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Exploring the Northern Capital of Vietnam - Hanoi Jan 4-7, 2015

Exploring the Northern Capital of Vietnam - Hanoi

GPS waypoint: N 21° 03.596' E 105° 49.106'
Location: Hanoi City, Vietnam

The Epic Ride to Hanoi
The epic 26-hour sleeping bus ride from Luang Prabang (Laos) to Hanoi (Vietnam) was numbing to say the least. It was dark and drizzling when we arrived Hanoi. After a few difficulties getting our bearing at the bus terminal, we finally got under way by riding a moto-taxi then a XeBuyt (local bus) to the flower market where we were to be picked-up by Tuyen's Hanoi friend. She would be our gracious host for the duration of our Hanoi trip.

West Lake
Hanoi is cold at this time of year. We had to bundle up. Our shire was a skip away from West Lake, the biggest lake within Hanoi. With its 18km circumference, you see the more established 5-star hotels (Sheraton and Hotel Inter Continental) and high-priced condos along its shoreline. It's an ideal place to jog or bike around, fish or just mood away with the lake's misty drape.

Exploring Hanoi by Bike
For the most part, Tuyen and I explored Hanoi on a bike, stopping here and there for what seems like something interesting. We biked around the lakes, visiting other neighborhoods and just stopped for food whenever we see a crowd of locals lining up to what looks like a popular place. Hanoi is where you find the best street food which is common knowledge in Vietnam. The internationally famous Pho rice noodle soup has its origin here in Hanoi.

Old Quarter
Old Quarter is the closest thing to Bangkok's Khaosan Road. The backpacker havens are here - tour agencies, dorm lodging, bus ticketing, cafes and eating places. The streets are narrow and the structures are old. Up to now, Old Quarter remains the enclave of family-run businesses who specialize in particular trades for generations.

Recent History
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. A place is always better appreciated when you know the series of events in its history that shaped the people and culture to what it is today. Hanoi's history dates back to as early as 1010 as the political center of Vietnam. But let's fast forward to...

  • 1802 - the Nguyen Dynasty unified Vietnam moving its capital from Hanoi to Hue. Hanoi played a lesser role
  • 1873 - the French occupies Hanoi reducing the Nguyen kings' role as ministerial figureheads
  • 1940 - the French flee as Japanese forces occupy Hanoi during WWII
  • 1945 - with the defeat and withdrawal of the Japanese, Hanoi became the seat of government for Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh government
  • 1946 - with the Japanese gone, the French tries to take back Hanoi from the Viet Minh government. This started a 9-year war between the communist forces of Ho Chi Minh and the French
  • 1954 - the French suffers defeat from the communists at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu prompting the signing of the Geneva Accords at the Geneva Conference (1954), giving North Vietnam its independence with Hanoi as its capital. This divided Vietnam between the communist North Vietnam and South Vietnam at the 17th Parallel. This also ended French involvement in Indochina. The US was not involved in the conflict yet but it sent military advisers to South Vietnam.
  • 1964 - the US alleged that North Vietnamese forces torpedoed US destroyers in an unprovoked attack at the now infamous, "Tonkin Gulf Incident". This was the start of the American military intervention into the Vietnam War that would last another 9 years. Hanoi was heavily bombed by the US. Decades later, Robert McNamara, then Secretary of State, admitted that the Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened. In short, it was the US's pretext to go into war.
  • 1975 - the US suffers defeat from the communists and withdraws completely from Vietnam. North and South Vietnam are unified under the communist rule
  • Modern Day - Hanoi has been annexing adjacent districts, commune and provinces in its expansion program. It is undergoing a rapid expansion boom with skyscrapers altering the city's landscape. It may soon eclipse Ho Chi Minh City as Vietnam's largest city.

Cham and her Family
Our stay in Hanoi could not have been as comfortable if not for the kindness of Cham and her family. They provided us a place to stay and support for much of what we needed - bicycles, maps, taking us for breakfast and eats. They even invited us to dinner at their new place serving us Hanoi cuisine that cannot be bought in restaurants. Tuyen is lucky to have such generous and giving friends. To Cham and her lovely family, I am grateful.

