Hanoi : the suffocating capital of Vietnam

We arrived in Hanoi in the capital of Vietnam. It is the second most populous city of the country after Ho Chi Minh City. It is called the city in the middle of the lakes. We can say that since the beginning of our tour of the world it is in this city that we’ve felt the most away from home! Hanoi is always in perpetual movement, just arrived we had to try to find our way among the bikes, scooters, pedestrians, cars and buses, all under 31 degrees of wet heat… We stayed in Hanoi for a day to visit the city itself, and three nights as it is from this city that we have went on excursions such as Halong Bay or Tam Coc.

Where to sleep in Hanoi

We chose the “Happy Moon” guesthouse located in the historic center of the city. We chose it because it is close to the main monuments to visit, it’s good value for money (13 euros per night with private bathroom, air conditioning and breakfast included). We liked so much their banana pancakes, they were delicious ! We were surprised by the friendliness of the staff, they are really attentive and took care of us and gave us some advice of the tours outside the city (they also offer excursions). If you prefer to stay somewhere quiet you’d better not take a hotel in the old town (Hanoi is noisy per se!). They also stored our luggage for free for one night while we were visiting Halong Bay! The room was very clean and the bed was very comfortable. The staff were very friendly and helpful.

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What to visit in Hanoi

Old Hanoi or the 36 streets

Walking through the old city, the 36 streets: such was our first contact with Vietnam and frankly we thought we were in another world. The streets are crowded with scooters, cars, bicycles, pedestrians, sellers …. There is no sidewalk so you have to sneak where you can and to cross it is quite a challenge! Do not wait or you will never pass, you must try little by little, they will have to stop to let you pass! Our technique is to cross at the same time as a Vietnamese person, we stick to them and we cross at the same time.

In the streets you will find everything from toy shops, to food, flowers, deco etc… There are also small restaurants and many cafés. There is also a special street for agencies that organize excursions (although your hotel will surely do, too), Luong Ngoc Quyen. But by the way, why 36 streets? Because each street corresponds to a profession (it was even more true in the past but it still remains today). There is a street for coffee, a street for stuff made of silver, one for fabrics etc … There is even a special street for travel agencies: Luong Ngoc Quyen. There you will find all possible imitations of the travel agency “The Sinh Tourist” (quality agency that has “inspired” the name of a thousand other agencies throughout the country: “the tourist sinh, the sinh café, the sinh tourist cafe … “).

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Cho Dong Xuan Market

It is a covered market, difficult to access due to the traffic around it. We spent 30 minutes there, mainly clothes, souvenirs etc. The market is great and the alleys are small, so you’ll have to sneak in and try to make your way. We did not find this place very nice, it is not especially typical, it seems that what is sold there comes more from China, rather than being craft products.

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Lake of Hoan Kiem

The Hoan Kiem is one of the main attractions of the city. Legend has it that in the 15th century, Heaven sent the emperor a magic sword to expel the Chinese army from Vietnam. After the war, a golden tortoise recovered the sword and immersed itself in the depths of the lake to return it to the gods. Hence the name of Hoan Kiem: the lake of the restored sword. Pretty story, right?

Hoan Kiem is located near the old town, we went on foot for a walk. With its many trees it is pleasant to walk and enjoy some shade in the hot Hanoi. Around the lake there are vendors selling souvenirs, food … In the center of the lake you can see the temple Ngoc Son and a small inaccessible pagoda.

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Temple of Ngoc son

It is located in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake, connected to the mainland by a small red bridge. The entrance is very pretty with colorful doors. We did not visit it, after 6 weeks in Asia we stopped visiting all the temples.

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St Joseph’s Cathedral

Following the recommendations of several blogs and travel guides, we went to visit Saint Joseph’s cathedral. The truth is that we were a bit disappointed as it is not as nice nor as clean as we thought! Negative point, we couldn’t visit the inside!

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Ba Da Temple

Out of curiosity we popped through a small door in the middle of a street near the cathedral, and we came upon this beautiful temple! A real haven of peace in the middle of this busy capital. We walked around their buildings and enjoyed the tranquility and the smell of incense before continuing on our way.

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The Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh

It is located west of town, we went on foot, but it is a bit far (30 minute walk from the lake). It is located in a large square protected by the police. Ho Chi Minh was the founder of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and is now considered a Vietnamese hero for his struggle against imperialism and his communist ideas. His body is preserved in a large glass urn that can be visited between 8am and 11am. We did not want to visit the interior, but if you do you should show as much respect as the Vietnamese who come here on pilgrimage!

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Have a fresh juice in the streets of Hanoi

In the direction of the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh we stumbled upon this juice bar, no need to say that with the hot weather we really appreciated it!

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Dinner in the streets of Hanoi

We went out to find something to eat. There are plenty of little places to eat. In general, for us Europeans they don’t look very attractive, because they are placed in the middle of the street on picnic tables and small plastic stools. But we stumbled upon a small street restaurant where we saw a lot of Vietnamese eating there as well. We ate their specialty, noodle soup with vegetables and beef, the famous Pho Bo. It was good, but what we appreciated the most was the exotic feeling of eating in the street, with the scooters passing by, the noise, the lights, the atmosphere of Hanoi! Maybe it was becaue because it reminded us of Thailand so much!

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We only stayed one day, for those who stay longer there are many places to visit, like the museum of Women, the Prison of Hoa Lo, the Temple of Literature… We couldn’t visit the Single Pillar Pagoda and a storm prevented us from visiting the Presidential Palace Gardens!

We voluntarily spent just one day in this city because the things that attracted us in Vietnam were not in Hanoi. Besides, we were a little surprised as we don’t think Hanoi looks like a capital. It is not so big, nor modern, nor developed as Bangkok for example.

It was interesting to visit Hanoi, but at first sight we cannot say that we really enjoyed this city: with all the traffic, the heat and the sound of the horns we found it tobe very stuffy. However, we liked spending time there and discovering the culture. It is always interesting to discover new places and new cultures, right? We continued our trip through northern Vietnam with Halong Bay and Tam Coc.