Hanoi - where time stands still

City of mopeds / scooters

Hanoi is a town of scooters / mopeds. We’ve never seen so many scooters on the road. You could see entire families riding together, father at the wheel, mother in the back and the kids compressed in the middle. It was by far the number one transportation vehicle. Young or old, boys and girls, does not matter, as long as you are on your moped.

Crossing the street in Hanoi

With so many scooters buzzing around, crossing the street may feel like you’re the main character in the Frogger video game, but there is an actual scientific principal to it. Just start walking slowly towards the other end without hesitation and the scooters will find a way to avoid you. If you hesitate, go back or stop, you’ll be in trouble.

Hanoi in Monsoon season

As we decided to go in their monsoon season, it was very hot and humid, which took it’s toll on us. We were surprised to see that most youngsters were wearing long sleeve shirts, pants and face masks. The face masks were probably for protection from the air pollution and the dust, while the long sleeves were to protect them from the sun. A local explained that the Vietnamese want to keep their skin as white as possible (they have cosmetic treatments for whitening) as it is considered more attractive. This is completely opposite from all of us trying get a nice tan during the holidays. I never been successful at this (probably because of my white tan), so I’ve just stopped trying.

Hanoi is generally a very dusty and dirty place. I don’t know where it all comes from but Luka’s feet (our youngest) and knees were always dirty after walking. Several times we would see people burning waste at the street, which probably does not help the issue of polluted air and dirt on the street.

Old quarter

We started our discovery in the streets of Old Quarter, which is a mix of the old and the new, as antique narrow streets intertwine between old brick buildings, with new moderns hotel facades and street vendors. It is the center of many attractions in Hanoi, from temples to the water puppet show to its street market.

The Old Quarter is just jammed with vehicles, while the vendors which occupied the sidewalks with their merchandise make it a challenge to walk around.

Night Market

On certain days there is a night market where you can find almost everything from souvenirs to authentic sportswear. Be aware that the genuine goods sold for extra prices (especially Converse and North Face) are not indeed genuine. Hidden between the stores you’ll find very good local made clothing at fair prices, to bring home some of that Asian spirit.

Genuine fake Converse

Facemasks in all shapes, sizes and colors

Hoan Kien Lake

At the edge of the Old Quarter you can find the Hoan Kien Lake one of Hanoi’s big attractions. Every morning at around 6am local residents practice traditional t’ai chi on the shore, and is a very magical thing to witness. The lake also houses Jade Island, home of the eighteenth century Temple of the Jade Mountain. The island is reachable via the red-painted and picturesque Morning Sunlight Bridge. The red bridge is visible from the shore and at night is beautifully illuminated.

At night the area around the Hoan Kien Lake and the local square is buzzing with people. Locals here seat and talk, music is playing around, the kids are playing and a lot of hoverboards are available for rent.

The lake is especially beautiful at night

One Pillar Pagoda

One Pillar Pagoda is like a jewel, small in size, but very beautiful. They say if Buddhists were to build a treehouse, it would likely look a lot like this. This eleventh century temple was built by the emperor in gratitude for finally being blessed by a son. I got promise from my husband that he will build me a two pillar pagoda for the sons I delivered. And it really looked like a lotus flower blooming from a single pillar in the pond.

Ho Chi Minh mausoleum

Near the One Pillar Pagoda is the Ho Chi Minh museum and a bit further down is the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, the final resting place of Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh. It is on Ba Dinh square, the location where he read the nation’s declaration of independence in 1945. It is apparently built after Lenin’s crypt in Moscow and meant to evoke a traditional communal house. We didn’t enter to see the embalmed body for which we learned that once a year goes to Russia for maintenance.

City park

During this trip Matej was still in to his geocaching thing. He found that one is hidden in the city park, so we went there to find it. This was a bit tricky when you have some foreigners circling around, poking in to holes and looking for something. But we managed to find the geocatch and had a lovely walk through the park. It is well maintained with lots of visitors. They run in the park, play badminton, fitness… One group of older citizens had an aerobic session while another group were doing traditional dance classes. This is also the place where I saw the biggest rat in my life. By size it was more like a cat, than a rat. Be aware that there is only one entrance, all the other google map was showing were not existent, so we were circling a lot to find the real one.

Best place to take Instagram photos of your girlfriend

Young or old, everyone joins in

Eating out / in

It was hard to find western food in Hanoi. We found some Italian restaurants but often the pizzas we ordered did not match their European counterparts. But we did manage to find some decent Indian restaurants. 

The supermarket was impossible to shop. The food is local and everything is in Vietnamese. Not much of a choice even at the biggest supermarket we found. There are lot of small stores everywhere selling the very basic goods. On the sidewalks, especially after dark they bring out small plastic chairs and tables where locals have their meals. Interesting variety of street food, everything from Pho to hotdogs. We didn’t try much of the food, but we loved the coffee. Freshly ground, prepared in their special way, it was so tasty we learned how to prepare it and bought supplies for home.

Chicken feet anyone?

It's worth coming for the coffee alone

Ha Long Bay

This is basically the reason why you are coming to Vietnam, everything else is just an added bonus. Considered a very rate natural wonder, and a UNESCO protected site, it’s a place with 1000+ small islands, each one more gorgeous than the previous one. 

For more about Ha Long Bay, check out our special blog entry here

 

For more info on Ha Long Bay

Things that went wrong

Be aware that street vendors Vietnamese selling food around the Old Quarter will give food directly to the kids and then demand money for it. As the kids were not aware of what’s going on, it’s difficult to get rid of them. After day one we had to teach the kids not to accept anything from anyone, and this solved the problem.

Hanoi was the place where for the first time we faced a flying cockroach. Before our trip Ognen and I had an argument regarding “do the cockroaches fly”. I was certain that European ones don’t. One day in our Hanoi apartment, Luka spots a big bug on the kitchen wall. He was known for exaggerating bug sizes, and we just dismissed it as a fly and told him to get a towel and swat it. But he was persistent that it’s a big bug so we went to investigate and found it was certainly a cockroach, and a large specimen of its species as well. I stood at quite a distance waiting for my husband Ognen to deal with it. And as he approached it to catch it, the thing started flying. I went out screaming leaving Ognen to deal with it. I don’t want to know how he handled it, but the deed was done when I returned. That night I understood what light sleeping is. Moral of this story is, there’s a reason why outside windows are closed, especially ones in the bathrooms. Keep them that way unless you want any flying visitors.