Hà Nội

Hoàn Kiếm District (Old Quarter)

Our hotels in Hà Nội were located in the Hoàn Kiếm district (a.k.a. the Old Quarter). The streets are small, the sidewalks covered in motorbike parking or nonexistent, and the health code not enforced (if it was ever created). Hoàn Kiếm is colorful, loud, and smelly — in both good and bad ways, simultaneously. There are songbirds hanging outside many shop fronts. The scents of cooking food, motorbike exhaust, and garbage in the street constantly mix. Crossing the street is a test of faith. Traffic laws seem to be mere suggestions, and using the horn is necessary at every intersection. Everyone rides motorbikes. We saw families of 5, piles of bricks, huge glass windows, even a monkey in a baby bjorn — all on mopeds.

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What a Hotel Room for $17 Gets You (on the Second Try)
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Hotel Room View
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Vegetable Phở, Specialty of Hà Nội
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Egg Coffee, Another Hà Nội Specialty -- Almost Like Liquid Cake or Tiramisu
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Songbirds in Cages Adorn Many of the Old Quarter Shopfronts
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Streets of the Old Quarter
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Old Quarter Shops
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People-Watching from a Cafe -- You Never Know Who or What Will Drive Past on a Moped or Bicycle
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Busy Streets
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Parks and Public Spaces are Very Popular with the Locals for Tai Chi, Skateboarding, Badminton, Shuttlecock, and Bike Riding
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We Must've Seen 20 Wedding Photo Sessions in Progress
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More Weddings
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Shuttlecock -- Sort of Like Volleyball, but Using Your Feet
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Cathedral in Hoàn Kiếm
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Streets of Hoàn Kiếm

Crossing the Street in Hà Nội

Traffic Near Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hà Nội

Hà Nội Intersection from Above, This is Actually During Pretty Mellow Traffic

Hoàn Kiếm Lake (“Lake of the Restored Sword”)

Hoàn Kiếm Lake is a lake in the old quarter of Hà Nội. Legend says that a Vietnamese general was given a magic sword by a lake spirit (somewhat like the Arthurian legend). The general used the sword to defeat the invading Chinese army. Two islands in the lake house a temple and the turtle tower (Tháp Rùa). The path around the lake is a pleasant walk with many Vietnamese locals painting and drawing, lifting weights, practicing Tai Chi, and relaxing.

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Turtle Tower (Tháp Rùa) in the Middle of the Lake
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Us in Front of the Turtle Tower
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Incense Burning at the Temple
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Temple Altar with Offerings
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Chess at the Lake Temple -- People Play Chinese Chess (Cờ Tướng) in Many Public Spots and Cafes
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More People Playing Chinese Chess
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"Can I Take a Picture With You?" -- Linley is a Celebrity
Vietnamese Women’s Museum

We visited the Vietnamese Women’s Museum near Hoàn Kiếm. The museum had many excellent exhibits that showed the traditional lifestyle, clothing, and culture of women in Vietnam. The exhibits spanned many ethnic groups and time periods in Vietnam’s history.

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James Explores the Interactive Exhibits
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Many Old Propaganda Posters on Display
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More Propaganda Posters
Hỏa Lò Prison (a.k.a. the Hanoi Hilton)

The Hỏa Lò Prison (a.k.a. the Hanoi Hilton) has a long and violent history. Most of the prison was demolished, but part remains as a museum. The prison was first used by the French to house political prisoners, and then by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War to hold prisoners of war. The museum plaques and information were quite interestingly and blatantly biased — signs claim that American prisoners were treated like house guests, while the French consistently abused Vietnamese prisoners. One exhibit displays the flight suit and parachute of John McCain.

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Entrance to Hỏa Lò Prison
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Shards of Glass, Barbed Wire, and Iron Bars
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John McCain's Flight Suit & Parachute
Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum

The Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum is a large monument that holds the body of Hồ Chí Minh. Viewing hours are only in the morning, so we only saw the outside of the mausoleum. The wide open streets outside are blocked off from traffic, so it felt quite nice to be away from the moped swarm.

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Outside the Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum
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Panorama of the Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum
One-Pillar Pagoda

The One-Pillar Pagoda is one of Vietnam’s most iconic Buddhist temples, and is over 1000 years old. The pagoda has been rebuilt many times. The shape of the pagoda is meant to resemble a lotus blossom.

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The One-Pillar Pagoda

8 thoughts on “Hà Nội

  1. K

    I think the pagoda is my favorite. If I were going to cross the street I think I’d wait for a local to cross and go with them. Do me a favor and post some photos of people doing Tai Chi?

  2. Pat

    Viet Nam sounds unique, beautiful, and terrifying. I’m surprised no one runs across the street. Obviously there is no road rage. Your discriptions really make it all come alive.

  3. Pat

    I read somewhere that if you put some mynthol cream under your nose, it helps with odors. Maybe Carmax would do the same. In Victorian times, the women carried boquets of herbs or flowers to mask the odors. It may be worth a try. Make a little pouch of wonderful herbs and wear it around your necks in crowds or on trains.

  4. Anne Watt Massey

    Good googley moogley that traffic is terrifying!!! I can certainly see how the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum would have been a welcome break offering some much needed serenity.

  5. Haley Zahner

    WOW, beautiful photos and looks like lots of interesting stories I look forward to hearing about. Miss you guys !