Located in the Northern part of Vietnam, caressing the Red River, lies the Beautiful and Romantic Capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, HÀ Nôi. Wander through the maze of merchants and shops in the Old Town selling both real and a lot of not so real items to capture any bright eyed tourists hearts. Round about the many lakes that adorn this charming city, and stop for a potent Caphe Sua Dah while gazing at the locals flowing through the “ancient” art of Tai-chi and the Housewives gyrating their bodies to a soon to be ancient art of Zumba. Marvel at the French inspired buildings of The French Quarter, have an egg coffee, and enjoy the best of the best in culinary masterpieces even in the smallest hole in a wall restaurant.
The city has been the capital of Vietnam Many times before, and for 800 years ( 1010 -1802) it was the political center of Vietnam. But HÀ Nôi is much, much older then that, dating back to the Neolithic period. It was also the capital of French Indochina and was the start for the reunification of the country. It was only eclipsed from its grandure by Hue during the Nguyen Dynasties which you can learn a little more about Here: Hue: To the Imperial Citadel and Beyond
Hanoi was and is my favorite city in Vietnam. And I’m so glad I saves the Best for Last.
After having a not so amazing time in Hoi An, Vietnam The Ancient Port of FaiFoo , my mother and I flew out from Danang and landed swiftly and most comfortably into No Bai international Airport. Again , just to reiterate, if ever traveling by plane throughout Vietnam, it is my utmost suggestion to do so in Premium Economy. A quick re-cap: Premium Economy on Vietnam Airline equates to flying First class, as is evident with their marvelously large seats, priority security, gorgeous lounge access, food service, pre- boarding in an elegant van, and post disembarking into a gorgeous shuttle . Really takes the hassle out of domestic traveling as Vietnam’s Airports are notorious for long slow lines.
We were met by our Hotel’s private van , The Elegance Hospitality Group ( EHG) and in no time, we were off for the 30 minutes or so drive to the city center and to the OldTown . We booked a week’s stay at the La Siesta Diamond Hotel and Spa in a Family room which had two queen sized beds, and a large square footage. As we got closer to the city, and passed over the Red River, which should be aptly named the Brown River, the life of the city was coming into full view. A plethora of cars, bikes, mopeds and pedestrians all did their best to expedite their passage through the maze, like a chaotic symphony. From what looked like homes on its bare bones, and apartment buildings doting the sky with their window pane fabric designs, we inched our way into the Old Town, watching the skyline change from somewhat modern to grit covered French nouveau timepieces, grander structures that had seen better days, smaller streets that accommodated every walk of life , hanging telephone lines seconds from sparking , and rows and rows of merchants pushing their carts into position.
The air was still sweltering hot even at 10:30 in the morning, and the spices of life permeated that thick hot air like a grand madame who poured her entire bottle of Number 5 on. It was not so much an assault on the senses as it was more like memory making scents. I was in heaven . The energy or Hanoi was immediately different then that of the other cities I’ve visited, and definitely 100 times more beautiful in my opinion then when I was in Ho Chi Minh City: Saigon Dreams.
We pulled up to our Hotel , The La Siesta Diamond Hotel & Spa at the edge of the Old Town on Lo Su street and was met by 2 beautifully dressed Ao Dai wearing women, and 2 porters. They warmly welcomed us and ushered us quickly into the very cool bar and lobby of the hotel. We were offered fresh Passion Fruit drinks and cooled Dragon fruits to quench our thirst and cool down our bodies. The whole check in was superb and all done from the comforts of lounge chairs. In 5 minutes we were checked in and our bags were up in our room on the 7th floor. We asked for some suggestions from the lady checking us in, and were offered a ton of information, almost an over load. But we decide that our first stop would be for some Egg Coffee which Hanoi and the Old Town in Famous for.
Café Giång was a 3 minute walk from our hotel, located on Nguyen Hu’u Huan. Its an inconspicuous place that you have to find according to the street number. The signage was not present as it shares its space with another company. A stand alone sign points you to the right direction and up a few flights of stairs. There seated on low wooden stools surrounded by flat square tables , you sit and wait to order. Although they are famous for the Egg Coffees, there are a numerous amounts of other types of drinks to choose from. Ofcourse we came for only one thing.” Egg Coffee please” , I told the waiter, and in 4 minutes there, in front of me, was a cup of what looked like custard. The Egg coffee was superb. Rich, and thick, and sweet and bitter, the two polarized tastes came together so harmoniously . It was Everything!
