Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hanoi - Places Visited

Date of stay: 1st - 3rd January 2015

How times has fly. It's April by the time I'm writing the city that I last visited, 3 and a half months ago. I have a bit of time to write these day in between work and study as I probably will not have much time later. Back to Hanoi city, we arrived at early hour with less Vietnamese Dong (local currency) to spend. We have difficulties to search for the hotel, unsure of which direction to go. I sat down at the street hawker stall to get some coffee while Anne approaching locals for direction. By the time Anne surrendered, I have spent my money for coffee. With little money in hand, we negotiated with 2 motorbike to take us to the hotel with the same coffee price that I paid to the coffee lady. They took us there within minutes as it was so so near. The hotel has charged us extra half day with the most heavenly breakfast in the world since it was close to 6pm when we arrived. We were undoubtedly grateful for our luck, I mean with the food that I will share on separate entry.

Anne with matching surrounding at Ho Chin Minh Mausoleum

We spent 2 nights in Hanoi. On the first day, we did city touring by going places using a city cab. Before we started off with the tour, we entrusted the hotel to book our second day trip to Halong Bay with the local tour agent. For the record, Halong Bay is a must visit destination when you are in Vietnam. After the taxi arrived, we get him to drop us at Tran Quoc Pagoda after a quick stop (only for photo) at Long Bien Bridge that was designed by Gustave Eiffel. Thereafter, we used a different taxi to go to other attractions, i.e. Ho Chin Minh Mausoleum and Ho Chi Minh Museum. The next destination was to visit Hoa Lo Prison Museum and a final stop at Hanoi Old Quarter for shopping.

Long Bien Bridge
I concur that Hanoi is indeed one of the most beautiful of the colonial Indochinese cities, thanks to the French who had contributed to it's beauty. It is often the start or end point of a trip to Vietnam, which gives a great welcome or farewell to any tourist. Hanoi has it's own charm and it has gone through wholesale changes since Vietnam swung open its doors to tourism after the US war, but it remains true to its essential personality and is an amazing city to experience.

Though considerably quieter than a big sister city Saigon, Hanoi still retains it's vibrant atmosphere. From the early hours until late at night, the fig-tree shaded streets swarm with speeding motorbikes, often with four, five or even six people aboard, a common view in this part of the world. A cyclo is available on most street corners, but unless you are making a particularly long trip, the best way to explore Hanoi is by foot.

A pavement leading to Ho Chin Minh Museum

Ho Chin Minh in a photo frame in the museum, which portrays everything about him, the father of Vietnam's Independence

The information that I obtain from the website said that in Hanoi, no 2 streets meet at 90 degrees and there so many one-way thoroughfares which sometimes feels like you can't get there from where you are at, and likewise. You keep on counting on getting lost as most of the streets are crowded. But a day of dodging traffic and elbowing your way through overcrowded footpaths, especially at the Old Quarter is exactly how most people spend their time in Hanoi, and it's more fun than any purpose-built tourist attraction. Keep a map close at hand though, so when you find something that tickles your fancy, you can mark it down, else you risk never finding it again. In our case, we just show the taxi driver the hotel card, their address and the reception contact info. We did not get lost that way.

A scene inside the Hoa Loa Prison

Hanoi has a number of lovely parks and museums where you may enjoying a warm summer's afternoon. One of the attractive park is Lenin Park, seated in south of Hoan Kiem district and just north of Bay Kau Lake. We passed by the park but did not stop though it is said to be among the most popular park, especially on holidays, when it is packed with picnickers. In winter months, you can find yourself a cozy cafe to snuggle up in, or find a street side restaurant. While the locals are certainly happy to be free of the French occupation, they continue to embrace French culinary culture. The presence of the French culture is omnipresence.

Big, fat, fresh Paris baguettes are sold everywhere in the city which best eaten for a pate sandwich or smeared with the ubiquitous Laughing Cow cheese. Not to mentioned their coffee, ranked as world class, served strong and rich. Wine is widely available for those who wishes to drink, though inadequate storage and rotation lead to some bad bottles. A special places what locals suggested is the Warehouse on Hang Trong are good for a wide, reliable selection of domestic and foreign vintages. Besides, Hanoi has a plentiful and delicious collection of patisseries spread all over the city boasting decadent but very affordable treats.

Finally, the people of Hanoi are some of the warmest and most approachable in the country. Though English is not as commonly spoken as in the South, many of the older generation have a working vocabulary of French. Regardless of language, people will attempt to have a conversation with you irrespective of whether you can understand them. Many of the city's cyclo drivers speak some English and often have intriguing pasts that they are now willing to discuss with foreigners. 

In Hanoi, you may find yourself sitting in a cafe sipping excellent coffee, nibbling a pastry, smiling and nodding at everyone, while looking out on a vista of French-style buildings in the shadows of a fig trees. You may begin to doubt that you got off the plane in the right city. But then, sitting at a street side restaurant, sipping coffee made you see the city's transformation as to their colonist, the French who came, conquer, brought their culture and educate the locals to create the city as a very special destination for those who came and visit them.

Next, I will share details of those places that we visited. Thanks for reading.
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