We’d been planning this trip for a while. A lot of inspiration and useful information we found on Czech website Vietnamista. It also helped us to sort out our visa, so after arrival, we didn’t have problems at immigration and everything went smoothly.
After meeting with two other members of our group at the airport, withdrawing local money from ATM and a bit of struggling during buying a local sim card (Viettel) we finally headed off to our accommodation in central Hanoi.
For the first night, we’d booked rooms in Luminous Viet Hotel. The hotel was located in the Old Town center and rooms were nice, so eventually we stayed there for two other nights during our trip. Unfortunately, the third night we were not cautious enough, didn’t check the rooms and ended up with one room without windows. Lesson learned – always check the rooms beforehand, even if staying at the same place again.
The rest of the day we spent wandering through the Old Town of Hanoi. The first impression was terrifying. An uncoordinated jungle of honking motorbikes and cars scared us and every single street crossing was like struggle for life. Even at a properly marked crossing with a traffic light, the situation wasn’t much better. However, after a while, we adjusted and followed the locals. One important rule – do not run across the road. It’s safer to keep going, slowly, and everybody gets around you.
We walked to Lake Hoan Kiem and visited Ngoc Son Temple. It was located on a little island and as a Buddhist temple, it was full of flowers, fruit and other offerings which people brought there. It’s a famous touristic place which corresponded with crowds of people fighting for the best picture.
Next, we strolled to St Joseph Cathedral and then further to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum which was an interesting insight into the Vietnam history.
When we came back to Hanoi later that week for one more day, our next stop was Temple of Literature - Văn Mieu - Quốc Tu Giam. This temple, which is also the oldest Vietnamese university, is dedicated to Confucius. It’s a beautiful large complex with a lake, courts and parks and peaceful compared to what’s happening outside its walls.
Not far away from there was One Pillar Pagoda – Chua Mot Cot. It’s a small but one of the most famous temples in Vietnam. Standing in the middle of a little pond, the temple should remind a lotus blossom.
Just a few steps away is Ho Chi Minh Museum and Mausoleum. We skipped visits of both of those places but interesting was that because of lunch break, all pathways around mausoleum were closed and guarded. Whoever came near the signs was promptly chased off.
Before we headed back to the Old Town we visited Tran Quoc Pagoda. It was located on a small peninsula surrounded by West Lake. We arrived just in the middle of a ceremony which was sung via speakers and echoed all around the place.
We wrapped up our stay in Hanoi with an evening performance in Water Puppet Theatre. The performance which lasted about 45 minutes consisted of several short stories and was accompanied by traditional Vietnamese music. Later our guide told us that it’s an attraction only for kids and tourists but we liked it anyway.
A whole different chapter could be dedicated to Vietnamese cuisine. For our first lunch, we tried a Hanoi specialty – bun cha. We heard stories that tourists get easy food poisoned in Asia, so initially, we wanted to take it easy and eat somewhere decent the first day. But our plans had changed as we were passing all kind of street restaurants and they all smelled great. A restaurant is actually not a right word. It was usually an eatery, right on the street with a few tiny plastic tables, stools, and a boiling pot right next to it. Eventually, we ended up at one of those trying not to think about hygiene. We were the only foreigners there but it was a good sign in the end because the food was delicious! And we survived without any digestion issues.