Old Quarters in Hanoi is probably a nightmare for photographers - not due to the dearth of subjects but the actual opposite! Everything I saw walking around Old Quarters seemed picture worthy. Maybe it is because travelers over the years have created a romanticized image of Vietnam; be it the lake or the food stalls or cycle rikshaws or the traffic. It is hard to not be shutter happy.
I would advise you to keep the cameras away and just spend a day walking in Hanoi to soak in all that surrounds you. In many ways Hanoi did remind me of an Indian city - the general chaos is a very familiar feeling and I loved it.
All hotels will give you a simple map of the Old Quarters with the roads, restaurants and sight seeing spots marked. This is a great tool to help you know where you need to go. Do not depend on it because Hanoi is a city that is worth getting lost in.
Our walk took us to the Vietnam Military History Museum, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh Museum, One Pillar Pagoda, several embassies in old heritage buildings, a stop for some Ca Phe Sua Nong and lunch at Green Mango.
We also visited a few stores that were open to pick up some souvenirs from our trip. Later in the evening we visited Ngoc Son Temple at Hoan Kiem Lake.
Most tourists also do the cycle rikshaw tour around the lake, but I skipped that. I am sure it is fun, but I was not very comfortable making a skinny Vietnamese man cycle me around the lake.
Another evening we also visited the Opera House which is on the other side of the lake. This part of Hanoi is more upmarket with luxury brand stores and broader roads. But that does not mean you can escape the food stalls. So we finally decided to experiment. Being a vegetarian I stuck to some milk shake while my husband tried some meat.
As walking around the city is such an important part of the visit it is best if you go during the winters or spring. Also, Tet is not the best time to visit Hanoi if you want to shop. Most shops are closed for at least three days to celebrate the New Year. On the other hand, Hanoi is less crowded and that could be a good thing…but remember it is measured in Hanoi units!
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