We had read so many things about Vietnam with regards to scams and bait and switch schemes that we swore we would be on our guard….that is until we checked into the hotel where the manager informed us that he was giving us an upgrade at their ‘sister’ hotel. It turned out that the hotel was great and in a really good location, with an awesome breakfast. I really think they moved us so that they could give us a room right away since we were checking in at 10am.
After dropping our stuff in the room we headed out to familiarize ourselves with the old quarter and practice crossing the road – you need to walk out in the middle of traffic, make eye contact with the drivers, and they will just go around you while you cross (don’t turn and look behind you because it will freak you out) – if you don’t go out in the middle of traffic then you’ll never cross a road in Vietnam.
We saw a few places during the day and our first stop, after the ATM and a cappuccino, was at the Opera House in the French quarter.
We made a stop at St. Joseph’s cathedral, it’s the oldest church in Hanoi. Unfortunately it was closed and we couldn’t see the inside – maybe next time. We stopped for a quick lunch of traditional Banh Ghoi which is deep-fried pastries stuffed with pork, vermicelli, and mushrooms, they were pretty tasty.
After lunch we made our way over to Hoa Lo Prison which was used by the French colonists for political prisoners and later it was used by north Vietnam for US prisoners of war. The Americans sarcastically renamed it the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ and because of this the real Hilton in Hanoi has to go by a different name – Hilton Hanoi Opera. Some of the things we saw in there were chilling and the guillotine in the death row area was haunting. The stories about how well the POW’s were treated felt a little one sided to me.
We spent some time meandering around Hoan Kiem Lake which was quite close to our hotel. The lake is a must see at night and not to be missed is Ngoc Son Temple which is built on a small island. I loved the little red bridge!
We stopped for a light dinner and drinks at a place overlooking the lake called Hanoi Time. We could see people sitting on a balcony but it took us a few minutes to find how they got up there. There was a small doorway with a really long corridor and then a few flight of stairs before you actually reached the restaurant – we thought that was kind of strange but apparently it’s pretty normal over here. Majority of the houses and buildings are tall and narrow.
The next morning we were up fairly early so we decided to walk over to the Temple of Literature. It’s a temple of Confucius housing the ‘Imperial Acadamy’, the country’s first national university. The names and origins of 1307 doctors are written on tombstones that are sitting on top of tortoises. It’s believed that the tortoise can bring good luck to the students. It was really busy and I think there was a graduation celebration going on while we were there.
While walking we noticed how close people live to the train tracks and they use the tracks like a little roadway.
On our way back to the old quarter we walked through a park and when we rounded the corner we were so surprised….the courtyard was packed with little kids riding remote controlled cars and motorbikes, it was the cutest thing. I guess that’s what the locals do on a Sunday 🙂
Next to the park is the Hanoi Flag Tower which is part of the Vietnam Military History Museum. It was pretty interesting looking at all the tanks and artillery. Right next door to that is the Hanoi Citadel.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped in at Bach Ma Temple, it’s reputed to be the oldest temple in the city.
While back at the hotel we decided to eat at a famous place across the street that serves Bun Cha. Next door to this place is another restaurant that looks the same and serves the same Bun Cha. The original restaurant had to put a sign up pointing out that the place next door is a fake and that they are the real Bun Cha restaurant (there’s a lot of this kind of thing going on in Vietnam)….we checked at our hotel to confirm which one was the real one. So we went in and ordered our Bun Cha and ended up sitting with a Vietnamese couple. We had no idea how to eat Bun Cha and they laughed a little watching us fumble around with our meal…finally they couldn’t take it anymore and they prepared Gordon’s dish and pointed to the items on the table that he should be adding to his bowl. We had a good laugh but now we know what to do with Bun Cha! Unfortunately the lady that took our money decided to overcharge us thinking we wouldn’t know but the hotel manager called her out on it. Note to self: no eating or drinking unless you see a price posted!
You just can’t help but take in the street life here. Hanoi is a very lively city and it’s nice to pass some time just people watching. The old quarter has many narrow streets that are arranged by trade – there is even a coffee street and a beer street!
I loved the big tree tunnels on some of the roads and the nice wide sidewalks that turn into badminton courts in the late afternoons.
Across from our hotel was the skinniest music store we have ever seen. We are certain that it was less than six feet wide. Most of the buildings we have seen are tall and narrow but this music store was beyond narrow.
Unfortunately I came down with a nasty cold on our last day in Hanoi so Gordon was on his own to see the rest of the sights. He sent me a photo at all the places he went to, which sort of made me feel like I was there too (in a groggy kind of way). He visited the Pagoda on West Lake, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Presedential Palace, and One Pillar Pagoda….and he had a beer at a local joint.
Gordon did bring me back a treat though – Bo Bia which is coconut and sugar cane wrapped in rice paper. It was delicious and it instantly made me feel better!
At least I made it out in the morning to try egg coffee which is famous in Hanoi. It is a decadent coffee treat!
Hanoi is hectic with a vibrant and colourful street life. This is one of the few cities we’ve seen where local life just continues alongside the tourists. Their culture and way of living remain very strong in spite of it being well visited by foreigners and that was really refreshing to see. We thought Hanoi was great and we loved strolling around the old quarter and enjoying the little cafes. The people watching here is fantastic and it shouldn’t be missed when visiting so make sure to take some time to just sit out on the little stools in front of a cafe and enjoy the vibe.
Where we stayed: Golden Moon Suites Hotel (sister hotel of Golden Moon Hotel)
Where we Stayed: Golden Moon Hotel
Written by: Tammy Hermann…Live~Love~Travel