One big tip of knowing a particular place?
Converse with the locals, and from them, you’ll learn something quite different.
Anyway, are you familiar of this kind of program in which there are some organizations in Hanoi that gives free tours to its foreign visitors?
But the tour is not technically free. For you will be the one who will pay for its transportation, snacks/lunch/dinner, entrance fees, and other gratuities. All you have to do is book online, inform them of the list of places/sites that you wanted to see, and wait for some confirmation from them if there’s a vacant schedule for you.
My first choice was the Hanoi Kids Organization, but upon booking, I wasn’t able to have a slot for our requested schedule which was on the 3rd day.
So I’ve decided to change our bookings to the Hanoi Free Tour Guides. A similar organization from my first choice, but this time, these are being handled by some college students who wants to do this kind of thing in order for them to practice their English language.
The organization had assigned us to someone who majors in economics named Bui Duy Khanh. He’s very friendly, and his English is really good. And as our private tour, he’s also very informative of its background and history on every major site that we’ve visited.
But I only did have one major concern, and that is in all of our tours, we’ve mostly used a taxi as our mode of transportation. So it had taken a big part of our budget. Luckily, we’ve only consumed for about 80% of what I’ve already set aside for that day.
Well if you are the very thrifty type of traveler, I would definitely suggest the Hanoi Free Walking Tours.
Maison Centrale/Hoa Lo Prison
So what is the advantage of doing this?
Well aside from the fact that we will able to help these younger generations to practice their English. The good thing about availing for this free tour is that each traveler will have the chance to learn from a local’s perspective about the history, the culture and the people of Vietnam. Which is something that you won’t get to experience if you’ll just decide to do the tour on your own now that the Google Map is very handy nowadays in terms of traveling or exploring an unfamiliar place.
For our first tour, it was the Maison Centrale, or mostly known as the Hoa Lo Prison. It’s the place where the Vietnamese that went against the government were imprisoned, and tortured during the French Occupation. While exploring, I almost vomited inside, and I ‘am so not joking when I tell you that I was feeling nauseated while going to every cell, and see in person the kind of place that for sure would really disturb its every visitors. It’s just that, the thought of how they were tortured in some ways beyond your imagination was so insanely hard to grasp, and to think of all the pain that these people had gone through during those tough times. It’s just so sad and at the same time insanely creepy.
We were there for almost two hours before we’ve headed off to our next destination which was the Temple of Literature.
The Temple of Literature is an ancient temple and the very first university that was built in Vietnam. A thousand years old building which was dedicated to Confucius, sages, and scholars.
It was a very hot and humid late morning, and as much as we were trying our best to really listen to our tour guides’ insights about the place. My sister and I were really beyond exhausted to keep up and felt so bad for him. But then at the same time, we felt so grateful towards him because he was entirely patient to wait for us to rest, before we continue exploring.
After that, we had a short break by taking our lunch somewhere near the temple, (a place that was recommended by Mr. Khanh). But before our very short journey to the restaurant, I would like to share an experience in which we were actually scammed by our taxi driver. What happened was that, the driver acted out like he was not familiar of the place (it’s kind of hard to believe since his vehicle has a GPS), so he was driving off from one block onto another, and then go back as to where we were picked up at the main entrance of the temple; and from there, that’s when he had finally went straight ahead to the restaurant. And instead of paying the usual fare of 30,000 dong (P68 or $1.32); we were charged for about 60,000 dong (P135 or $2.64).
I know it’s not much compared to what we’ve heard from some Filipino travelers that we met on Halong Bay. Sharing that experience to its fellow travelers on how they were scammed from 100,000 dong (P225 or $4.50) all the way to 500,000 dong (P1,126 or $23) in just a matter of seconds. So I would definitely advice for you to be very careful in terms of booking a taxi especially from the airport to the city proper.
And at that time, I was kind of disappointed in our tour guide for not saying anything since he should know the exact direction of the place. But as already mentioned, we were so tired and hungry that we just sort of let it slip away and forgave the driver for doing something like that.
So moving forward at the restaurant, each one of us in our very small group had ordered such heavy meals for our lunch and it was very delicious.
We were there for about an hour, and during that time, we’ve had a sort of an open forum. In which Mr. Khanh was very generous to share with us about his experiences as a personal tour guide, and also enlightening with us the modern day culture of Vietnam, and how the war had molded them to aim a life in peace and tranquility. Also, in our part, my sister and I had pointed out some important information about the Philippines. Our history, our culture, the food, the day to day living of the Filipinos, and so many other things.
Then after eating our sumptuous meal, we went to visit the monument as to where Ho Chi Minh’s body was laid out and preserved for all the people to see. However, the place is only open for public viewing in the late morning. And in our case, we went there in the afternoon so we weren’t able to have the chance to go inside but had decided to take a picture of the monument.