Fuel up and content, we opened up our map, and planned the rest of our day at leisure exploring the Old town.
OLD HANOI: The Old town ( Old Hanoi) is a somewhat grid like curvy maze of merchants, temples, old village like homes, and a grand Lake. Where we are staying is considered the Hoan Kiem Lake District as our hotel and its surrounding area, is by the famous and in my opinion, one of the most gorgeous lakes in this city of lakes, Hoan Kiem Lake. Legend has it that after the defeat of the Chinese , the victorious Emperor Ly Thai threw his magical sword into the lake, to which a turtle grabbed the sword and disappeared into the depths of the Lake. Hoan Kiem means ” Lake of the Restored Sword”. The old quarter is also home to 1000’s of merchants, some practicing their family craft for generations. Some might imagine the Old Town ( Quarter) as a romantic lantern lit place with storefront merchants selling their crafts, but instead it is predominately taken over by mass produced American and Euro Designer fakes. But walking those streets you can still imagine and feel the imprint of a time gone by. Fantasize of Ao Dai wearing women, and sweat breaking men selling and creating tools and crafts that would sweep any wondered tourist into a stupor. In the 13th Century 36 Guilds/ families established themselves here each on different streets and they are here to this very day. It’s still an exciting place to visit and I thoroughly enjoyed my many days walking through there. There is a Jewelry and diamond district, there are ancient homes where you can visit and see what life was like hundreds of years ago , an open market selling all sorts of fresh produce and meat, some so fresh they still breathe ( that was soooo hard for me to handle and I quickly got out of that area of open market) . So as “old” as this quarter may be, and as “unromantic” it may seem, there are still so many things to see, taste and experience and you can easily get lost for days here finding hidden treasures next to loud mouth tourist beer halls. But please still be at your wits, as you diligently dodge the Formula 1 racing mopeds and cars where MotorVehicles first, Pedestrians last.
Memorial House: We found our way through the Hustle and Bustle of Old Town to 87 Ma May Street to Heritage House Ma May . It’s a step back into the time of the guilds and their families. Now a museum, you can see how they lived, and what they made in this gorgeous 2 story, 2 atrium building and home. Smell the ancient wood, the pressed scent of incense burnt here for generations in memoriam to their ancestors . Beautiful lacquer items are for sale, and are still made by this family in particular. Tiny entrance fee 5000 Dong (22 Cents)
After our visit to the Memorial house, we walked about in the diamond and Jewelry district just browsing away. It is amazing how many jewelry stores there are and most selling their jewels at whole sale prices. A few more minutes meandering through the merchant district, we came across this amazing Temple/ Community Center which for the life of me I can’t remember the name. Because Vietnam didn’t allow T-mobile world wide service for free like I normally use while traveling around the world, i was at the mercy of free spotty wifi. Yes I could’ve unlocked my phone and got a sim card, but because my phone was still new, T-Mobile didn’t allow me to do so. The positive? It was nice to be off the grid. The negative? I had to really use my map reading skills versus GPS. Oh well sometimes we need to use our brains. But because of this, my iphoto did not capture the name and or address of the photos I was taking. So Now I can’t remember nor know the name of this spectacular sanctuary. I have searched the internet now for over 30 minutes trying to find the proper name of this place for your readers. Alas, to no avail. 😦 If you happen to know the name please share it with me so that I may update . As you can see , this place is heavenly. Its filled with beautiful hand made artifacts to which I think some are for sale. But what makes it even more spectacular was that it was so peaceful. A second you step out its gates its mayhem on the streets, but in here, peace and beauty. I really wish I remembered the name.
By this time, the day has been whisking us by. It was already well past 2 pm, and it was time for a break for lunch before we head back to the hotel to escape the heat of the day. Lunch did not disappoint. Our first taste of Hanoi / Northern style cooking was a delight. The aromas of our curry and chicken noodle dish sent my stomach into a frenzy. I could not wait to woof it all down. This would be one of many amazing meals we would have throughout our time in Beautiful Hanoi.
