As the capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi is a hub for travel, ruling the north and making its footprint on the world. For those who like quiet village life, look away now. Hanoi is an exciting city of hustle and bustle, where sounds are wailing fruit sellers, loud chatter over beer in the streets, and a thousand motors tearing up the roads.
Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake
At the heart of Hanoi is Hồ Hoàn Kiếm. It connects the old town with the modern business area, bringing people together and leaving a slice of history too. The name Hồ Hoàn Kiếm means Lake of the returned sword. The legend varies, but the basic story is that long ago, a king borrowed a sword from a turtle in the lake, a threw it back in when he had conquered his enemies, to return it to the turtle. Binoculars out for a turtle and a sword. Besides the legend, the lake is also home to some interesting monuments. Take a stroll around and peek at them all, or do what we did and grab a coffee and while away the afternoon people watching.
At the weekend, life at the lake really spruces up. It’s all pedestrianised, turning into a sort of fete. People sell delicious snacks, there’s music, families, amateur theatre shows and dancing. The best part is the group games. On the floor, is some sort of counters game, noughts and crosses or Vietnamese chess, then there are giant skipping ropes, 4-man flip flops, and my favourite, a 30m tug of war! It’s a fairground come market come school playground. We let our hair down and got in with the locals, all out to relax with the kids after a hard week at work. The tug of war left me giggling. Public organised fun? This would never happen in England. Hanoi at the weekend is nothing like home, and so worth visiting, for a rare experience of pure fun.
We spent most of our time in the old town. Here, each street has a different trade, shops and eateries pour into the street and the bustle dial is turned up to maximum. Find yourself a pair of leather sandals, buy a bucketload of coffee beans, or stop for a noodle dipping dish. Need to rest achey tourist feet? Have a Bia Hoi. Most bars will sell you beer Hanoi, but look out for smaller local bars with the little plastic chairs outside. They’ll get you fresh Bia Hoi, for 5 dong, with a scenic street view included.