Roaming the Lands: Hanoi, Vietnam

Originally I wanted to write my posts in chronological order, but my cousin asked me to recommend Hanoi for her holiday, so I’ve decided to set the order aside for now and skip ahead to this post (and another on Bali later). This way I don’t have to type to her and write this post later. Yeah, I’m lazy like that.

I went to Hanoi to attend a friend’s wedding. My sister and I went there in early spring, when the breezes were a little more than cold and the flowers have just started to blossom. Unfortunately we only spent a short time here, and a day or two was spent with my friends and the wedding, so I didn’t get a chance to cover much of Hanoi. However I’ll share everything (that I can remember anyway) that we did in this somewhat hectic yet still somehow peaceful city.

The day we arrived, when I was still in the plane looking out (I always try to get the window seat when I go to a place for the first time) the first thing I saw was these tall, narrow buildings squished together like sardines in a can. It turns out that many houses here are built narrow, and high. When we went to my friend’s soon-to-be-in-laws’ house, it was fashioned the same way: narrow (about one room per floor) and tall (seven floors) – and no lift! Talk about getting your daily exercise! My sister and I were received very warmly by my friend’s in-laws, even though they don’t speak English.

Doesn't the house look like a hotel?

Doesn’t the house look like a hotel?

We stayed in a hotel in the Old Quarter. I think it’s best to stay here, since it’s close to the hustle and bustle of the city, and you can spend a lot of time exploring all the shops and food places. Another thing I’ve noticed here (and in Ho Chi Minh as well) is that the traffic is nuts! There are tons of motorcycles, and there don’t seem to be any order to traffic here. At first I was pretty intimidated to cross the roads, but it really is quite safe, the vehicles move slowly enough to avoid you as you’re crossing. I kind of felt like an invincible superhero crossing the roads, parting the traffic hehe.

On the second day, we set on foot to explore the Old Quarter, which provides a very interesting insight to the Vietnamese people. There are also several points of interest that you can reach on foot from here. One such place is the Hoan Kiem Lake. Even though it’s surrounded by the busy roads, the lake is somehow very calm and peaceful in contrast. Hoan Kiem Lake, translated to “Lake of the Returned Sword” is named from a legend. The legend tells a story of an ancient emperor being asked by a Turtle God to return the sword given to the emperor during his revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty.

The things to look for at this lake are the Turtle Tower and the temple. The Turtle Tower is erected on a small island in the middle of the lake, and is linked to the legend. On the other side of the lake lies the Ngoc Son Temple, built in honour of several famous people. It is also here that you can learn more about the Hoan Kiem Lake legend. The red bridge leading to the temple, named The Huc (Morning Sunlight Bridge) also makes for a very pretty spot to take photos. There are several giant turtles that live in this lake, although the exact amount of turtles are unknown. It is said that if you see a turtle in this lake, you’re in for some good luck. Too bad I didn’t see even one…

Turtle Tower

Turtle Tower

My sister in front of The Huc Bridge

My sister in front of The Huc Bridge

Inside the temple

Inside the temple

Inside the temple - it's like the inside of a garden!

Inside the temple – it’s like the inside of a garden!

A taxi ride took us sisters and a friend to the West Lake. It’s a huge lake, it wasn’t really possible to walk all around it, although you can rent a bicycle and cycle around the beautiful lake. On an island in the lake is the Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Hanoi with an impressive bell tower. It’s a must see if you go to the lake… or is the lake a must see if you go to the pagoda?

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda on West Lake

Tran Quoc Pagoda on West Lake

Another taxi ride brought us to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. If you’re the type to be interested in the minorities and culture, this is a place you should visit. In the building you would find many artefacts from tribes all around Vietnam, with helpful and interesting descriptions. The grounds housed several traditional village houses – some you can even go into, which is an experience. There are also a few *ahem* sexy 18+ artful wooden statues around.

An exhibit depicting a Muong funeral

An exhibit depicting a Muong funeral

Horns to drink alcohol from

Horns to drink alcohol from

Steps leading to a Bahnar communal house

Steps leading to a Bahnar communal house

*ahem* *ahem* wooden statues

*ahem* *ahem* wooden statues

I’m afraid that if I include my friend’s wedding and our visit to Ha Long Bay here, the post will become too long, so I’ll write another post for it. These are mostly all the sights that we saw in Hanoi. There are several other temples, pagodas and museums that you can visit, but our time was limited and I’m not much for too many museums anyway. Stay tuned for the second part of the post!

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