I’ve learned a lot about traveling with my mother in South East Asia by this time, I learned that she can only handle so much heat and walking and that ice cold air and a comfortable bed or chair is always in order. So promptly after lunch we headed back to our hotel for a nice few hours of rest. About two hours into cooling down and watching some tv while my mother snored her life away, I got a burst of energy and excitement and decided to visit a little more of the Old Quarter while my mother rested. Map in hand I decided to head out towards the oldest temple in the city, Bach Ma Temple. Finding this temple was a bit of a chore.
Bach Mā Temple: Is said to be the oldest temple in Hanoi. Located in the heart of the Old Quarter, this 11th Century temple is actually now comprised of 18th Century structures. Originally built by Emperor Ly Thai Tho, its jewel is a large white horse which the emperor had constructed in honor there of. Beautiful Red Lacquered Funeral Palanquins and wooden doors leading into the Pagoda, offers all the peace and tranquility one needs to find solace in an ever so chaotic quarter.
The Old quarter’s life is so beautiful to me. The energy is dynamic, and the juxtaposed dilapidated French Nouveau buildings next to shiny fake Nike shoes stalls ensures that the past and the present are always in line with each other. As I headed back to my hotel, I watched in amazement at the life of the local people. Elderly aunties, carrying very heavy produces that easily look 60 -80 lbs , mopeds with pretty girls adjusting their makeup on the backs of their every so modern young men who are having a serious discussion on their phones , grit covered colossal buildings, and the plethora of tourists who’s short shorts look more like bikini bottoms, scream at each other about how “Cheap” this and that is , while a baby sleeps on a folded box on the street next to a merchant wheeled shop selling said “Cheap” things. Unbelievable ! Sometimes I feel like people / tourists, are so rude. Instead of immersing themselves they are so hell bent on finding what’s absolutely different . If you ask me , that sort of lifestyle and thinking is what I would call “CHEAP”.
Still tired, my mother wasn’t quite up to traveling outside for dinner. I agreed. Instead we opted for dinner on the rooftop of our hotel, over looking this gorgeous city. The Gourmet Corner Restaurant is absolutely lovely. Small yet quaint, and beautiful, it offers almost 360 degree views of the city. We would have our breakfasts here daily, but in the evenings, they allow you to sit on the west corner of the restaurant with commanding views of the city. The food here is DIVINE. It would be more then once that we opt to dine here and the prices are really fair, considering it is hotel prices. Still kind of full, I decided to order a French Onion soup and bread, and my mom ofcourse got the Ban Mi and Pho. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day of traveling and arrival. Day one down 5 more to go in this spectacular city.
Today was a beautiful and somewhat cooler morning than it has ever been. Our plan today was to Walk around Hoa Kiem Lake and attempt to do tai chi.
Breakfast was phenomenal here at the hotel. It would be the first of many beautiful breakfasts. We headed out west from our hotel, passing shops starting to open up for the day. It was still a cool morning, albeit a bit misty. In less than 5 minutes we reached the beautiful Hoa Kiem Lake. Already there were groups of people and solo artists doing their morning taichi, swaying like the branches of a tree in a gentle wind. It was gorgeous. We decided to enter the Ngoc Son Temple before the mass crowds hit. It is a very tranquil temple residing right on the lake. We made a full dharmic circle around the temple as if moved by some unseen force to follow this path. There were ducks, and pigeons, and people about their worship. From the main worship part of the temple was a beautiful sight to behold. As the patio spilled into the lake, and the exquisitely manicured bonsai type trees occupied the empty space , it was a place of true peace and Harmony.
After the temple we decided to walk around the lake . The lake busy with life, yet so peaceful and tranquil. I thought I heard a huge party going on down the way, but what I found instead were a group of ladies engaged in some deep hot Zumba session. It was amazing to see.
After having a full work out sitting on our bench and watching the aunties work out for us, we continued our walk around the lake passing by french colonial era buildings , malls, movie theaters and people dipped in gold, until we made and found our way to St Josephs Cathedral.
St Joseph Cathedral
Presented in Neo Gothic Style, the St Joseph’s Cathedral is a monument within itself, a European architectural beauty, and a reminder of the Roman Catholic influence on the city and country. The Interior is humbly decorated, but boasts beautiful buttresses, and stained glass windows.
