A Buddhist shrine.
The chaotic city of Hanoi.
Some French architecture.
Visit the chaotic city of Hanoi for a taste of the real Vietnam.
Hanoi, on the banks of the Red River, is the capital of socialist Vietnam, formerly French Indochina. This small country is set on the South China Sea, bordering China, Cambodia and Laos. It is a frenetic city of about 1,100,000 motorbikes, 1.5 million bicycles and cyclos and half a million cars, lorries and buses. It's always busy, of course, but there seems to be a peak period from 4.30pm.
There is a definite sense of communist control in Hanoi, particularly at the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum at Ba Dinh Square. People travel from all over the world to pay their respects at the site of Ho Chi Minh's declaration of Vietnam's independence in 1945. He led his country to communist victory in wars against France and America. His embalmed body is in a coffin sitting on a plinth, and is guarded by armed security guards. People are expected to act with dignity, and hands in pockets around the coffin is forbidden.
Nearby are reminders of the time Vietnam was ruled by France. Vast parts of Hanoi were built by the French and its architecture and broad boulevards are an impressive legacy. Even though they have been gone for more than 50 years, the older generation speaks French, and the cuisine has a definite French influence.
There are 36 streets forming the Old Quarter, which was formed in the 13th century. The streets were named after the merchandise they sold, and that loosely remains the same. The area is lively and noisy and you can buy red candlesticks, herbal medicines, silk in every colour of the rainbow, funeral boxes, gold and silver, religious offerings and everything in between.
Hoan Kiem Lake is a beautiful body of water in the heart of Hanoi. Its legend is that in the 15th century, heaven gave the emperor a magical sword, which he used to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. Soon after the war, a giant golden tortoise appeared in the lake, took the sword and disappeared. The lake was then given its name, meaning Lake of the Restored Sword. Each morning at 6am, thousands and thousands of residents jog, play badminton and do traditional exercises around the lake.
In the evenings, the locals tend to go out at 6pm and return by 8pm. Nightclubs stay open until 2-3am and are mainly patronised by tourists and the well-to-do local youth. There are wall-to-wall motorbikes around 30 little bars crammed into Bao Khanh Street. The popularity of the clubs changes with the wind, so to find out the latest "in" spot, ask around.
There is now a great choice of accommodation in Hanoi. You can pay $3000 a night for a hotel with pool, health club, restaurants, nightclub and business centre, but if that's a bit much, there are plenty of mid-range hotels with pool, health club, beauty salon, restaurants, bars and karaoke! The backpacker market is well catered for lots of places, usually family-run, to doss down, and as in most Vietnamese homes, the sideboard and chairs are the most elaborate items of furniture.