December 20th, 2010 – by: Jollyjetsetter
Ornate-looking features of Hanoi such as this one abound.
After a few years of 'putting it off in favour of other destinations', I had finally made it to Vietnam. In a 2-week time frame, this was to be a pretty heavily flight-laden tourist schedule, and the first port of call was to be the northern capital city of Hanoi. Pre-departure reading boded pretty well for this stretch of the trip, and the choice of hotel (Thai Son 1) was a strategic one due to its great location (very near Hoan Kiem lake, the city's centrepiece) and the fact that it served up delicious Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) at the breakfast table. Just about the first constatation about Hanoi is that it is choked with vehicles of the two-wheeled variety, but this is to be accepted as the norm in Vietnamese cities, therefore just had to be confronted on the first full day there by hiring a cyclo for a couple of hours to see the sights.
The famous red bridge on Hanoi's Hoan Kiem lake.
This turned out to be a truly great choice, since it enabled me to see wondrous sights such as the Temple of Literature, and other points of interest such as the Army Museum (a minor version of Ho Chi Minh
City's), and somehow 'blend in' with the insane nature of the traffic. A small Hanoi landmark is the famous red bridge on Hoan Kiem lake, which is located immediately across from the entrance to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, itself a commendable piece of Vietnamese performance art which all tourists must try and see. The area immediately north-east of the lake is a throbbing enclave of shops and restaurants which provides scope for an enjoyable evening stroll where the true Hanoi experience somehow seems to come alive.
Remnants of the crashed B52 bomber plane.
Dong Xuan market is the city's prime all-under-one-roof traditional trading area, but the far more modern shopping mall 'Vincom Towers' will provide more of an upmarket and upscale shopping experience. A far bigger body of water in Hanoi is west lake, along the shore of which you'll find Tran Quoc multi-tiered Pagoda, the oldest of its kind in Hanoi and a sight well worth adding to your itinerary. A complex containing the Ho Chi Minh museum, the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and Ho Chi Minh's house on stilts seems like a shrine to Uncle Ho (indeed it is), and this is an integral part of what befits Hanoi as the nation's capital city, albeit the country's second-largest urban area. One great tucked-away-down-the-backstreets piece of curiosity in Hanoi is the small body of water into which a B52 bomber plane crashed in the mid 1970's.
West Lake's Tran Quoc pagoda, a Hanoi landmark.
A museum was built nearby to accompany this, and the bomber plane is still there, jutting out of the water as a reminder of how war can leave its permanent mark on any one war-torn society. The only real downer for myself regarding my stay in Hanoi was the failed opportunity to get to Halong Bay
on a day trip, as sickness prevailed for long enough to not enable the trip to go ahead as planned. However, upon leaving Hanoi at Noibai airport, it appeared that the Hanoi experience had delivered all it had promised to deliver, and the charms of tropical Phu Quoc island awaiting later in the day were as eagerly-anticipated a Christmas gift as could have ever been longed for!