Thursday, June 19, 2008

Snapshots of Hanoi, Vietnam

I visited Hanoi during end of February this year. If I had any reservations about visiting Vietnam earlier, all those were quickly put to rest the moment I landed in Hanoi. My friends who had visited Hanoi a few years back had told me that there’s nothing much to see so I was always a little hesitant. However work commitments landed me in Hanoi and what an eye-opener that was! I took to Hanoi immediately, loved the landscape, loved the quirky makeshift foodstalls, loved the way the vehicles weave in and out of traffic, even loved the noise!
There’s a certain charm to Hanoi that does not appear anywhere else.

I loved the quaint little shops of the Old Quarter which is rich with over 1000 years of history. The best way to see the Old Quarter is by foot. I walked every morning from the hotel at Ly Thong Kiet to Hoan Kiem Lake (the Lake of the Restored Sword) then on to the Old Quarter and relished every single moment of it. The Old Quarter is made up of 36 old streets, each street named after the product sold such as silk, toys, lacquerware, foodstuff etc. There is a bustling night market on weekends that stretch to the very end of the Old Quarter, packed with all types of goodies. I also loved the calm at Hoan Kiem Lake, where young and old gather every morning for tai-chi or to just sit watching reflections of the city by the lake. The calm in the lake of course belies the noise that surrounds it. Yet, it is the noise that adds to the charm of Hanoi.

Morning exercise in Hoan Kiem Lake

Reflections of the Tortoise Pagoda in Hoan Kiem Lake
The serene Hoan Kiem Lake in the morning

There is something very romantic about the picturesque footbridge (Bridge of the Rising Sun) to Ngoc Son pagoda at Hoan Kiem Lake.
Directly across Hoan Kiem Lake is the very popular Hanoi Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. In the afternoons, busloads of tourists converge on the theatre to watch the water puppets show. It’s a show unlike any other and should not be missed. The puppet play is on water, showcasing the various life scenes in Vietnam. The puppetry artists are swift with their movements and the puppets come to life in front of your very eyes.
The buildings in Hanoi are reflections of Vietnam’s French colonial past. The old buildings have soul and it’s what I liked most. The grand St. Joseph cathedral, is Hanoi’s very own Notre Dame.
The exquisite Hanoi Opera House is a vision of Vietnam’s grandeur.

There are many pagodas within walking distance from our hotel. Amongst my favourite is the Quan Su Pagoda which is Hanoi’s largest and most popular pagodas. I will be back to Hanoi for a proper holiday in October, and frankly, I just can’t wait to be back.

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