Through my eyes: Faces of Hanoi

TGIF! Let’s go back to Vietnam for today…

We were walking through an utterly chaotic marketplace (think motorbikes, squealing children and rampant chickens all battling it out on the streets), and noticed these guys set up in the middle of it all. Cooking, eating and smoking, while I was fearing for my safety (motorbikes don’t really care whether they ride on the road or the footpath), they couldn’t have been more relaxed… They seemed to be having as much fun watching the chaos unfold around them as I was.
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I really didn’t see much graffiti or street art in Vietnam, so this caught my eye straight away. It was around lunch time, and there was a decent crowd gathered around the little plastic stools and baskets filled with herbs and assorted sauces. We stopped for a banh mi – how could we not?!
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While the night market was being set up by the hard working Vietnamese women (simultaneously swatting away cheeky children), the men called happy hour and gathered on corners for beers and a gossip session. Coming from a culture where the work is divided relatively evenly between the sexes, this was a big reminder to me that not all women are fortunate enough to not be expected to work, raise a family, cook, clean, and do whatever else needs to be done…
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This photo is not an uncommon sight on the streets of Hanoi. For the most part, it’s the women run the street food stalls, and when they’re not serving up something delicious, they’re either chatting animatedly with their companions, or staring off into space.  It’s hot, humid, and there are more motorbikes on the roads than you’d think possible, stirring up all sorts of dust and pollution. These women work hard in conditions that aren’t always comfortable. They’re pretty amazing 🙂img_7109

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Top 10 Things To Do in Hanoi

1. Shop at the Dong Xuan Weekend Night Market

Where? Dong Xuan and Hang Chieu Streets, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? Fantastic street food, crazy-cheap shopping, and the bat-sh#t crazy atmosphere that makes Asian street markets so much fun!
How long will you need? Get there around 7pm, and stay until you’re shopped out.
Cost? Everything is pretty cheap, but be prepared to barter so you’re not getting ripped off.
Read more:
– Dong Xuan Night Market, Hanoi, Vietnam

 

2. Visit the “Hanoi Hilton” – Hoa Lo Prison

Where? 1 Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The prison was originally built by the French in the 1880s to imprison Vietnamese political prisoners, but when the French eventually left Vietnam in 1954 after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the prison was taken over by the North Vietnamese Army who used it to house, interrogate and torture American prisoners of war. It was the American prisoners who sarcastically nicknames the prison the “Hanoi Hilton,” in honour of the horrible conditions they faced in there. While it is obviously well known that the Americans suffered just as horribly to the Vietnamese as the Vietnamese did to the French, the exhibits in the museum focus mainly on the torment suffered by the Vietnamese under French control. And they are truly horrific.
How long will you need? 1-2 hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.50 per person
Read more:
– Hoa Lo Prison – the “Hanoi Hilton”

 

3. Stroll the through beautiful grounds of the Temple of Literature

Where? 58 Quốc Tử Giám, Văn Miếu, Đống Đa, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is dedicated to Confucius , and was the site of Vietnam’s first university, dating back to 1076. Back then, only those of noble birth were admitted, but the mid-1400s brought about a new age, where gifted students from around the country were allowed. Now, it’s a stunning public space where you’ll walk around with a slack jaw and constant camera clicking…
How long will you need? 2 hours
Cost? Around AUD$1.20 per person
Read more:
– Photo essay: The Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

 

4. Ignore the overcautious and pretentious travelers and eat street food!

Why go? It’s not dirty or gross, it’s not going to make you sick, it’s not something to turn your nose up at. The food being made by the sweet little old ladies on the back of a motorbike cart is some of the best food in the city, so drop the ego and get eating!
Cost? It’s cheap – the spread about cost us about AUD$6.00 each, and we got nowhere near finishing it!
Read more:
– Eating the city: Hanoi, Vietnam

 

5. Eat ice cream and people watch by the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake

Where? Literally in the middle of the city, you can’t miss it.
Why go? Hoan Kiem Lake is the centre of the city, and the place where so many social events are held; at any time of the day or night, you’ll see people gathering for a picnic, to study, to practice tai chi, or just for a bit of a gossip session. When the heat starts to get to you, grab an ice cream, park yourself in the shade of the trees that circle the lake, and just take it all in…
How long will you need? As long as you want 🙂
Cost? Ice cream is pretty cheap, and the view is free!
Read more:
– Hoan Kiem Lake & Tortoise Tower, Hanoi, Vietnam

 

6. Get educated on the Vietnamese point of view at the Vietnam Military History Museum

Where? 28A Điện Biên Phủ, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The grounds are piled with discarded planes and bomb shells, the buildings full of photos and more pieces of history. It’s a sombre atmosphere, and you can’t help feeling enormous respect for this small but courageous nation of underdogs. While you could never understand what they have been through, you start to understand just why they’re so fiercely proud and patriotic, and it’s a great way to take in a serious history lesson.
How long will you need? We were there for a few hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.20 per person
Read more:
The Vietnam Military History Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam

 

7. Take a day trip out to Ha Long Bay

Why go? It’s not hard to see why Ha Long Bay was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. The bay includes, I believe, almost 2000 islands and islets, and is just breathtakingly beautiful, especially when you’re floating through it on a boat, without a single care in the world…
How long will you need? All day long for a day trip, but if you have a few nights to spare, you can spend a few nights on the water.
Cost? We took a day trip with Intrepid, which was amazing – cost around AUD$120.00 per person (though I believe that’s done up a little now), and worth every cent.
Read more:
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
– Thiên Cung Cave, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

 

