Hanoi is absolutely charming! I spent most of the day walking and taking motorcycles around the amazing city. At first, the extreme street chaos seemed a bit like scenes from Blade Runner, but it’s much more than that.
The Vietnamese people are delightful, and there’s order to the busy, chaotic streets. They’re divided into districts and “types” of businesses – jewelry in one area, galleries in another, fruits and vegetables, silk and fabrics, boutiques and clothing in another, and so on. Although I constantly referred to a map, I had trouble finding the streets I was looking for and so tried to plot my way by familiar landmarks – like the men selling colorful caged birds and smoking what absolutely had to be pot! The vivid street scenes were priceless. I finally communicated where I wanted to go to a motorcycle driver and mostly closed my eyes while we got there. I was sure we were going to have a dozen accidents that thankfully didn’t happen!
Urban Districts – Hoàn Kiếm, Đống Đa, and Ba Đình
There are ten urban districts, and three of the main ones include Hoan Kiem, Dong Da, and Ba Dinh. Named after Hoan Kiem Lake the Hoan Kiem District is the downtown commercial center of Hanoi. The district has many tourist attractions and most of the largest public corporations and bank headquarters. The Hoan Kiem District includes the Old Quarter, Hanoi Opera House, the National Museum of Vietnamese History, and the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, which is on the list of things to see.
The central government offices are in Ba Đình District surrounded at the north by Tây Hồ, to the east by Red River, to the south by Đống Đa, to the southeast by Hoàn Kiếm, and to the west by Cầu Giấy. I’ll investigate that area tomorrow and guess I should purchase a helmet while continuing to take motorcycles to get around. The streets in the Old Quarter are narrow and lend themselves nicely to motorcycle transportation. So far, I haven’t seen any accidents, but the swirl of machines around, over, and across each other is not for the faint hearted or squeamish.
The Old Quarter is near Hoan Kiem Lake and has the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi. “At the beginning of the 20th century the city consisted of only about 36 streets, most of which are now part of the Old Quarter. Each street had merchants and households specialized in a particular trade.”
Today Old Quarter street names still reflect these specializations, although few of them remain exclusively in their original commerce. “The area is famous for merchants and small artisans, including silk shops. Local cuisine specialties as well as clubs and bars can also be found here. A night market (near Đồng Xuân) in the heart of the district opens for business every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening with a variety of clothing, souvenirs, and food.” I’m looking forward to the night market this weekend!
Some prominent places in Hanoi include:
- The Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) University
- One Pillar Pagoda (Chùa Một Cột)
- Flag Tower of Hanoi (Cột cờ Hà Nội)
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Hanoi is a city between rivers. It also has many scenic lakes and is sometimes called the “city of lakes”. The most famous lakes are Hoan Kiem Lake, West Lake, Halais Lake (Hồ Thiền Quang in Vietnamese), and Bay Mau Lake. “Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as Sword Lake, is the historical and cultural center of Hanoi linked to the legend of the magic sword. West Lake (Hồ Tây) is a popular place for people to spend time. It’s the largest lake in Hanoi and there are many temples in the area.”
Under French rule, colonial architecture became dominant, and many examples remain today. Tree-lined Phan Dinh Phung Street provides good examples of French Colonial villas and mansions and the Grand Opera House, State Bank of Vietnam (formerly The Bank of Indochina), Presidential Palace (formerly Palace of the Governor-General of French Indochina), Saint Joseph Cathedral, and the historic Hotel Metropole. “Many of the colonial structures are an eclectic mixture of French and traditional Vietnamese architectural styles, such as the National Museum of Vietnamese History, the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts, and the old Indochina Medical College.”
Hanoi museums include:
- National Museum of Vietnamese History
- Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts
- Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
- Vietnam Museum of Revolution
- Ho Chi Minh Museum
- Contemporary Arts Center
- Vietnam Military History Museum
- The Hanoi Museum