On Day 1 of our stay at Hanoi, we were ready at 6 am (we rarely wake up so early on holidays, but then ‘Ha Long Bay’ was a 3 hour drive-cum-ferry trip off Hanoi - so we had to start early) … and then - our car driver called in late! Wanting to ‘kill the 30 minute wait’, we decided to stroll down the quaint ‘Old Quarter’ area of Hanoi where we (and most 'tourists') stayed.. What would we find at 6 am, we thought – but at least we can take a walk in the fresh air!
To our surprise, the streets of Old Quarter were bustling with two wheelers (people riding to go to work perhaps?), young girls with conical straw hats riding bicycles, middle aged drivers pushing their ‘cyclo’s (cycle rickshaws) down the streets and street vendors carrying their goods in twin baskets hanging across the shoulders on a bamboo pole – selling everything from fresh fruits to rice to utensils and household stuff. All this action was through streets which were lined by a myriad of shops- most with their shutters still down and a canopy of wires ‘meshed’ across electric poles. The shuttered down shops had at their doorstep – little make-shift breakfast stalls. Each stall had 2-3 mini stools for customers to sit on and have breakfast of ‘pho bo’ – the local noodle broth. The breakfast stalls would soon close for the day making way for the shutters to open into book shops, travel shops and plush restaurants serving ‘authentic’ Vietnamese cuisine.
|Fruit vendors in the Old Quarter|
|The 6 am breakfast of 'Pho Bo'|
|A lady making Rice Paper Sheets (for Rice Paper Rolls)|
The other side of Old Quarter ended at the main street – a ring road that encircled the Hoan Keim Lake (famous for the legendary golden turtle god).. Local joggers at the lake were brushing past the morning mist that arose above the lake giving the onlooker a gentle peek at the “Turtle Tower” right in the middle of the waters.
|Hoan Keim Lake (famous for the legendary Golden Turtle God)|
|Incense Stick Sellers|
My list of Top 5 Attractions in and around Hanoi:
- Ha Long Bay
- The Perfume Pagoda
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- The One Pillar Pagoda
- The Water Puppet Theatre
Ha Long Bay (which is a UNESCO world heritage sight) with thousands of limestone isles was breathtaking! We waded through the bay waters in a quaint junkboat – riding past floating fishing villages, past little boats selling vegetables and fruits – watching the limestone islets in various shapes, forms and sizes! We wished we had spent more than just a day there!
|Fruit Vendor at Ha Long Bay|
|Our Junk Boat cruising thru Ha Long Bay|
The ‘Perfume Pagoda’ – (about a 30 minute drive from Hanoi city) - had an interesting legend: If you rub the cave walls of the Pagoda with currency notes, you will be blessed with more wealth! (We promptly did the needful …!)
|The 'Perfume' Pagoda|
|A 'Sea' of boats waiting to take us to the Pagoda|
|Boats steered by women (many of them are widows of war martyrs)|
|A co passenger smoking a Bamboo Pipe|
|The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum|
|The One Pillar Pagoda|
The Water Puppet Theatre right in the middle of Hanoi was a cultural treat! Colorful Puppets telling us a Vietnamese legend of kings and farmers and turtles et all – but with a difference – all puppets were ‘dancing’ around on water!
|The Water Puppet Show|
|The Water Puppeteers taking a bow after the show|
What kids will love in Hanoi:
- The Water Puppet Theatre
- Cable Car Ride up to the Perfume Pagoda
- Cruise along the Ha Long Bay (but the 3-4 hours cruise as the overnight one might get boring for kids)
- Walk (Run past) the promenade along the Hoan Kiem Lake
- Visit the colourful markets of Hanoi
(An extract of this travelogue was published in Hindustan Times HT Cafe on May 1, 2010).