, with artifacts and facts dating as far back as the 1930s. Excellent if you're a war history buff, but still very fun for someone like me who usually wouldn't be into this kinda thing because there are a lot of fun items on exhibit (or photo-taking opportunities, whichever way you wanna look at it :p).

Not even inside the museum building yet, but already taking pictures :p

This was the most interesting in the first building; these large wooden stakes that were used to stop Mongol ships in naval battles during the 1200s or so. These were placed in the riverbed to trap and destroy incoming or retreating enemy vessels... sometimes even steel tipped. Apparently if you visit some of the riverbeds today, you can still see the tips of these stakes peeking out.

Group pic against the fancy background!

Some soldiers' rifles, grenade shells and a hand sewn Vietnamese flag for use during the war

We were intrigued with this statue of a Viet soldier carrying this weapon, with three legs sticking out at it's end,  because we also saw the same device on a statue in Old Quarter the night before too. It turns out it's actual name is a lunge anti-tank device (only found out it's actual name when I came home and googled -- we kept on referring to it as the "three-pin plug" lol) and it's an explosive used to defeat armored targets, such as tanks. The soldier would have to undo a pin and detonate the device, and would usually end up dying in the explosion, which is why people dub these "suicide weapons". Gruesome. :S

ZH flipping through a photo book, a missile on display, a stamp of Ho Chi Minh that was used to prepare war poster handouts

Of course, there's a certain level of propaganda at this museum, but it was something we could easily look past and instead just enjoy browsing through the exhibits and displays (albeit a little dusty :p). 

Interesting video depicting the war with lit-up paths glowing on the ground to illustrate the various attacks on Vietnamese war camp

Outside of the museum is where the more fun stuff is. The first is the large, majestic-looking stone Hanoi Flag Tower, also within the grounds of the museum and a UNESCO heritage building, if I remember correctly. Built some time in the early 1800s, they always keep a national flag flying proud at its peak.

The second, and to us the most awesome part of the museum, was the courtyard exhibition of tanks, planes and helicopters used during the Vietnam War, some of which were captured aircraft belonging to the Americans. Super cool because we weren't expecting a display like this... really massive stuff! :D

Artillery pieces used against the French... look at the size of that wheel!

We saw some other guys climbing up.. Adam & Mel followed suit! (Adam: I don't think you'd never be able to do that in any other museum in the world.. =p)

This was really cool, a magnificent sculpture made from the remnants of of a B-52 bomber and some other war wreckage. 

Look at that scary amount of explosives!

The guys doing the Obama wave -__-

This was another favourite part of ours, a war air craft (Adam: I think it's a Chinook helicopter) that we could actually climb in and examine! It felt a tad scary because it actually felt rather flimsy with the four of us in there at one go, although I'm sure it housed a lot more people than four back in the day. Haha.

And this is what the cockpit and the inside of the plane looks like! Adam immediately zeroed in on the hole in the windscreen, "so this is probably how the pilot died." o__O

I thought this was a really cute plane - like it had stepped out of a Pixar movie - can you see its eyes? :D It's actually a Cessna A-37B Dragonfly plane, captured in 1975.

A Renault car from 1968 used to transport liberation troops

A replica of the Cu Chi underground tunnels in Ho Chi Minh

Look! A keris from Malaysia! :D

The latter bits of the museum, in the late 1970s to 80s weren't as interesting as the other parts before, so we pretty much breezed through the last building before calling our museum visit done.

There's a Highlands Coffee adjoined to the museum grounds which is a lovely spot shaded by many trees, a perfect way to end your museum visit in our books. Rested our tired feet here for a bit and had a quick drink before another walk to Dong Da for the Temple & University of Literature. Do stay tuned for our next Hanoi post!

Vietnam Military History Museum | Site
(Hanoi Flag Tower sits within museum grounds)
No. 28A, Dien Bien Phu Street,
Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: +84-4 3733 4682
Fax: +84-4 3733 4692

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