Buoyed by Hanoi

Packed with colonial architecture, Buddhist temples & pagodas, Hanoi’s alluring charm leaves Dipti Das mesmerised

Vietnam temple at Hanoi; (below) Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

As I boarded my flight from Siem Reap, Cambodia to reach my second and final destination of Hanoi, Vietnam during my nine-day South-East-Asian jaunt, little did I realise that this underrated country is going to be one of the best hosts ever.

Vietnam was everything — both mesmeric and exotic. Its staggering natural beauty, coupled with cultural complexities and spirited megacities, carved out an alluring picture in my mind. Vietnam will always have a special place in my travel diaries.

During my five-day stay visit to Vietnam, I chose only to stay in Hanoi, the capital city, and visit the neighbouring attractions. Since I was a solo traveller and intended to explore the place without much fuss, I chose to stay in the bustling Old Quarter at Hanoi. Old Quarter has many restaurants, markets and long-winding streets. On the one hand, the Old Quarter hosts a slew of old buildings and government offices, (drawing inspiration from the French architecture — French colonised the country for six long decades), on the other hand, it has earned the recognition of being a bustling city with high rise buildings, malls and swanky restaurants and hotels. Remember all the economic boom the country has witnessed in the last decade? The vibe and energy of the Old Quarter is definitely mesmerising and hard to miss.

Varied cuisine

As I stepped out of my motel in this historical area, I was greeted by a slew of hip cafés, bars, a variety of restaurants serving various cuisines, boutique shops and art galleries. Vietnam’s flavourful and balanced cuisine is quite famous across the world. In fact, the street food here must not be missed. When in Vietnam, try the trendy pho, banh mi, cha ca, banh goi or the Vietnamese coffee, which is as popular as the French baguettes available here

Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh

 

Hanoi’s attractions

The Old Quarter, located near Hoan Kiem Lake in Hoan Kiem district, is Hanoi’s major commercial district. Many of Hanoi’s major attractions, including Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi Opera House, National Museum of Vietnamese History, Ba Dinh Square, the One Pillar Pagoda, Bach Ma Temple, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and Dong Xuan, Hanoi’s largest market, are all located in the Old Quarter. While I strolled along these narrow roads, I was reminded of home — streets packed with scooters, bicycles and cars swarming around pedestrians. Sidewalk vendors and street hawkers selling everything — from food to clothes and everything else one could possibly think of.

While I strolled around this bustling city, I ensured I took time off to appreciate the excellent architecture dating back to the colonial times of the French and Chinese. The beautiful Buddhist temples and pagodas adorn the city’s monuments. Hopping on to a tuk-tuk is the best option to explore the city since this is the most economical option to get a feel of the city.

Museums galore

Hanoi is home to a slew of museums, spread across the city — for which you can gain entry with a meagre admission fee ranging from 10 to 20 dollars. I visited a couple of museums including the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, Ho Chi Minh Museum, War Remnants Museum etc. The Vietnamese Women’s Museum was filled with visual images and a collection of costumes, tribal basket ware and fabric motifs from Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups, propaganda posters, and visuals reminding one about lives during numerous wars the country has fought. Many collections also depict heroic deeds of these poignant women.

Halong Bay

A good five-hour drive (didn’t feel as we drove on few of the best-maintained highways) from the busy Old Quarters drifted me to Halong Bay, the most serene place I could ask for. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination in the Quang Ninh Province of Vietnam, Halong Bay is a paradise to cherish. As I approached the Halong Bay City during my day-long trip, I was greeted by the limestone outcrops of the northeast coast. The name ‘Ha Long’, which means ‘descending dragon, is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. Halong Bay’s scatter of islands, dotted with wind-and wave-eroded grottoes remains northern Vietnam’s unabashed tourism hotspot.

There are hordes of private tours and travels who arrange day-long trips to Halong Bay from Hanoi city for just 40 dollars. I tried my hand at kayaking, the best way to explore Halong Bay. As I paddled through islets, it gave me an opportunity to visit hidden caves and lagoons.

Big pagoda at Hanoi
Big pagoda at Hanoi.

 

Tam Coc-Bích Đong

My next day’s tour involved yet another day-long trip to Tam Coc-Bích Đong — a flooded cave karst system with limestone outcrops amid serene paddy fields. Tam Coc is best appreciated on a languid rowing-boat ride. I enjoyed the sprawling paddy fields and beautiful Buddhist pagodas around the place.

A must-visit here is the Bái Đính Temple or Bái Đính Temple Spiritual and Cultural Complex that consists of a complex of Buddhist temples on Bai Dinh Mountain in Gia Vien District, Ninh Bình Province, Vietnam.

 

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