Vietnam & Cambodia Trip – Stop One – Hanoi, Vietnam
Chris and I left Seattle on January 31st, flying 12 hours before changing planes in South Korea. From there we flew another five hours and arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam late in the day of February 1st. While Chris had talked about getting up early to try to watch the Super Bowl we were a bit too tired. The next morning it was decided to start our adventure instead by walking around the city. After exploring a few blocks around the hotel and learning how to cross the very busy streets on our own we met up with a local guide.
We started our tour of the capital city at the Quán Thánh Temple and then watched the changing of the guard at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. From the mausoleum we were able to walk a few blocks to the Presidential Palace complex. While the Palace was not open to the public, we were able to walk around the complex where several of the cars that belonged to Ho Chi Minh are on display in former servants quarters. The complex also includes a large carp pond and the stilt house where “Uncle Ho” had lived until his death in 1969. Unfortunately the One Pillar Pagoda, an icon of the city, was going through some refurbishments so we only had a brief glimpse of it while walking by.
We then walked around the Temple of Literature, one of the oldest landmarks in Hanoi. Built as a school for teachings of Confucius, today many ceremonies are still held within the complex. After the temple, we stopped for lunch and had some fantastic Vietnamese coffee along with locals and our guide.
Afterwards we went to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, one of the only museums open on Mondays. It was interesting to see all the different native costumes and see displays explaining the lives of women during the war.
The last stop of on the tour of Hanoi was the Old Quarter. It is the oldest commercial district in the city and we had to carefully weave our way through the very crowded streets. It was our first view of the Vietnam’s street markets and every few feet we saw something new. Every inch of space is put to use, store fronts spill onto the sidewalk and any area not used to display the wares is up for rent as scooter parking. It was especially busy to due to the approaching Tet Holiday with many stalls selling bright red and gold decorations or blossoming branches.
Chris’ Comments: Hanoi is everything you picture, when you think of Vietnam. It’s bustling, the buildings are aged colonial style, and it’s clear the lives of people around you are living a very different life than the one you are. “Restaurants” are sidewalk cafes on child-size plastic furniture and the sidewalks are packed with fresh veg and meat. English is spoken by many, although it’s generally limited to things tourists talk about. As a city in the north, the Communist overtones are quite apparent and it’s definitely the most Third-World-esque city we visited. If you visit Vietnam, I recommend starting here, dedicating 2-3 days to soak it in, and move on. A guide for (at least) a day is also highly recommended. [As a side, Korean Airlines was quite refreshing after the annoyances that are domestic American carriers. I actually have no specific complaints about US airlines, but flying internationally on KA made me realize just how pleasant flying used to be. Good food, very polite employees, and decent coach accommodations. An empty middle seat didn’t hurt.]
The city streets outside our hotel the first morning in Vietnam.
The Quán Thánh Temple
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Presidential Palace and complex
The Temple of Literature
The Old Quarter and remainder of our visit in Hanoi
Nha Hang Koto – A chain “teaching” restaurant which appears to focus on serving tourists. The food was good, but nothing special.
Cafe Trang – Small coffee shop near the Temple of Literature frequented by the locals including many of the tour guides. Excellent Vietnamese Coffee.
Hanoi Fusion – Another tourist focused restaurant but it felt a bit more authentic. I sampled Chả cá, a cross between a fish taco and a fajita. It was very tasty.
Note to our readers: If you are interested many of the photographs are captioned, just select the individual images to open them. Also, we were surprised how large the country was for what appears to be a small country. I have put together a Travel Map with the places we visited to give an idea of how we managed to cover a good portion of the country during our trip.