--- TheLoneRider

Next stop: Halong Bay, Vietnam

waking up the following day inside the bus and we're on the Vietnam border we were to meet our Hanoi hosts at the flower market - I didn't realize Vietnam has so many colors for roses...I counted about 8 including the ones with gradients climbing up my hosts' tree to untie a strangled tree branch pounding the pavement of Hanoi in search of a hotel deal
Hanoi has many lakes - this one is right smack inside the city center daily grind in Hanoi famous landmark in Hanoi Tuyen stiffens on 'attention!' when I take her picture
a perfect panning shot by Tuyen dragon by the lake we were treated like family by Tuyen's friends Cham taking us for a morning noodle soup
a $1.3 million Rolls Royce on a cheap car wash a Lamborghini lurking on an empty lot fisherman on a placid lake a 12-level pagoda...the levels to enlightenment?
at a Bodhi tree from the same genetic line from where Gautama Buddha meditated in attaining enlightenment. This tree was a gift from Indian president Rajendra Prasat in 1959 these turtles are sold on the street fronting the Tran Quoc Pagoda to be offerings. They are then released into the lake, where the same vendors catch them again for resale. Animal cruelty in the name of religious devotion...sorry, I don't get it Tran Quoc Pagoda and its  surrounding lake sidewalk's actually normal in Hanoi
sidewalk shoe shine the grand Ho Chi Minh Museum and burial ground asking the guard for directions the white guard
Tuyen smelling the roses yellow house by the lake....still inside the vast ground of the Ho Chi Minh Musuem Tuyen by the pond a reflective Ho Chi Minh in bronze
the Lenin statue on a park another pagoda a shrine Tibetan mastiff?

FYI / Tips

  • the tourist area (where most of the hotels, restaurants, ticket offices, tour operators are, is located at the Old Quarter
  • Hanoi is a cheap place to spend your tourism dollars. According to TripAdvisor, it's the cheapest place to spend one night for 2 at a 4-star hotel. Dorm beds start at $4/pax.

Things to do, Places to go in Hanoi

  1. Old Quarter - this is old Hanoi where family-owned business flourished with its specialty trade. The streets are narrow and busy. Nowadays, it's the center for backpackers visiting Hanoi
  2. lakes - Hanoi is littered with many big lakes, some of them have numerous pagodas along its bank. West Lake is the largest with an 18km circumference, ideal for joggers, hobby fishing and just finding quiet time
  3. Tran Quoc Pagoda - the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi lying on its peninsula by West Lake
  4. Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum - it's a massive marble structure housed inside an expansive park with manicured gardens

Vietnam FYI / Tips / Dos and Don'ts

  • Vietnamese smokers will smoke in air-conditioned establishments, air-conditioned buses packed with people including women, children and babies. They also smoke inside hospitals with no smoking signs.
  • Vietnam ranks almost the same as Thailand and Cambodia for cheap price. Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia cost more
  • internet speed is generally fast and reliable but during important events like Tet holiday, election, etc., it slows down
  • Vietnamese generally do not speak or understand much English. It will be a challenge.
  • only Vietnamese Dong is accepted as legal tender (change your dollars into Dong)
  • best to dress appropriately, not revealing too much skin (Saigon is an exception - the ladies there set the trend in very short shorts)
  • remove your shoes when entering a home or place of worship
  • ask first before taking someone's picture. If they say no, don't persist or offer money
  • best to carry your hotel's business card with you when going out. You can just show it to the cab driver or XeOm driver if they don't understand English
  • leave your valuables, passport, travel tickets, etc. with the hotel's safety deposit box
  • when lying down, don't point your feet or the soles of your shoes to anyone or to a family altar
  • carry only enough cash for your needs that day
  • don't lose your temper in public - Vietnamese people are warm, generous and polite. They look down on people who lose their composure
  • don't take pictures of military installations
  • refrain from taking videos of minority people until permitted to do so
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Reader Comments:

Jx BalizaJx Baliza
(6 Jan, 2015) eat at chaca la vong restaurant. the best. have fun in vietnam!

Van Cong VienVan Cong Vien
(6 Jan, 2015) Good luck to you...see you

Medalaine PelegrinMedalaine Pelegrin
(6 Jan, 2015) hello Git!! you look great!

Viveca HutchinsonViveca Hutchinson
(Feb 3, 2015) Travelling light

Jan 4-7, 2015

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Hanoi, Vietnam


Handmade Moon Cakes by Huong made in the centuries-old Xuan Dinh tradition

Hanoi Hotels


Handmade Moon Cakes by Huong made in the centuries-old Xuan Dinh tradition
Handmade Moon Cakes by Huong
made in the centuries-old Xuan Dinh tradition