Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam.
The city is centered around Hoan Kiem lake and the backpacker district is in the Old Quarter, right next to the lake. You don’t need to venture much far out from here to do and see much in this city.
It is a 1000 year old capital although in the past this city was known as Thang Long.
As soon as we arrived the overwhelming noise of honking and traffic surrounded us. Kristine and I jumped on a scooter, each with a driver, our backpacks in tow and shot down the first attempt we encountered in being ripped off. This was south east Asia; we would need to practice being stern.
We wanted to see as much as we could and Hanoi is a city that you just sorta hang out in. After a failed walking tour (Frommer’s isn’t as thorough as LP) we decided to just walk around, jump on a cyclo and wander. The Old Quarter is filled with shops and the roads are quite easy to get lost in. We did a few times. Crossing the street is always a game; there are barely any crosswalks or signals so you just walk across the road hoping a scooter isn’t gonna run you over. The streets never seem to quiet down either, even at 7am!
Kristine and I on a cyclo
The main attraction in Hanoi is the mausoleum of the patriotic hero, Ho Chi Minh. He was the man in charge of leading the revolution which led to an independent and communist Vietnam. He is known as ‘Uncle Ho’ by the Vietnamese with much affection.
Unfortunately the mausoleum is open only until 11am and closed on Sundays. The mausoleum is located in a gigantic square much similar to Tinammen Square in Beijing, China. I suppose it does all make sense when the city is plastered as well with communistic propaganda.
The Communist museum is right next door and the workers take quite a long lunch break (about 2-3 hours). Since these 2 attractions are a taxi ride from the Old Quarter we stuck around to visit the museum which was very artistic and informative. It seemed somewhat of a shrine to Uncle Ho as well where they kept pieces of his clothing, speeches and exhibitions showcasing his struggle for Vietnam’s independence.
The Water Puppet theater was a cultural treat for only $3. It featured live traditional music and puppets that were dancing on water. They acted out stories of farm life, animalistic traditions and the overall rural lifestyle in Vietnam. It was interesting however the music isn’t exactly easy on the ears at all times.
Being a capital city Hanoi is super busy. Most travellers start their trip in Hanoi and work their way south to Ho Chi Minh City or vice versa. This is our first stop on a 3 week backpacking race to the south. So far it has been easier than anticipated since most people understand English.
This city is filled with backpackers who are doing the South East Asia loop (Thailand – Cambodia – Laos – Vietnam) and so its easy to survive here on a low amount of cash. But that doesn’t mean that backpackers have to look like hobos, does it?
It seems to be a trend however – to live a hippie lifestyle and refuse the need for a shower. It definitely isn’t very appealing if I can smell your b.o from miles away! It makes feel realize that the dirt cheap style of backpacking really isn’t for me, I am officially a flashpacker and if you’ve got a job, why not!?