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Hanoi part 3: Walking Tour day 1

by on May 9, 2008

Hanoi’s a vibrant city and a pleasure to walk around in. From the cramped, merchandise laden streets of the old quarter to the broad avenue surround Hoan Kiem Lake and the French quarter, you can literally just choose one direction to walk in and discover a million things to catch your attention. Given that we were there for only three days, with Halong bay taking up day 2, We only really had 2 days to take the in the sights of Hanoi. This is an account of our first day in Hanoi. I’ll write about our tour with the Hanoi Flash kids in another post.

Day 1

After having recuperated somewhat after our harrowing first night in Hanoi, Aissa and I decided not to waste any more of the day and set out around lunch time to take in Hoan Kiem Lake. The first thing that any visitor unfamiliar with Hanoi or Vietnam will notice is the sheer number of scooters and motorcycles racing around the city streets. There’s really nothing quite like seeing a horde of scooters and motorbikes thundering down a boulevard, especially when you happen to be crossing it at the time. Locals seem to have a sixth sense, and walk across the street without a care in the world. Aissa and I looked every which way before taking one step onto a street.

We gingerly made our way to the outskirts of Hoan Kiem Lake, and had lunch at a noodle place (this picture was taken the night before we left) to get our bearings and decide where to go next (food will be discussed in more length at a later entry). The insight guide we bought suggested a route, but we figured we’d just walk around the lake and see what there was to see.

Hoan Kiem Lake

A view of the lake

The broad avenues of Hoan Kiem Lake transport you to another world. The tight, scooter infested streets of the old Quarter reminded me very much of Recto and Quiapo but the Lake Area represented something that I’d never quite experienced before in my entire life. It reminded me of the Sunken Garden in UP combined with the Manila Baywalk, just a huge open area dedicated to greenery and an escape from the urban jungle. It was very pleasant to walk along its well manicured gardens, and filled me with evil and highly illegal thoughts of filling the Sunken Garden with water and turning it into a lake/pond. Hey look it’s sinking anyway right?

Ngoc Son Temple

entrance to ngoc son temple

the famous red Huc bridge

The main tourist attraction of the lake is Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain) temple, and the Huc (Morning Sunlight ) bridge leading to it. The temple was erected to honor great Vietnamese heroes like Trang Hung Dao who repelled the Chinese Yuan dynasty invaders. There’s an entrance fee of around 3000 dong I think (OK I’m not entirely sure but I do remember it was small enough no to bother me at all, and I’m very anal about money so there).

scary tortoise

artsy leaf shot (look it turned out rather nicely so I’m putting it here)

Inside there are many buddhist statues (It is a temple after all), incense burners, a wonderful view of the lake, and a replica of the tortoise (that Aissa found scary) who supposedly gave Emperor Le Loi a magic sword to defeat the Chinese Ming dynasty. Apparently the Vietnamese have a rich history of turning back invading foreign nations.

the freak of nature

On our way out of the temple, a kind old German tourist took this picture of us on the Huc bridge, after seeing me struggle to take a good picture with my arm stretched out. When informed that we were Filipinos he looked surprised and said he’d never met such a large Filipino. I agreed that I was a freak of nature and thanked him kindly for the picture.

Statues and Electronic Wonders

revolutionary statues

After walking a short distance, we crossed the street to a small plaza with a large Soviet style statue of three revolutionary figures. There’s a woman holding a sword of some sort, then a man holding what I later found out to be some type of rocket launcher/bazooka, and a rifleman. No idea what the text says but I’m sure you can make an educated guess. There’s a bit of street art there too, which personally I don’t condone when done on such monuments.

hungry, fella?

Then we found this awesome electronic touchscreen travel guide, which is a boon to any tourist cheap or unwise enough not to bring any kind of travel guide with him. Obviously we were hungry at this point.

We crossed another small street and ended up at a huge plaza with a statue in the middle dedicated to Ly Thai To, the Vietnamese emperor who established Vietnam as a kingdom called Dai Viet (or great Viet) in the 11th century. The beautiful plaza and stylized dragons are very eye catching, and definitely worth a look. There are obvious signs of modernization as well though, as we saw some more scribbly street art and a group of young Vietnamese teenagers with dyed red hair breakdancing to Akon and Britney Spears under a pagoda. I didn’t add them here because they were kinda blurry, but you can check those pictures out in our Flickr account.

Water Puppet Theater

After resting for a bit in the plaza, we decide to go to get ticket to the famous Vietnamese water puppet theater. They cost 20000 dong for the regular seats and 40000 dong for the VIP seats. I’m not entirely sure what the difference is because it wasn’t that obvious when we entered the theater, but the regular seats were terrible. Well, actually the seats themselves were quite nice but the distance between them was like an inch, and since we’ve already established that I’m a freak of nature this wasn’t good news for me. We eventually moved out to the aisle where two seats were unoccupied, and my legs felt much better. Look for the seats at the back row on the far left. They’re reserved seats, like movie theaters here so make sure to get a ticket early.

Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of the show itself, as my camera is woefully inadequate at taking pictures in low light. I did get some snaps of souvenir water puppets outside though. You have to pay another small fee, I think 10000 dong to get a camera inside, so you’d best make sure your camera can actually take pictures in low light properly because otherwise there’s no point. Tickets for the show are available throughout the day, but I’d suggest you go early to pick an ideal time for you and to get the best seats.

After the water puppet theater we had a light dinner at a hoan kiem cafe called the Little Kitchen, which Aissa will talk about in more detail in a later post. Considering we’d only had 4 hours of proper sleep, we were done for the day and wearily walked back to Hanoi Holiday hotel for a nice shower and a resftul sleep to prepare us for Halong Bay.

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