Hanoi is a sensory overload, particularly when you land and enter the throngs of the city at 8am after a 14 hour flight. The traffic is utter chaos, with over 5.2 million mopeds on the roads which is more than the number of households. The lovely staff at the Essence Palace Hotel gave us a little introduction on how to cross the street before we went off in search of coffee before we could check in. It’s amazing how after a couple of days you become a pro at stepping out in front of fast moving mopeds and hope they dodge you!
Hoan Kiem Lake is a sanctuary in the middle of the crazy and very close to the Old Quarter. The lake surrounds Ngoc Son Temple which commemorates a military leader. You’ll find all sorts going on round the lake, mostly Tai Chi and dancing but the surrounding paths come alive at the weekend when the neighbouring roads are pedestrianised. My highlight was the remote controlled cars that seemingly bored children were being driven around in, by equally as bored parents. The temple was a little nothing, other than the preserved body of a 250kg turtle that once lived in the lake, I’d save the entry fee for another beer or 5.
We bounced in and out of Hanoi, using it as our base to travel to Halong Bay, Ninh Binh Province and Mai Chau. However we did have a couple of days to tourist around Hanoi itself. We were feeling pretty lazy so one day we jumped on the Hanoi Highlights tour with Urban Adventures which was a great decision. We were taken round the main sites including the Temple of Literature and Hoa Lo Prison (the Hanoi Hilton). The tour was an easy way to tick off the main sites but very easy to do it all yourself. After a ‘taster’ session of a traditional Vietnamese tea ceremony, our tour finished near the lake and having the best beef pho of the entire trip at Pho Thin – so good!
Our final tourist day involved a lot of day drinking (coffee and beer) and pottering about, something that we do best! We visited local markets, the tourist haven Hanoi train track street and the Vietnam Military History Museum (you’ll pass the train track street on the way!). The military wasn’t quite what we had hoped for, a very disjointed story which was poorly translated. If you’re after an insight into what went on during the American/Vietnam war then I’d recommend waiting till you are in Ho Chi Minh City. This museum gives a general overview of the military history of the country in a series of separate buildings, surrounded by Russian and American aircraft and tanks.
A trip to Hanoi wouldn’t be complete without hitting beer corner and sitting on a tiny plastic stool. You’re in for a people watching treat if you manage to nab a stool at one of the bars right on the corner. However, as we found out you are also likely to get thrown off said seat if the police wander through. Most of the bars here push the boundaries (quite literally) and creep a little too far into the street. Lots of eateries along the street where you can sample the ‘table top’ bbq, we went to New Day as recommended by Lonely Planet and our hotel.
We left Hanoi with mixed views, the pollution (and lack of escape from) was a problem with my asthma and the humid weather. It’s fascinating to see the street food being prepared at all hours of the day, next to a sea of knock off ‘genuine’ North Face jackets. However, we are intrigued as to how it will change with the moped ban (scheduled for 2030) and new rapid bus system. Navigating your way around Hanoi is both thrilling and terrifying and I’d recommend it to anyone!
As always, this is just my opinion!