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.
Parks and Public Spaces are Very Popular with the Locals for Tai Chi, Skateboarding, Badminton, Shuttlecock, and Bike Riding
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.