Well, it’s day 8 of the A-Z Challenge and the letter of the day is H. I had a few options for H … Heidelberg, Hong Kong, Hue or Hoi An (one of my favourite places anywhere in the world) were all in the running. But I’ve opted for Hanoi, Vietnam’s beautiful and vibrant capital. Despite being around for over 1000 years, Hanoi wasn’t always the capital. At different periods in Vietnam’s history, both Hue and Saigon were considered capitals. It has to be said though, all this capital swapping was not the work of the Vietnamese. Vietnam has had a tough time when it comes to the influence of foreign countries – it was a French colony, and it was also occupied by both the Chinese and Imperial Japanese at different points. And that’s before we even get around to mentioning the Vietnam War (or American War as it’s called in Vietnam). But today’s post is not a history lesson, it’s a simple travel post. If you would like to read a little on Vietnam’s history I recommend Stanley Karnow’s book Vietnam: A History.
Hanoi is situated in the north of Vietnam, near the Red River. It’s a relatively moderate place in terms of climate. I mean, it is tropical, but temperatures are generally in the mid-20’s (Celsius). The humidity though is high, so be prepared! When it comes to travelling Vietnam you will notice that the temperature gets hotter the further south you go. If you want to head a few hours north though, I would strongly recommend spending an evening on a traditional junk boat in Halong Bay, surrounded by the thousand-odd limestone islands which rise from the bay. But I digress …back to Hanoi. Hanoi is a bustling city but it has a charm and character that are unlike other capitals. I’ll be honest, I don’t like cities. They all start to look the same to me after a while. But Hanoi has this contrasting mix of traditional old structures, French colonial architecture and some modern buildings. It’s quite unique really. In the centre of the city is Hoan Kiem Lake, where you can join the locals in the morning for some exercises and Tai Chi. Just be mindful crossing the hectic roads to get around the city – it’s a skill. A fine art to be mastered. On occasion it would seem like red lights and pedestrian crossings are a suggestion, not a rule. Hanoi is a good place to learn this because you will need it by the time you reach Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south! The general rule is to walk at a steady, constant pace – do not run, hesitate or stop. The cars and bikes will go around you. The buses might not though … but that could just have been my bad luck 🙂
One of my favourite parts of Hanoi is the Old Quarter. Relatively narrow streets, lined with the terraced style Vietnamese homes which typically have a business or shop on the ground floor and the owner’s residence on the levels above. Streets in the Old Quarter are basically named for what they sell -silk street, cotton street etc. And you will find plenty of places to eat. I particularly love the street-side cafes – just order your simple but tasty meal and pull up a crate on the sidewalk to sit on. When in Vietnam, you will want to try Phở – it’s a rice noodle soup typically eaten for breakfast or lunch. Beef (Phở Bò) or Chicken (Phở Gà) would be a good option and just throw in your choice of greens or perhaps a little chili and lime? If you want a suggestion for dinner though, my personal favourite is Bò Lúc Lắc. And after dinner, why not consider watching the water puppetry at Thang Long Theatre. The water puppets are a must see in Hanoi, it’s quite unique. I’ll confess though, I had probably had my fill after 20 minutes but that’s just me 🙂
In terms of sightseeing in Hanoi – there are so many options! Where do I start?! If you’re interested in history relating to the Vietnam War, I would suggestion a visit to Hoa Lo Prison, where the prisoners of war were kept. If you’re looking for something that’s historically a little older, you should definitely visit the Temple of Literature – Vietnam’s first university, it was founded in 1076 and has beautiful gardens leading the way in to the traditional temple at its centre. When you’re finished at the Temple of Literature you may like to wander across the road to KOTO restaurant – it stands for Know One Teach One and gives disadvantaged kids an avenue into training for the hospitality industry. A visit to Hanoi isn’t complete without seeing Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and his stilt house (located near the Presidential Palace). A word of advice for anyone visiting the Mausoleum – it contains the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh himself and is under military honour guard, as such you should remain silent when inside the mausoleum and please dress respectfully (no shorts/short skirts and cover your shoulders).While you are here you could also wander a short distance to visit One Pillar Pagoda, an 11th century Buddhist temple which is quite stunning. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Vietnam a couple of times, travelling the length and breadth of this welcoming and beautiful country and I would return again in a heartbeat. If you haven’t been, you might want to add it to the list …
This post is part of my contribution to the A-Z Challenge for April 2016
Click here for a list and links to my other challenge posts!