Furthermore, who was Ho Chi Minh? And why is it that up to this day, he’s considered to be a very important figure in Vietnam history?
According to our tour guide, this man came from a very poor family background who leads a simple life, but because he love his country so much, and wants to help its people gain their freedom against the French government. He has decided to travel the world, working from one odd job to another, to learn about each country, and get some insights about its style of leadership, and from there, did some writing; for he’s also a journalist. And when he came back, he has done everything that he could to help his fellow countrymen in attaining their independence, and later on, was voted as the new leader of Vietnam.
Our next tour was the Presidential Vestige, the residential area of Ho Chi Minh during his leadership. Not the glamorous and French palace as you’ve surely seen in one of our pictures. Although at present, it is being used as a guest house to all of its very important foreign visitors.
His first house was located at the main entrance, in which he stayed there for about four years before moving into a simple bamboo structured type of residence. At first glance, the massive area kind of looks like that you’re in the French or English countryside. It is because the president loves to be with nature that he has requested to put up a variety of plants and a certain number of animals in which today still remains. I remember our tour guide sharing with us a story that when an Australian journalist had asked the president about his favorite working spot. He said that it was being outside in the garden that he tends to have the concentration that he needed the most in order to work.
An overview from a very inspiring leader who has dedicated his life to save and serve the people of Vietnam.
Anyway, my sister and I had both agreed that in our third day of exploring, this is definitely our most favorite place that we’ve visited. I mean, the place looks so picturesque that how we wish that we could live in that kind of peaceful environment. Then, for the last site to visit with Mr. Khanh, we head off to the One Pillar Pagoda. Which was a short walking distance from the Presidential Vestige. Legend has it that when a married man had prayed for a son, it was in that very same spot that he’d prayed wholeheartedly, and where his wish was granted.
That ends our day tour with Mr. Khanh, and after that, he guided us back to our hotel in the Hoan Kiem District. For our token of appreciation (cause giving cash is not allowed), Fatimah and I were actually not prepared as to what would be our gift for him. So we’ve decided to give him my sister’s “Privacy Glass Protectors for iPhones” in which she just bought before our trip to Vietnam. The reason was that we’ve both noticed in one of our discussions with him that he seems to enjoy talking about gadgets specifically about some iPhone accessories. So upon arrival at the hotel, my sister went back to our room to get it and give it to him. Then before saying our goodbyes, we took some photos together as a group.
Mr. Khan, if there’s an opportunity that you will be able to read this blog of mine. I just want to say that, Fatimah and I are so grateful that you’ve been our assigned tour guide on that day. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you so much for all the things that you’ve shared to us. We wish you all the best, and hopefully, after attaining your college degree, you will be able to pursue your plans of traveling to Singapore and Australia, and also to so many other places. Hope to keep in touch with you via email or Facebook. Again, Maraming Salamat (Thank You) and God Bless.
The tour ended at around four in the afternoon, so we still had time. And since it’s the last day of the night market, we had to make sure that we will be able to finish buying the souvenirs that we wanted to give for our friends and family back home. So after staying at the hotel to rest and freshen up. We went out again to start exploring the night market for the second time around.
Just a little thought before we continue, I would like to point out that our trip to Vietnam was not just about visiting some of the best spots that the country could offer. But we also took the chance to explore one of the most authentic parts of its main capital.
So wanna see the real Hanoi?
Wander around to every nook and corner of its old alleyways like the old quarter, and you will see the culture and day to day living of the Vietnamese people. Well, it was truly a mind-boggling experience, but it was something that we will never ever forget.
An insight that made me so grateful because I have gained something new in my quest to learn more about each place that I would visit and explore.
So on our last chance to experience the night market in Hanoi, I would definitely say that it was truly an evening to remember because the crowd had gotten way bigger than the other night. Plus, we really had a great time walking from one corner to another, trying to blend in with everyone around us.
Another advice, try to make sure that your visit to Vietnam falls on the weekend. For you will have so much fun experiencing the night life there; almost to the point that you’ll lost track of the time, and the next thing you’ll know, it’s already way past midnight.
As for buying some souvenirs, I’ve already mentioned that shopping in there can be very cheap. That for about P 2,000 ($40 or 1M Dong), you can insanely buy tons of items not just for yourself, but also for also for your friends and family. Just don’t forget to bargain at a very big discount.
So that’s how our third day have turned out to be, and I’m so looking forward to share with you our fourth day in Vietnam. Which was a side trip to the Ninh Binh Province to visit its Hoa Lu Temples, and enjoy a river cruise in Tam Coc.
Thank you so much for reading.