Smitten by Hanoi
Updated, August 2019
What To Do in Hanoi
It was impossible to read our bus tickets but we were fairly confident we were in the right spot at the International Tourist Distribution Centre in Nanning. The ticketing agent had written “Doors 4” on our tickets when we bought them 2 days earlier. A lady announced the departure in Chinese on a megaphone. Is it this the correct bus? Hopefully. We were directed to the bus on the right. We thought we had the best seats in the very front until the driver asked us to move to the second row, indicating via sign language it was safer in case the glass shatters. Luckily, the drive from Nanning to the Vietnamese border was uneventful, a four-lane highway. The trees lining the highway obscured the scenery. When we arrived at the border we received a lanyard with an identification tag and were instructed to leave the bus and walk across the border through a series of checkpoints. We were excited to cross into Vietnam and our eyes were glued to the views of landscapes and small villages as the bus rambled towards Hanoi.
The landscape transformed from rice fields to subdivisions to industrial areas and the city itself. Several stops were made along the highway as we approached Hanoi. Once in the city, the bus stopped along a busy street. This is where we were told to exit. Okay, we were not really sure where we were and had been expecting a bus station but we did not really have a choice. Luckily, Di had downloaded a Google map of the city and it gave us an indication of which direction to head. We proceeded on foot in dire need of a bathroom and local currency. A friendly coffee shop owner allowed us to use the bathroom and offered us a banana. We tried to buy a coffee but she only took cash. We found an ATM a little further down the street and withdrew 4,000,000.00 VND and felt very rich. Finally, millionaires :) We hailed a taxi to our hotel located in the old quarter Hanoi. The driver misread the address but we quickly figured it out and arrived at The Splendora a few minutes later.
Where to Stay in Hanoi
The Splendora Hotel, booked on Expedia, was right up our alley, quaint and cozy with welcoming and very friendly staff. It was centrally located in the old quarter near St. Joseph's Cathedral and we paid a nightly rate of $CAD 44.00, breakfast buffet included.
Hoan Kiem Lake
The front desk recommended a traditional pho dinner and we easily found the restaurant right around the corner. After dinner, we walked around Hoan Kiem Lake soaking in the warmth of the evening. Vietnam seems very family-friendly. The main roads around the lake are blocked for traffic every weekend from Friday afternoon until Sunday at midnight. It made for a lively, carnival-like atmosphere with children, families, and tourists mingling amid street vendors and performers. We were immediately smitten with Hanoi.
National Museum of Vietnamese History
The sun was a welcome sight on our first morning and perfect for a stroll along the many intertwining streets of the old district. Scooters are predominant in the street scene - thousands of them. You take your life into your own hands when crossing the street. Do not hesitate, just walk and trust it will work out. The scooters dart around you and you will make it across. After lunch, we visited the National Museum of Vietnamese History, which provided insight into the war-ravaged past of this nation. Once a colony of France, Vietnam has been threatened from all sides, most recently from the French, Americans and Chinese. We took a rickshaw back to our hotel.
On day two we took a taxi to the Tran Quoc Pagoda, an ancient Buddhist temple and also the oldest pagoda in Hanoi. We planned for a long walk through a number of sites including the Hanoi Botanical Garden, Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House, The Presidential Palace, and The One Pillar Pagoda. We also stopped by the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader and President Ho Chi Minh. Vietnam’s first national university, The Temple of Literature, was another interesting stop on a fully packed morning. We savoured a wonderful extended lunch at the Hanoi Social Club. It is a quiet, three-story, café like place with good tunes and an abundance of atmosphere.
Prices in Hanoi
Whenever we are quoted a price we look at each other slightly bewildered with a degree of sticker shock; that sounds expensive! 50.000 for a cab ride or 60.000 for a pho soup! But then you convert and relax when you realize your cab fare was $2.85 and dinner set you back $3.45. Our North Face windbreakers were 200.000 VND or $11.50 each. Everything is very reasonably priced including the latest massage we treated ourselves to. Travel life can be a tough gig.
As may be able to tell, we really enjoyed our time in Hanoi. After three days it was time to head out for more adventures at Cát Bà Island. Instead of Ha Long Bay, we had chosen La Han Bay for our cruise.
Photo Gallery with Travel Photography from Hanoi, Vietnam
Street Photography in Hanoi
Hanoi was a dream come true destination for us. There is so much life in the streets and as a photographer, it is a haven. The colours, the architecture, the scooters and people are so accustomed to photographers and busy going about with their lives. And for the most part they won’t even notice the camera. An ideal scenario for photography.
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Diana & Morten