The heat of the day has started to creep its way in, and we were in dire need of some shelter and air-conditioning. Off to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum …
Vietnamese Women’s Museum:
An amazing dedication to the colorful women of Vietnam can be experienced at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. Women representing all tribes of Vietnam are presented here. From The daughter, The Maiden, The Wife, The Mother, and The Elder, to the soldiers and movers and shakers. Every aspect of a woman’s life is beautifuly detailed here. Elaborate costumes, and what and how important marriage is in their prospective society. It was a beautiful museum to visit and a very relaxing place to cool down.
Next stop, The Hanoi Hilton….
Hoa Lo Prison :
Hoa Lo Prison, aka the Hanoi Hilton, was initially a french prison used to house political prisoners. It was also used as a prison during the Vietnam ( American ) War. From the exterior it looks like a stone prison with glass shards on its walls straight out of a movie. Once you enter, there is definitely a feel of pain and horror. From the dank and dark corners of their torture rooms, to the wide halls where prisoners were chained like cattle. It is a reminder of the cruelty humans inflict on each other, and was really a hard place to visit but necessary.
It is now a little past noon, and the hottest time of the day. We decided to rest back at the hotel and grab some lunch from a street vendor outside our hotel. This is definitely something I learned real quick about my mom, from the start of our journey in Ho Chi Minh City: Saigon Dreams. Rest and air-conditioning is paramount ….
As the sun dipped and the temperatures cooled down to a balmy 90 degrees F, we headed out for some lovely dinner, passing by merchant row, selling all sorts of shoes possible. .
Dinner was epic!!!I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but I know its in a sister hotel belonging to the Elegance Group Hotels. The food ….. OMG!
Another glorious morning in Hanoi. I fell completely in love with this city. The people are the nicest, the food is AMAZING, and the city is mysterious and charming. Another full day is ahead of us, and we are trying to start as early as possible Everyone is getting their day together, Just like our neighbor across the street, she’s getting a dolled up….
First stop Hanoi Old Citadel
The Imperial Citadel of Thong Lo dates back to the Ly Dynasty in the 11th Century and was the seat of Imperial Court life prior to the move to Hue: To the Imperial Citadel and Beyond
The Citadel takes up a very large chunk of space. Its grand Entrance has all the similarities of a Chinese dynastic fort. Beautiful grounds, elegant buildings, and peaceful and tranquil surroundings. What stands here today is all but miniscuel as the majority of the buildings were destroyed sometime during the 19th Century. The South Gate with its Flag staff, is very commanding and moving. It is a great place to visit in the early morning, as it is still somewhat cooler and quiet before the bus loads of tourists pour in and occupy its tranquil settings. Take a seat, relax, and wonder what life was like for the courtiers going about their daily business. It was a lovely start to our day but it was getting really really hot.
Our next stop was to the Taoist Temple Quan Thanh. Nestled across another gorgeous lake in Hanoi, the Quan Thanh Temple required a small admission. This simple yet beautiful temple shaded by banyon trees, was a perfect place to slow down . Dating to around the 11th century, the temple was dedicated to Xuan Wu, one of the principal deities in Taoism.
A lovely stroll across the way from Quan Thanh Temple lakeside we came across yet another temple.
Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in the city. Dating back to the 6th Century, it is more than 1450 years old. The beautiful and elaborate temple with its stunning white porcelain buddha tiered red brick pagoda is breath taking, with views of the lovely lake.
Today is deifinetly on a roll day, as we were ready to move on to yet another amazing place and one of my favorite places I visited. A quick taxi ride and we arrived at :
The Temple of Literature ( Van Mieu)
Vietnam’s first national university, The Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius, scholars, and sages. Located a bit south of the Imperial Citadel, the Temple was another creation during the Ly Dynasty. We arrived by taxi to droves of tour busses dropping their heard off. The lines were epic, but moving quite quickly.
