Hanoi Discoveries

At the end of April, Jun and I went to Hanoi, Vietnam. We had heard a lot of great things about the city, from the architecture to the food. What we experienced did not do justice to what we read and heard about the city. Hanoi is an old city with a lot of character to it. There are the beautiful colonial and Vietnamese architecture, there is the fusion of Eastern and Western food, and then there are the people. Vietnamese people are some of the nicest and kindest people I have met in a long time. As a result, our stay was quite memorable and special.

Day 1

Our hotel, the Legacy Old Quarter Hotel, was located in the Old Quarter of the city. This part of the city is its heart. There are a lot of winding streets and alleys that you can get lost in and find some pretty neat things. The first thing we noticed when we got to the hotel was how nice and helpful everyone was. The manager of our hotel greeted us and gave us some advice on things to see and things to avoid. He was genuinely concerned about our stay and wanted us to enjoy it. That was great.

After we had settled in, we ventured out to explore the Old Quarter. We walked around the city and discovered that we could get our hair cut on the street. Both of us hadn’t cut our hair in quite some time and we decided to give it a try. It turned out well for both of us.

On our walk that day we went to Hoàn Kiếm Lake. There’s a legend on the lake that a famous warrior king returned his sword to the lake. Hoàn Kiếm means “returned sword.” Legend describes the gods giving King Le Loi a magical sword to drive out the invading Chinese. Afterwards while he was on the lake he met a giant turtle. The turtle snatched the sword and took it down to the depths of the lake, thus returning the sword to the gods. There is a building on the lake called Tháp Rùa Tower, or Turtle Tower, where legend says the event occurred.

Day 2

The next day we went exploring some of the more cultural parts of the city. We first went to the Temple of Literature, a famous structure dedicated to Confucius. The temple also houses the Imperial Academy, which was Vietnam’s first national university. The temple was built in 1070. The complex was beautiful and quite peaceful. One thing that struck me was how Chinese some of the architecture look, typical of East Asian, traditional architecture, but that the Vietnamese style of this architecture added some complexity to the structures we saw. It was an interesting and beautiful interpretation.

After the Temple of Literature, we walked to the area dedicated to Ho Chi Minh. We first went to the One Pillar Pavilion and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. The most interesting thing we found at the museum was outside it. There was a vendor selling sandals made out of tired. Apparently during the war, soldiers would wear sandals made from these tires to traverse the terrain of Vietnam. They were really neat.

After the Museum we walked around the Ba Đình Square where the mausoleum to Ho Chi Minh is located. After experiencing the square we decided to walk to the West Lake. As we were walking we passed by the Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Museum. It was a gorgeous building and a nice example of the French colonial style of architecture.

When we got to West Lake, we decided to get some lunch. One of the neatest things about Vietnam is the street food. Practically every corner of the Old Quarter you can find people eating on the street. We found a place that looked good and decided to eat lunch there. The food was quite good and we enjoyed our meal.


Afterward we went to Trấn Quốc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. The pagoda is on a small island. It had a beautiful pagoda with a number of Buddha statues that went around it. The gardens at this temple were beautifully kept and it was a nice sight. When we finished our time here we continued our walk around the lake and found a smaller temple, Đình Làng Yên Phụ, that faced the bigger temple. This one was more for locals and when we went we could see that the gardens here were used by the local residence for their personal use. It was a nice juxtaposition to see how temples were used in the city. Hanoi has a lot of temples that are in different neighborhoods in the city.

Day 3

On the third day of our trip we decided to take a tour of the countryside. We first went to the ancient capital Hoa Lư. In the late 10th and 11th centuries, Hoa Lư was the capital, as well as the economic, political and cultural center, of Đại Cồ Việt. The local warlord Đinh Bộ Lĩnh founded this independent kingdom in 968 AD after many years of civil war and rebellion against the southern Chinese.

The area was nice and we got to see the temples dedicated to the first two emperors of the Vietnamese Kingdom. The surround landscape was beautiful.

