We just left Hanoi, Vietnams capital, with a night train bound for a previous Vietnamese capital, Hue. That means we have about 12 hours to sum up and contemplate our 2,5 days in this beautiful city.
We hadn’t really heard that much about Hanoi before we decided to include it in our itinerary. Most people have said that it’s a small city without major attractions – and none have proclaimed that it is a “must-see” when visiting Southeast Asia. But we have to say that we were quite infatuated with this European/Asian-fusion city.
The traffic itself is an attraction. Just crossing a normal street by foot is an art (I wouldn’t even think about driving here myself!). And the sidewalks are filled with scooters, street vendors and small plastic chairs (some might call them cafés or restaurants), so you have no choice but to walk in those overcrowded streets. After a few hours you get the hang of it, and then you’re ready to walk all over town.
The center of town isn’t very big compared to other major capitals, and walking is a great way to explore. We walked through the Old Quarter, where our hotel (Hanoi Pearl) was situated, and towards the French Quarter. As the name implies, the French Quarter is recognised by the 19th century buildings in French colonial style, and you might as well think you’re walking the streets of Paris – except for the trafical mayhem which has nothing Parisian to it whatsoever.
Day one we went to the historical museum, mostly because the weather was quite bad. It was cold, windy – and a drizzle of rain made it even more gloomy. Spending an afternoon indoors was just what we wanted. The museum is fairly interesting, and separated in two: one exhibition for the years prior to the American war, and one for the revolutionary years up til present time. It’s smart to come prepared, cause there aren’t very good explanations for the larger historical lines – mostly items or pictures on display with maybe a sentence underneath explaining WHAT it is, and not WHY it’s important.
Our second day started off with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. That was actually very impressive. At first you walk in line all the way from the entrance area, through the grounds, which are maybe 4 blocks big, and then you queue to enter the Mausoleum. Dress appropriately, take off your sunglasses and take your hands out of your pockets. Oh, and there is a strict “no camera”- rule. They make you leave your camera at special booths for safe keeping.
When entering the Mausoleum you walk in line in absolute silence until you reach the room where Ho Chi Minh rests in a glass sarcophagus. He is surrounded by guards dressed in white, and they make sure you keep on walking. There is no time to stop and dwell over the very majestic impression this room leaves – and coming from a nation where no politician or likewise is as idolised as this man, this is a really fascinating sight. Afterwards, we visited the gardens surrounding the presidential palace and saw the houses Ho Chi Minh worked and lived in during his years as the country’s leader, and took a peek at Ho Chi Minh’s used cars – which is not a used cars dealership (though it sounds like it).
On our way back to our hotel in the Old Quarter, we visited the Temple of Literature, which was an hour well spent. After the visit, we had some fantastic street food at a small stall just outside.
Well fed and inspired by this great experience, we decided to do “dinner on the street” this evening, and strolled through the Old Quarter on the hunt for more streetfood. This area of Hanoi is worth a visit, as it’s quite charming with its narrow allyways and old-style buildings. However, most of the shops and stalls in the area is catered towards tourists, and the sellers are quite pushy. Since scooters are allowed everywhere, the traffic felt even more dangerous in these narrow allys. The highlight of the trip was the food market on the edge of the quarter. This was clearly amed at local people and as such had a very different feel.