Hanoi is a vibrant city full of energy. There’s a constant bustle and thousands of motorbikes everywhere. They run against the traffic with no problem at all and always without helmets. The streets are full with stores of all kind. Stores selling coffee, travel agencies, cheap clothes stores, restaurants, bars and so on. Street food sellers occupy the sidewalks that are already crowded with people. People play badminton and go jogging in any free space.
No way you can just stroll on the pavement. Walking through Hanoi is like a racing video game, with lots of sudden turns, holes and traps. You crossed a street with no harm, bonus for you!
Hanoi is a mix of an Asian and European town. The French district situated just across the lake from the Old Quarter is much more peaceful and spacious. No street markets, no food sellers… well, at least not that many.
It’s a big city and it seems amazing at first site.
We started our visit at Hoàn Kiêm lake. Legend says that there is one giant turtle left in the waters, so we walked along the lake trying to spot it. No luck. On a small island there is the Ngoc Son temple from the 18th century. It is accessible by one small red wooden bridge. On the opposite side of the lake, on another small island, we can see the tower Tháp Rùa, built to celebrate the encounter of the emperor Lê Loi and one of the giant turtles. There is no bridge, so maybe that’s where the sneaky giant turtle was hiding from us. It’s interesting how calm this area of the town is. The narrow park that surrounds the lake is like a peace oasis, where people just sit on the benches, meet, play some games. No sign of the chaos, that is just a couple of meters away.
While we were on our way to the Temple of Literature, we passed by a train track that crosses a big residential neighborhood. It is extraordinary. The train passes only centimeters away from the entrances of the houses. Any false step can end up in a tragedy. Good the train passes only twice a day.
The Temple of Literature, Văn Miếu, is there since the 11th century and is one of the many temples dedicated to Confucius in Vietnam. That’s where the first national university is. You enter the main part through 5 different courtyards that serve different purposes.
The part of the city where the Ho Chi Minh museum and Mausoleum are, alongside with the presidential palace and the parliament, is full with large and modern avenues. We can see some booths with authority agents that prevent you from going to undesirable places. All this open space along with the bright colours make the environment a bit sterile, despite of all the red flags of the country and communist party. It seems peaceful as the area around the lake, but in a different way, forced maybe. Lots of space and no people relaxing on the sidewalks.
At night, back in the historical center, there a big commotion. The locals come to the streets to drink and enjoy and in one of the most famous squares, the many bars and little restaurants have little plastic chairs in the streets where people sit and drink for many hours. What we loved about that place is that there is no division between tourists and locals. Everybody parties together and the darker is the night, the more the crowd gets mixed up. It’s something we haven’t seen until now. There was a big party area in Ho Chi Minh, but in the bars and coffees you couldn’t really spot any Vietnamese people. Hanoi’s nightlife has a fantastic atmosphere.
Magda and Renato
More photos from Vietnam here.