My first impression of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, was not good. Just another crowded and noisy city.
Admittedly, after spending two days in the Ninh Binh countryside in the middle of nowhere, anything louder than complete silence was likely to annoy me.
My first night in Hanoi. KFC for dinner (argh!), as I could not be asked looking for a “proper” place to eat. Too many people around (it was Saturday night and the weekend market was on). And I had not studied the city map yet so I had no clear idea of where I was and how to move around. I hated it.
But then Hanoi started growing on me. It is actually a very nice city!
The Hoan Kiem lake in the city centre is a great place to stretch your legs and watch people, at any time of the day. There are always dance classes going on, people jogging, doing push-ups or practising tai-chi!
The Old Quarter is a madness of street vendors, little shops displaying their stuff on the pavement, street kitchens, motorbikes and people everywhere. But it’s fun and full of photo opportunities. The buildings themselves are quite interesting too.
And then you have the museums! They will keep you busy for a day or two, and they deserve a visit. I skipped the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum because of the never ending queue, but went into the Ho Chi Minh Museum (a surreal experience…) instead. Nearby also the One Pillar Pagoda is a sight not to be missed.
The Vietnam National Museum of History (with two buildings across the road from each other) has interesting displays that reflect the history of the country from prehistory to contemporary times.
But the highlight of the day was my visit to Van Mieu (the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s historical centre of learning): a large group of University students was there to take photos in their graduation gowns and in áo dài, and all us tourists joined in the events, either as photographers or photo subjects or both!