We spent a total of six nights in Hanoi, three either side of our Ha Long Bay trip. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, located in the north of the country. After the fairly quiet nature of Hoi An, Hanoi was very busy and a bustling city.
Hanoi is quite a sprawling city, but the main area is the old quarter, which is near a lake. This is where we were staying and there are many shops, and street stalls in this area. It was very hot in Hanoi and we spent most of our time walking between places to get drinks (mainly mango smoothies) and cool down. Walking in Hanoi means dodging the many scooters and street stalls that are on the broken pavements, so most of your time is spent walking on the road negotiating traffic. With literally millions of motorbikes crossing the road is very difficult.
How To Cross The Road In Hanoi
There are traffic lights and pedestrian crossings in Hanoi but nobody seems to notice them. 90% of the traffic is scooters so this is the main thing that you will be trying not to get hit by. Instead of waiting for a gap in the traffic, which will never come, the thing to do is to cross the road very slowly. By walking at a slow pace, as the locals do, the bikes will maneuver around you. When you are stood in the middle of a main road with bikes and cars going in both directions it is quite scary, but you mustn’t loose you nerve and just continue to cross slowly otherwise you could be stuck in the middle of the road.
Due to the war, there aren’t very many historic buildings left in Hanoi, especially in comparison with Hoi An. We did visit the one pillar pagoda, a religious site near to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum that us built in such a way that it looks like it will fall over. A favorite place to sit was on the roof terrace of the hotel. From here we had views over the city and the lake, and as it is quite a low-rise place we could see for miles. Beer or cocktails were needed here as well just to keep cool, and it is nice to pay very little for drinks despite being in a comparatively expensive hotel for the country. The hotel prided itself on its amazing service and we certainly weren’t disappointed.
We left Hanoi on Independence Day (independence from French colonial rule). For the week we were there they were setting up ready for the celebrations around the lake with very intricate floral displays and the army guarding fireworks launching point either side of the lake. It would have been great to watch the celebrations from the roof of the hotel, as it was a prime location to see everything. After dinner one night we did wander to the stage that had been set up by the lake a watch the rehearsals taking place ready for the big day. There were hundreds of martial arts and dance troops performing against a backdrop of a giant screen to various Vietnamese and international songs. Being Vietnam half of the stage area went in to one of the main roads so we stood and watched with motorbikes and cars trying to get past us.
Hanoi was certainly an interesting place, but in retrospect we perhaps would have spent a bit of extra time in Hoi An as it was quieter and more relaxed with more historic buildings. Vietnam is a beautiful and interesting country and I’m glad we added it to our trip – it was well worth it. Vietnam has one of the largest populations in the world, and that is set to double in the next 40 years. As tourism is starting to take a strong hold in the country as well (both from local and foreign visitors) it’s certainly a place to visit sooner rather than later and perhaps before there are too many more scooters!
Click here our photos of Hanoi.