After having explored the capital, we went to the village of Van Lam where we first had lunch and then went on a boat cruise along the Ngô Đồng River to see the Tam Cốc, or three caves, section of the river. The boat cruise was amazing. Our boat was steered by a woman who used her feet to paddle the boat down the river. The landscape surrounding the river was beautiful. There were mountains that surrounded both sides of the river and rice paddies along the banks of the river. While going down the river, we went through three caves. It was really cool to see the mountains from a distance and then to pass under them. Jun and I really enjoyed the boat ride and thought it really fun.

When we returned to land, Jun went bike riding with the rest of our tour and I walked around some of the rice fields. It was nice to have some time to myself and enjoy the landscape. This part of Vietnam was really beautiful.

Day 4

On this day we decided to go to the Citadel of the city. This is where the old Imperial Palace stood. The palace itself was destroyed by the French, but remnants of it still exist. The north and south gates of the Citadel are still present and these were the first two things we saw. As we walked into the Citadel we noticed that there were a lot of more modern buildings inside it. These buildings were used by the military during the war. In one of the buildings we found a bunker {name of bunker} that was designed to be used during bomb raids on Hanoi. It was both interesting and creepy to visit them.

Afterwards we went and had lunch in the Old Quarter. When we left the restaurant we saw a woman carrying her baskets up the street. One of the sights that you can see in Hanoi are women carrying two baskets connected by a long stick. These baskets can have a number of things of them: fruits, vegetables, breads, and lot of other things. It’s one of the more unique things of Hanoi that make it an interesting place.

Our next destination was Hỏa Lò Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton. During the colonial period the prison was used by the French to inter revolutionaries and enemies of the colonial government. After independence, the Vietnamese used the prison to house prisoners of wars. It was humbling to learn about its history and to see the different cell blocks.

To cap this day we went to see a movie at one of the shopping complexes in Hanoi. We were able to see Captain America: Civil War in 4D. This type of experience was new to me. In addition to 3D visual effects, we were able to experience movement and smells as well. I’m not quite sure if it added anything dramatic to the movie, but we were still able to enjoy the movie.

Day 5

Our last full day in Hanoi, and we wanted to have a relaxing one. We decided to go to Long Biên Bridge in the morning. The bridge is famous being scary. It was built by the French and was designed for a time different from now. Before we got to the bridge we had to go through the Old Quarter. We first past the remnants of the old City Gate and then the more modern Hanoi Mosaic Mural. The mural was quite cool. It’s long and broken into different sections with a different theme and style. The art lover in me really enjoyed seeing it.

Once passing these two places we found the bridge. At first we weren’t sure how to get onto the bridge until we found the train station. Once we did we were able to walk from the station along the side of the bridge. There are concrete slabs that are placed on side bars that serve as a walking platform. Some of them were loose and some were crumbling. It was a little terrifying to walk along the bridge, but we decided to see how far we would be able to go. In the end we were able to see a different side of the city. The bridge crosses the Red River. The area around the river is still used as farmland. And it was quite dramatic to move from city to countryside quickly. On the other side of the bridge the city starts again. So this area was a distinct part of the city, but yet still separate from it. After exploring this area, we headed back and I was quite relieved.

After that we went to explore some of the smaller temples in Hanoi. These were beautiful because of their simplicity and use. The first temple we went we were able to listen to a woman singing a chant. It was quite peaceful. The other temple was slightly bigger, but it was equally beautiful and calming.

One of the things I wanted to do in Hanoi was to go to see a water puppet show. It’s such an amazing piece of folk culture. Puppets are used to tell stories about legends and ordinary people, but the puppets are on and in water. I’m not quite sure how they do it, but the show was fun and amazing. Jun and I really enjoyed it; we were glad we went to the puppet show.

The last thing we did in Hanoi before we left was to go to the night market. The market goes across a large area of the Old Quarter and you can buy and eat a lot of things here. It was a nice was to end our trip.

The next day saw us leave Hanoi and go back to Guangzhou. We both had a great time in Hanoi and hope that we will get to go back to this wonderful city one day.