Photogenic Hanoi

“The streets in Hanoi are so annoying to navigate” 

Without missing a beat, Alessio replied.

“You could even say they’re ‘hanoi-ing!'”

There you go. There’s the cheesy joke. I am sure he’d been waiting to use that joke for a looong time.

We weren’t even going to go to Hanoi. We planned to travel as North as Hué since we were on a 15 day visa, and in February the North would be quite chilly. Then I googled Sapa and knew I couldn’t not go to the north. So one day before we were due to go to Dalat we booked flights to Hanoi instead.

The taxi from the airport was on a meter, but the meter moved at Busta Rhymes speed. I looked away for half a second and it had gone up by about 100,000 dong. By the end it was just under 400,000 dong which was pricey considering we were also short changed.

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The next morning we headed out with the intention of seeing as much as we could on foot. Theoretically this included the West Lake temple, but when we arrived at the lake we were too lazy to walk to the other side.

We instead begun the day by walking to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This area will show you what I mean about it being the “least most communist city I have ever seen”.

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There’s a lot around here – the mausoleum: 

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One pillar pagoda:

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and a restaurant selling the best barbecue pork I’ve tried:

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The walk there from near the Long Bien Bridge is nice too:

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And there’s also an astoundingly disappointing botanical garden.

We reached the lake, but visiting the temple was too far so we got baked food and walked to the old quarter:

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Our route meant we saw another lake, the Hoan Kiem lake. The whole area was very picturesque, with many people snapping photos, walking with a date and crossing the bridge.

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The old quarter is just to the East. Here’s the thing, the old colonial buildings are very beautiful but it doesn’t have a nice feel. Being now almost solidly geared to tourists, I felt it was a bit disappointing and there are some streets where you cannot take a step without someone saying “hello sir, eat here please! Happy hour, good price!” I felt there was equally lovely architecture just outside the quarter, without all the stress.

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After dinner at the amusingly named Obama’s Restaurant (no doubt owned by the former Commander in Chief himself) we headed back to the room for the bus to Sapa, where we’d be for the next two days. 

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Our final day in Hanoi – the day we returned from Sapa we honestly just slept and massaged our legs – we took a stroll back down to the beautiful lake and found an American restaurant (Western food, sacré bleu!) selling Chicago deep dish! Alessio, a staunch Italian food activist, actually approved!

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From there we strolled around near our hotel as we had a sleeper train for 8. By chance we found the most picturesque open market just as the sun began to set. It was beautiful.

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As we left Hanoi, I felt confused about my feelings for it, and I still do. I loved a lot of it, the Hoan Kiem lake, the walk to the mausoleum and the area around it and the market near the Long Bien bridge. But unlike Ho Chi Minh City, I didn’t feel at home. I didn’t feel like I’d slipped into the pace of life there, despite how beautiful it was. 

That said, it was more than worth the spontaneous itinerary change!

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