8. Indulge in one of the city’s favourite dishes, bún chà

Where? Literally everywhere from the street corners to the markets.
Why go? Vermicelli noodles. Meat. Peanuts. Spring onion. And a delicious sauce to pour over the top. Like you need any more convincing!
Cost? You can get a bowl for a few dollars almost anywhere in the city!
Read more:
– Eat here: Bún Chà Nem Cua Bê, Hanoi, Vietnam

 

9. Take in the patriotism and national pride at the Hi Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum

http://www.baotanghochiminh.vn/tabid/528/default.aspx
Where? 19 Ngách 158/193 Ngọc Hà, Đội Cấn, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? Ho Chi Minh (or Uncle Ho, to the Vietnamese) fought for Vietnamese independence, bringing the North and South together under one rule. He was a popular man, and his mausoleum brings in hundreds of visitors every day, mostly locals actually, paying their respects. But the tourists come in by the bus load too, often making their way on to the museum, like I did. The museum is quite big, and incredibly interesting – it actually makes history interesting, for those of you who aren’t history nerds like me 🙂
How long will you need? 2-3 hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.00 per person
Read more:
– Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum & Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam

 

10. Finish the day with a drink up on Café Nola’s umbrella-covered rooftop

Where? 89 Mã Mây, Quan Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Why go? Rooftop bar. Great cocktails at cheap prices. Delicious food to nibble on. And they have the cutest collection of umbrellas dangling above you. Best way ever to finish a big day in Hanoi!
How long will you need? Spend a long afternoon there, trust me 🙂
Cost? Cheap enough that I don’t remember!
Read more:
Eat (& drink!) here: Nola, Hanoi, Vietnam

Through my eyes: walking through Hanoi, Vietnam

Melbourne’s been sweltering. And I’m not a summer person. I don’t like extreme heat or humidity.

Unless I’m in Vietnam…

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Parts of Hanoi are tourist-friendly “big city,” while other parts, like the produce markets, are still so simple and local. There’s such a huge mix of people – tourists and locals, students and manual labourers, restaurant workers and street food vendors, and they all somehow fit together in perfect harmony…

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Photo essay: The Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is dedicated to Confucius , and was the site of Vietnam’s first university, dating back to 1076. Back then, only those of noble birth were admitted, but the mid-1400s brought about a new age, where gifted students from around the country were allowed.

Stunning, breath taking, awe-inspiring… none of these quite do it justice, nor do my photos. But hopefully they’re enough to pique your interest and encourage a visit if you ever find yourself in Hanoi 🙂

 

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The Vietnam Military History Museum, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Vietnam Military History Museum
28A Điện Biên Phủ, Hà Nội, Vietnam

 

I’m a bit of a military history nerd, so when husband suggested visiting the Vietnam Military History Museum,  I was stoked.

Vietnam’s identity and history have been so strongly defined by war, and that’s still very obvious. Listening to tour guides speaking to their wards as we made our way around the country, the constant theme was always strong military pride, and the museum exemplifies this national feeling perfectly.

The grounds are piled with discarded planes and bomb shells, the buildings full of photos and more pieces of history. It’s a sombre atmosphere, and you can’t help feeling enormous respect for this small but courageous nation of underdogs. While you could never understand what they have been through, you start to understand just why they’re so fiercely proud and patriotic. 

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Hoan Kiem Lake & Tortoise Tower, Hanoi, Vietnam

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As far as city centres go, this is up there as one of the most beautiful. The enormous Hoan Kiem Lake sits in the centre of the city (both physically and spiritually), and is a hub of activity, day and night. Each time we found ourselves getting a little overwhelmed in Hanoi (which was more often than I’d like, due mostly to the heat and frustration in finding anything in a city where certain things are only sold on certain streets), we found ourselves pulled back to the lake.

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Morning tai chi, midday lunch breaks, evening ice creams. Groups of school-aged teens giggling and older ladies gossiping, men sharing stories and dogs marking their territory. Shady spots under the trees lining the banks of the river and sunny spots on the grass. It’s pretty beautiful and so peaceful, which is odd in such a crazy city…

 

The name of the lake translates to “lake of the returned sword” or something similar, because of the legend surrounding it. It’s said that after Emperor Le Loi was given a sword by the golden turtle god, endowing him with great strength, to be used to win Vietnam’s freedom back from the Chinese in the early 1400s. Not long after the war, Le Loi was said to have been on the river again, in his boat, when the turtle god appeared again to take the sword back. The turtle swam to the depths of the lake with the glowing sword in its mouth, never to be seen again.

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Almost 500 years later (while Hanoi was under French rule), the tower you can see in the photos above and below was built by a musician to commemorate Le Loi and what he did for Vietnam. Unbeknownst to the Vietnamese, though, he was secretly working for the French, and the tower he built was to serve a double purpose of being the resting place for his fathers’ body. While it may have been built by a traitor for his own purpose (the body was removed once discovered) in a style that wasn’t typically Vietnamese, it still stands as symbol of patriotism and unity, traits that are still very strongly associated with the Vietnamese people.

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Through my eyes: making tracks in Hanoi

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I’ve seen some odd things on my travels, and tend not to be too surprised anymore when I see people doing things that are really different to how we do things at home, but this one still took my breath away.

The rail tracks that run through Hanoi literally run through Hanoi. As in, they’re set in what just looks like a slender alley-way between rows of homes and shops, with very little room to move on either side. That was all well and good, until I skipped my way across the tracks to take some photos, and noticed a family finishing up their breakfast. In the middle of the tracks. I’m talking, little plastic stools and table set up with bowls and chopsticks actually on the tracks, and small children running back and forth across them, and no one batting an eyelid.

We crossed that railway several more times during our stay in Hanoi, and I got less and less worried about oncoming speeding trains each time I guess you can get used to anything…

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