The Temple is huge and spacious, beautiful and full of large stone slab dedications to the scholar. There is a lovely Moat with lotus flowers coasting on the top and one of the cleanest public restrooms I’ve experienced. hahaha. The day was really really getting hot, so it was time to head back to the hotel for some R & R
Instead of heading straight back to our hotel, we decided to go and have lunch at the Uber Posh and sophisticated Grand Damme, The Metropole Hotel
The Metropole Hotel is a Neo Classical designed 5 star hotel currently run by the Sofitel Group. It is extremely elegant, and is located on a tree lined street in the French Quarter, about 5 minute walk from the Opera House. The lobby is so elegant and beautiful, and If I had known how gorgeous this hotel was, I probably would’ve just dropped the coin and booked this place. But I have been happy with where we are staying. After a quick lunch, we decided to walk back as it was probably a 10 minute walk max through the French Quarter to our hotel in the Old Quarter. My mother wasn’t too happy about that. But oh well, I got her to exercise 🙂
DAfter about an hours rest I was restless and decided to go walking through the Old Quarter again and just browse and soak it all in. It was a different experience this time around. There were the usual merchants, but now I started to noticed the plethora of Western Tourists partying it up in the bars, or on a corner smoking some sort of large bamboo pipe and taking off after the toke. What is that ? I have no idea. I passed through some ancient looking buildings, or rather buildings on their last leg, there were the chirping of little birds stuck in their elaborate little cages, and vroom of a million mopeds going by, and the sound of Mustang Sally being blasted out of some Quiche bar . The winding roads eventually led me to a very large market. It seems as If I’ve entered the Don Xuan Market area. There were many open stalls surrounding the market, selling appetizing fruit, and not so appetizing or appealing types of protein. It made me so sad to see the little turtles all stuck in a net, and all sorts of meat ( some questionable ) hanging on racks. I couldn’t wait to get the F out of there.
Don Xuan Market, is a covered market selling everything from t-shirts, to porcelain souvenirs. It does seem though that locals predominately make up the patron population. Never-the-less , after seeing what I saw, I practically ran back to my hotel .
That evening we decided to have another spectacular dinner in our hotel on the roof top with views of the city. My mother has been pushing me to find a casino for her to go gamble at . So I asked our bartender downstairs where we should go to part with our money. I can’t remember the name of the hotel where the casino was at, but let me tell you, it was a weird experience again. There were at least 2-3 ladies to each customer making sure you’re playing, and well lubricated… Ofcourse luck was not on my side , but it was for my mother who was so thrilled and happy to be gambling and smoking all at the same time.
Today I woke with a little tummy ache. I don’t know what from. But I wasn’t feeling very well. I decided to rest the morning away . Bored out of my mind, I tried to gather my nerves to venture out into the city again today. We tried to visit Ho Chi Minh’s Tomb and the Palace, but there were literally thousands of people lined up to get in, and the heat and my not feeling good prompted a quick exit. Instead we took a taxi to a museum by my hotel, and I’m so glad I did.
The National Museum of Vietnam
The museum building which was an archaeological research institution of the French School of the Far East under French colonial rule (Louis Finot École française d’Extrême-Orient EFEO) of 1910, was extensively refurbished in 1920. It was redesigned between 1926 and 1932 by architect Ernest Hébrard. The museum was acquired by the Government of Vietnam in 1958 and then the artifact collections were expanded to cover eastern arts and national history.
The museum highlights Vietnam’s prehistory (about 300,000–400,000 years ago) up to the August 1945 Revolution. It has over 200,000 exhibits displayed covering items from prehistory up to the 1947 revolution and founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, arranged in five major sections. Care of Wikipedia
The architecture of the building is beautiful . The exhibits are amazing and the marble throughout the museum helped to keep the building nice and cool. Tired and hungry we left this peaceful establishment and headed back to our hotel . The rest of the day and evening was spent relaxing.
Day 5 & 6
Today we got picked up for our 4 hour journey to Halong Bay through a company called Indochina Junk. See my report here: Ha Long Bay: a Luxury Junk Cruise on the Bay of Dragons with Indochina junk
After a lovely evening of deep slumber, we awoke and packed our bags. Today we leave for Siem Reap, Cambodia. I decided to walk around Hoa Kiem lake again one more time , and take it all in. I was very sad to be leaving Hanoi as it was my favorite city. I walked around and took note of the same Zumba ladies getting their morning exercise, the joggers , the taichi masters flowing through their space, the grit and grime of the surrounding buildings, the traffic all a buzz, and the beauty of the day. I came across a temple that I hadn’t seen before. It was a lovely way to end my last moments in Hanoi giving thanks.
Hanoi is that place that place that just checks every single box. Walk the paths of the ancients, worship like an emperor , bargain hunt like a local, dine like a queen, and interact with the beautiful people of Hanoi. Vietnam has been an adventure indeed. And I’m so grateful I got to explore it with my mother.