This post is the second a two-part series on Vietnam, contributed by Reed Flores.
Read more about his travels on “The Escape Artist”!
After stuffing my face full of amazing vietnamese food and cà phê (check out my last post here), I went out to discover what else the city had to offer. Hanoi is the capitol of Vietnam and has a history of name-changes, regime changes and restructuring. Yet, some of the most beautiful sights in the city are the ones that have stood the test of time and change.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square is a must. It’s free, and there’s a whole city named after this man, so it wouldn’t hurt to go see what it’s all about. Apparently, you can go in, however, I’m not much for visiting deceased non-family members. Someone supposedly named this building one of the ugliest buildings, to which I say: why say something mean? It’s someone’s crypt, and it hold significance. That’s like calling my mom’s urn “unsightly.” It may be true, but why criticize?
Anyway—you can’t get to the mausoleum from the front, so go to the left side of the building where you’ll go through security. Behind the mausoleum is a museum, the One Pillar pagoda, and a temple. Part of visiting another country is experiencing culture, this is where you’ll get that. My favorite moment at the mausoleum was being in the same space as people in the temple.
A pack of incense is left at the buddha statue in the courtyard, for all who wish to pray. Patronizing or not, it’s a very touching experience to see others be so devoted to a higher thought in related to their lives and that of their loved ones.
TIP: Be quiet, be covered up. Never stand taller than the buddha. Try not to take a lot of pictures. Just experience that area, be respectful.
Full of vietnamese coffee, I walked over to the Imperial Citadel (30,000VND/1.50USD). Hugely unregulated, you’re free to roam around. This site dates back to the early 1000s, the main gate is even designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, you can see the path from the original citadel (like, hella old). This place is quiet, empty. Imagine walking around the DMV post-apocalypse. Yet, the exhibit at the top of the main gate was very intriguing; they tell the story of the transition from French colonization to Vietnamese Independence. The exhibit doesn’t mention much about violence or anger, just the happy aftermath of freedom. I get it; why say something when the proof is where you’re standing?—The original structures of the Imperial Citadel were destroyed during French colonization. I recommend walking to the back of the area, visit the Princess Pagoda. It’s empty, it’s quiet. It’s beautiful.
TIP: But stroll at your own risk, it was hard to say which parts of this World Heritage site are off-limits. I walked to the top of the main building, which I think is supposed to be closed off to the public? Oops..
My last night/day in Hanoi, I took a stroll around the entirety of the Hoan Kiem lake. I even did the unforgivable and walked the tourist-filled red bridge—did you know that there is a temple and beautiful view of the city on the other side? Do it.
The lake in the day, and on the weekend, is surrounded by street performers, vendors selling merchandise and buddhas. And at night, the lake is surrounded by young people, meeting their friends, free from tourists. It’s worth the stroll, to really enjoy the alone time. In fact, the city at night is amazing. On my walk back to my room, I couldn’t help but notice that the city winds down. After buzzing with a mix of tourists and locals, you finally get to see the people of Hanoi sit down.
On my walks into the city and back, I pass through Hang Dau Garden where a socialist statue and a French Colonial water bank face each other. In between, Hanoi locals sit and drink beer, listen to music and chew on sunflower seeds. A group of elders zumba. The image is almost too symbolic for it’s own good. People sit on plastic stools and eat with friends and family. A woman burns offerings in the street. A street vendor packs up her vegetables for the night.
Hanoi architecture offers so much more than I’ve ever experienced, and the perfect depiction of how I feel about the city. Some buildings are old, from the time of french colonization, covered in ivy and mold. Some buildings are completely renovated, a space for new businesses to flourish. Alleys lead to more alleys, more old buildings, stories hidden from the public… Hanoi offers us a face they want us to see: accommodating and delicious for the everyone. But if you take the time to stop and look into those alleys, and study the ivy on the walls, you’ll see that Hanoi is full of life and history. You just have to take the time to look.
- Download Grab beforehand, especially if you want a cheap ride into the city from the airport.
- Don’t rely on motorbikes/cars too often, try walking! Save that dollar!
- Get a SIM card at the airport! I got mine for $10, for six days. Some might say that’s expensive. I’d pay for instant internet access in a foreign country any day. Don’t forget to keep your original SIM (I’m an idiot…)
- I didn’t need more than $200 for six days, and honestly, I could’ve spent a lot less. Especially on coffee. Getting around and eating in Hanoi can be pretty cheap.
- English isn’t exceedingly spoken throughout the city, BUT, it wasn’t too difficult. Learn to say what you want, and chances are they’ll speak enough English to help you out. Also, hand motions and smiles are your best friend.
- Stay somewhere in Hoan Kiem if you can. I stayed right above there, and it was a 30 min walk into the city. Not terrible, but definitely not ideal.
- The night market and beer corner: tourist attractions. Don’t spend your money unless you really need/want to. Beer is cheap, yes. I’d say only do beer corner if you plan on socializing with others, or you’re with a group. Otherwise, save your money for something better.
Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series on Hanoi.
Don’t forget to check out the first part to this post here and leave your thoughts in the comments below!