We had a lot of fun enjoying our lunch that we had prepared during the morning cooking class at the Hanoi Cooking Centre and didn’t realise that it was well after 1pm. Our scheduled afternoon activity included an escorted tour of Hanoi with our local guide, Giang, who was patiently waiting for us to finish our meal.
The first stop for the afternoon was the Temple of Literature, where I had visited the day before. The number of graduating students seemed to double from the previous day and the site was extremely busy. This visit was rather short but it was nice to have a local guide explain the significance of certain monuments that I had casually bypassed previously. The tortoise stele structures shown above are inscribed with the names and details of the scholars who had successfully passed their examinations and had gone on to become mandarins.
Our next leg of the tour to Ba Dinh Square brought us to another significant chapter of Vietnamese history – the Ho Chi Minh Muausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House, the Presidential Palace and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
It was intriguing to visit the simple, unassuming house that “Uncle Ho” lived in during his final years after declaring that the Presidential Palace was too grand for him. A visit to the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which chronicles his life and political achievements, might seem to be tedious for some visitors but Giang piqued our interest by challenging us to find out Ho Chi Minh’s real name in an allotted time of forty minutes. The museum is informative and well-presented but after discovering no less than six aliases throughout three floors of memorabilia, Kylie discovered his real identity surreptitously hidden in a display book and won a Vietnamese coffee for her efforts. I’d like to tell you his name but you’ll just have to go to Hanoi and check it out for yourself.
The last historical site for the afternoon was to Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by captured US soldiers during the Vietnam War, but originally known as the “Maison Centrale” when constructed by the French in the late 19th century. The prison visit was sombre and some of the chosen methods of torture adopted by the French colonists as recanted by Giang were brutal and disturbing.
Our afternoon tour concluded on that note and we had an opportunity to head back to the hotel and freshen up for Kylie’s welcome dinner that Giang had arranged for us in the French Quarter. A short drive from the hotel and housed in a beautiful French Colonial building, we arrived at “Le Tonkin” Vietnamese Restaurant to enjoy an eight-course set menu that Giang had selected for the evening – Crab soup, Mixed lotus root salad, Fried eggplant with plum sauce, Grilled beef with pepper sauce, Stir fried prawn with baby corn, Stir fried mixed vegetables, Stewed pork in claypot, Steamed rice in coconut milk and fresh fruit.
Sitting outside and enjoying the warmth of the evening, dinner was a grand affair with a myriad of dishes arriving at certain intervals. The food was good, nicely presented and in a great setting. This particular restaurant is a chosen location for a lot of tour companies and is popular with a lot of travellers on Trip Advisor.
Our first real day of the Vietnam Culinary Discovery tour was packed full with activities and food but we knew another exciting couple of days on this trip awaited us tomorrow … Halong Bay!
Disclaimer: All entries regarding the Vietnam Culinary Discovery tour within this blog reflect my own personal insights and experiences throughout my holiday and I was solely responsible for meeting all travel expenses incurred.