Hanoi charms with its authenticity and chaotic energy. What not to miss in this buzzing capital of Vietnam!
The taxi dropped me off on a busy street and pointed me towards an narrow alley. Feeling a little insecure, I took a deep breath, lift my backpack on and hoped I would find my hostel without a hassle. But for my surprise the driver also jumped off the car and walked with me so I wouldn’t get lost. The alley was too small for cars, but apparently he wanted to take his customers all the way to destination. My last thought on evening before closing my eyes was that Vietnam seemed cool, and hospitable.
Hanoi is busy, vibrant and cool. The traffic seems crazy and every street is bustling with people. The best way to get to the rhythm of the city is to loosen up and go with the flow.
In Hanoi it was easy to walk everywhere. On my way to West lake I visited the cute and little One Pillar Pagoda for some “Long lasting happiness and good luck”, saw the old Hanoi Flag Tower which was lucky enough to survive the French administration and checked that Uncle Ho was still asleep in his mausoleum.
My top 5 of Hanoi
1. The old quarter
Get lost in the busy streets of the old quarter. Sit down on those tiny plastic chairs on the side of the street to enjoy a meal from the many restaurant options. You might not always get what you would like, but I bet that you will still like it!
Some of the bars stayed open later than they had permission to. They had scouts in street corners to warn about the police. In case the police were coming, they closed the window blinds, switched off the lights and turned the music off. So there we all sat in the darkness silently waiting for the police to drive away. Once they were gone the party was back on! Crazy Vietnamese.
2. Hoan Kiem Lake & Ngoc Son Temple
The old center is quite small and Hoan Kim lake in the middle felt like the center of all Hanoi. Jade island and Ngog Son Temple on the north side of the lake are beautiful and very calming place to escape the busy streets. Hoan Kiem Lake meaning “the lake of the restored sword”. In the middle of the lake is an island where you can find a beautiful Buddhist pagoda, Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of Jade Mountain).
According to the legend it is a resting place of a sword from heavens, which was used by the king Le Loi to drive Chinese invaders out of the country. After the war when Le Loi was visiting the lake, a giant tortoise rise to the surface and asked the king to return the sword to the Dragon King. Le Loi did not hesitate and returned the sword.
Hanoi has few pagodas (buddhist temples) that are must-see. They are normally very beautifully decorated and peaceful places to visit, unless you happen to be there while all the other tourists. Go either early or late.
4. Hanoi Hilton
Hoa Lo Prison or Hanoi Hilton as it was renamed by US soldiers during Vietnam war, serves nowadays as a museum. The prison was built by the French on the colonial era. The museum exhibits the brutal history of the place where most of the Vietnamese revolutionists ended up imprisoned and spending their last days before being executed.
5. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The last resting place of Uncle Ho, the communist leader of Vietnam.
I felt completely safe when moving around on daytime. The streets get really quiet but there is some creepers lurking around. I got harassed by a guy on a scooter on my way back to the hostel. I was stupid enough to think that three small blocks would be safe to walk alone and separated from others there. Luckily I kept my calm and nothing bad happened before I reached the hostel. But take care fellow ladies!
Moto-taxis are a handy way to move around and also ridiculously cheap, but not for the fainthearted. Accidents do happen often, and the thing they call a helmet around here wouldn’t save anyone. But I just hold on tighter and enjoyed the ride, what else could I do?
• Hanoi, Vietnam