HaNoi, Vietnam

Hoan Kiem Lake

Leaving what I now realize was the relative calm of Da Nang, we flew into Hanoi for 5 days.  Holy smokes this place is crazy!!!  Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the second most populous city with an estimated 9 million inhabitants.  Our hotel is in the ‘old quarter’, with narrow lanes, busy streets and just a whole lot going on.  Each time we walked out of our hotel it was an adventure in not getting run over by scooters, cars, trishaws, and bicycles.  Like everywhere else in SE Asia, sidewalks are for scooter parking and the setting up of shops, restaurants, and food stalls.  Pedestrians are relegated to walking on the road with the traffic, and I must admit after 5 months of this, I am pretty tired of it.  However, Hanoi has some interesting sights that are worth seeing so we’ll cross our fingers, step out onto the roads and hope for the best!!

Our hotel is 2 blocks from Hoan Kiem Lake, a natural freshwater lake in the heart of Hanoi.  There is a walking path around the lake and on weekends the nearby streets of the old quarter are closed to traffic turning the area into one big party.  In the center of the lake is Turtle Tower, built in 1886 in honor of Emperor Le Loi, who ruled in the early 1400’s.

  • Hoan Kiem Lake


Thê Húc Bridge at the northern end of the lake was originally built in 1865 but has undergone two complete reconstructions, the last being in 1952.  The bridge provides access to the Ngoc Son Temple which sits on a small island in Hoan Kiem Lake.  Because of its bright red color, the bridge is a popular destination for photographs, I might have taken a few 😂


St Joseph’s Cathedral is the oldest church in Hanoi, built between 1884 and 1886.  Having survived two fierce wars, the church stands peacefully in the center of this bustling city.  St Joseph’s is one of the first architectural works built by the French colonial government in Indochina.  After the retreat of the French in 1954 the cathedral was closed by the communist Viet Minh government, not reopening until Christmas Eve of 1990.


Hoa Lo Prison, built between 1886 and 1889, was originally used by the French colonists for political prisoners.  Later it was used by North Vietnam for USA prisoners of war during the American/Vietnam war.  It was during this later period it was known to American POWs as the ‘Hanoi Hilton’.  The prison was demolished during the 1990’s with only the gatehouse remaining and turned into a museum.  The displays mainly show the prison conditions during the French colonial period, probably because the Vietnamese deny any wrongdoing or mistreatment of POW’s during the American/Vietnam war.

  • The 'Hanoi Hilton'


Train Street is one of Hanoi’s most famous unofficial attractions where trains buzz by mere feet away from rows of open-air cafés.  The century-old railway cuts through the heart of bustling neighborhoods in the old quarter and what was a normal feature of everyday life has grown into one of the city’s most iconic tourist attractions.  We arrived at 8:15am and walked along the track for a while looking at all the coffee shops lining the tracks.  As it got closer to the scheduled train arrival at 8:50am we picked a café and sat down to enjoy an egg coffee awaiting the excitement.  Whistles were blown and business owners hustled their patrons away from the train tracks and then the train arrived.  WOW, it came through faster than I expected and closer to us than I expected.  It was thrilling!!!  So much so that we waited around for a while because more people were arriving so we thought that maybe there would be a second train, and there was at 9:20am.  It was no less exciting the second time around, what a rush!!!  Don’t miss this experience if you are in Hanoi.  I think the early mornings may be less crowded than later in the day.

  • Train Street


The French Quarter neighborhood was built during the French colonial period and features beautiful architecture, tree lined boulevards and luxury boutiques.  One of the most beautiful buildings here is the Hanoi Opera House, built between 1901 and 1911 and modeled after one of Paris’ opera houses.  Walking past the luxury boutiques and hotels I almost felt like we could have been in Paris!

  • Hanoi Opera House


Dong Xuan Market was originally built by the French in 1889 and has become one of the largest indoor markets in Vietnam.  The market sells everything imaginable and is one of the largest wholesale markets in Hanoi where traders and retailers come to purchase goods in bulk.  Vendors have expanded into the surrounding streets so shopping opportunities begin well before you reach the market building.  We visited late morning, and it did not seem as busy as other markets we have been to, or maybe we are just getting used to the crowds!

  • Candy shop


We spent 5 days in Hanoi which was probably 2 days too many.  Staying in the old quarter we were able to walk to the places we wanted to see and covered the highlights in 3 days.  Hanoi is congested with people and scooters making walking a bit of a challenge.  We walked to our sightseeing destinations but if you just wanted to get out for a walk, forget it.  Fortunately, our hotel was 2 blocks from Hoan Kiem Lake so we could get to the pathway around the lake and escape the traffic.  Hanoi was a bit overwhelming for us, but we are glad we came.

With our 3-month visa about to expire, we are off to Laos for 9 days to apply for our second Vietnam visa.  Fingers crossed they let us back in…..






We loved the Hanoi Food Culture Restaurant in the old quarter.  We ate there twice during our 5 day stay, the food is amazing and they also have a cooking school.

We stayed at the San Grand Hotel in the old quarter and the rooftop bar and restaurant are rated as having one of the best views over Hoan Kiem Lake.  We thought so, plus the food is very good in the restaurant.



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