Liz and I visited Hanoi three times while in Vietnam; all three were short visits between other excursions. Hanoi is a beautiful city and the only city in Vietnam I’ve visited before. When in Hanoi in 1999 I accidentally ordered dog at a restaurant, cracked my head on the bottom of a swimming pool and got lost going for a morning jog, I loved it.
This time through Vietnam did nothing to dull the luster that Hanoi holds in my mind. While we did spend about 6 days there, it was broken up and far too short. The city itself is beautiful, and the area with the most affordable accommodation is in the old quarter, with street food and bia hoi joints all around. We stayed at different places each time in the city, but all three were in the Old Quarter.
Hanoi was mostly an eating destination for us on this trip. We didn’t see Uncle Ho’s preserved body or visit the Hanoi Hilton (or what remains) or visit any museums. Instead, we walked the streets admiring the architecture and tried to eat everything. We found some great food spots including a street lined with shops selling sizzling steak plates.
Both of us have enjoyed cities more than the countryside for the options in food and convenience of exploring by foot, but have also enjoyed spotting different animals. In Hanoi wee got a chance to see the famous Giant Turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake in the middle of the city. There is some debate on the taxonomy of the turtle on whether it is the same species as the Giant Soft-Shelled turtles of China. If it is, it is thought to be one of 5 in the world, if it is it’s own species as many Vietnamese scientists claim it is the only one left. It was thought to be extinct for decades until one photographer was able to capture video of it in the 1998 and it was determined that there were actually two in the lake. Efforts were made to catch them and clean the lake, in the process one turtle was killed (it’s preserved body now sits under glass in a small temple on an island in the lake). The other was successfully captured and the lake is now surprisingly clean for an urban lake in Southeast Asia.
Hanoi is one of the places Liz and I are considering trying to come back to and spend a bit more time a bit more stationary while on this trip. I would love to spend more time wandering alleys in the city trying to find the best banh coun and pho and making friends with the regulars at the closest bia hoi joint. Hopefully until next time for Hanoi comes sooner rather than later.