Street vendors and fruit sellers are tangled amongst the rabbit warren of streets; watch your step as you dodge scooters, bikes and uneven pavements and take a deep breath as you cross the road – this Hanoi with all the charm of an Asian city.
Beautiful tree lined boulvevards and grandiose lakes overlooked by faded French villas conjure up images of Hanoi’s colonial past. Close to Ho Chi Minh’s imposing mausoleum stands the grand former residence of French Governors. Today the residence entertains visiting foreign dignitaries; in its shadow sits the simple wooden stilted house where Ho Chi Minh lived until his death in 1969.
Old Quarter adjacent to the central Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake is a captivating lake right in the heart of Hanoi and a place that boasts a legend of a giant golden tortoise. The shores of the lake are now a perfect place to do nothing and just watch the world go by from a lakeside café.
For those with an interest in art, why not visit one of the foremost modern art galleries in Hanoi. Housing an exciting and regularly updated collection of modern Vietnamese art and photography, Art Vietnam was visited by Bill Clinton on his presidential tour in 2000 and has been mentioned in such publications as the New York Times and National Geographic. The Vietnamese Woman’s Museum is one of Hanoi’s best and includes exhibits, video and photos on Hanoi’s woman street vendors, marriage and family life and the role of women in the Vietnam War.
Day 2 in Hanoi
Today we embark on a fascinating half day guided tour around Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. Our first stop on the tour will be the final resting place of former leader and celebrated father, Ho Chi Minh. The mausoleum and accompanying museum offer a rare glimpse into the life of a man who played a major part in the founding of modern Vietnam as we see it today. Navigating through Hanoi’s busy streets you will then have the chance to see Ho Chi Minh’s wooden stilted house and the One Pillar Pagoda before arriving at the countries first university. The Temple of Literature. This centuries old institution honours the past teachings of Vietnam’s Scholars and is one of the many temples in Vietnam dedicated to Confucious. Statues and alters to the famed philosopher can be seen dotted throughout the complex made up of various courtyards and pavilions. Afterwards you will drive past Hoan Kiem Lake and the charming Ngoc Son Temple before ending the tour at the cities Culture Exchange which has been set up to preserve the heritage and craft villages of Hanoi’s old quarter.
The Crane and the Turtle
A major symbol through North Vietnam, is the story of the Crane and the Turtle.
During the dry period the Turtle struggled to get water, and as legend tells us this Crane appeared, lifted up the Turtle and too the turtle to water.
During the wet season, and floods the Crane was unable to find any land to land on, however that same Turtle saw the Crane, and rose from the water, and allowed the Crane to land on it’s back.
Hanoi street food tour
Stroll through the Old Quarter and head to Thanh Ha market where we try local delicacies and strange food items that you may never have seen before. The market scene is permeated with the typical sights and sounds of Hanoi that depict the essence of Vietnamese culture.
Weave through the streets of the Old Quarter to Dong Xuan market where we will sample the famous local street foods ‘pho’ and ‘bun dau’. We learned about the routine of Vietnam mealtimes and the unusual ingredients that make the local flavours special and exotic.
Walk down to Hang Than Street where ceremonial cake stalls are displayed and many unique and colourful cakes are on sale. Pass by Hang Cot Street to see some specially treated fruit.
Walk along Phung Hung Street through temporary market stalls to see the changing market scene in Hanoi and how modernisation is harmoniously intertwined with tradition. The tour ends with a visit to one of the Old Quarter’s busiest coffee shops to try the excellent local coffee.
Day 3 Hanoi to Halong Bay by road
This morning we will be met by our guide and driver who will drive us the three and a half hour drive to Halong City; where we will be passing through paddy fields and newer industrial areas that are powering the modern Vietnamese society, and will be travelling on a busy but reliable road.
Staying at the Essence Hanoi Hotels & Spa
This small boutique hotel opened in 2011 in the heart of Hanoi’s historic Old Quarter.
The location is excellent as you can step out straight into the hustle and bustle of this colourful capital city from the main entrance. Each guestroom has been fitted with simple Vietnamese furnishings, and the hotel offers free wireless internet throughout.
The elegant Essence Café restaurant offers full hot buffet breakfast and various lunch and dinner menus should you decide to relax and eat in the hotel rather than head out for the evening.