Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. It is in the Northern part of Vietnam and is the seat of power of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam after the withdrawal of the American soldiers. Hanoi (Ha Noi 河內) is so called because its north is the Red River that separates China from Vietnam. There is a bridge that connects the two countries at Lao Cai (Vietnam) where goods and people flow between them.
Hanoi is divided into three distinct areas for tourists to visit. The northern part is the Old Quarter with the Hoan Kiem Lake. The southern part of Hoan Kiem Lake is the French Quarter. The north-western part is West Lake.
We spent four nights and one and a half days in Hanoi staying at Quoc Hoa Hotel, a three-star hotel in the Old Quarter.
The Old Quarter has all the old low-rise shophouses along narrow streets. The shophouses have narrow frontages (for taxation reason) but deep inside. Most buildings are about three to four storeys high. The pavements outside these shops have either motorbikes parked on them or food vendors and hawkers selling their things. It is near impossible to walk on the pavement without meeting with obstructions. We had to walk onto the sides of the roads and watch out for vehicles on these narrow streets.
We found that the bikes were fewer here when compared with Ho Chi Minh City but still too many for our liking. Bikes are Vietnam main means of transportation. The public transport is still not popular and not regular. The Vietnamese people treat bikes as delivery vehicles. We were amazed with how bulky items could be strapped down and moved by these motorbikes. This is uniqueness of Vietnam. Crossing the roads could be difficult but fear not as these riders could avoid knocking you down.
The Old Quarter is famous for their 36 streets (sometimes called 36 Guilds streets). Each street is named after a particular trade where you can find the same items sold in each shophouse. Eg Hang Bo (baskets now haberdashers), Hang Buom (sails), Hang Ma (paper goods), Hang Dieu (pipes), Hang Thiec (tin goods), etc. You can spend hours going round these streets to buy what you need.
The French Quarter has more spread out buildings and roads are wider. The French ruled Vietnam for a long period in early 1900s until they withdrew in 1954 after being defeated in the war at Dien Bien Phu. The French influence in the architecture is evident in the buildings around the French Quarter. Here you can visit the Opera House and St Joseph’s Cathedral to marvel at the buildings. It is also a place to visit for high-end shopping.
The other tourist attraction is the Hoan Kiem Lake. Every weekend night from Friday to Sunday, the roads around part of the lake are turned into pedestrian-only road. People came out in great numbers to stroll and to soak in the atmosphere. It is a happening place.
When in Hanoi, do not miss out the “Water Puppet Show” at Thang Long Puppet Theatre. It was Asia longest running theatre performance and well acclaimed internationally. The theatre has water as the stage. Puppets are maneuvered by stagehands behind a screen. The small puppets came alive on water under the skillful hands of these puppeteers. See it to enjoy. It is a one-hour show. Book tickets in advance when in Hanoi.
I cannot not write about Vietnamese food. My tour guide and the lady boss of her travel agency in Vietnam invited us on the last night in Hanoi. They brought us to a Vietnamese restaurant and selected some traditional Vietnamese food for our dinner. We had barbecued fish, Bun (vermicelli or beehoon), fresh spring rolls (not fried) and sticky rice. They taught us how to eat these foods with the various sauces and dips. They were delicious and full of taste.