Rice & Shine
Daily life in Hanoi begins early – the inhabitants seem to rise with the sun. I too was here early, a day before the start of our itinerary, and determined to discover all I could. You can wander to each of the five distinctive districts with ease, so after an early breakfast, map in hand, I headed out into the heart of Hanoi.
Hoan Kiem Lake surprised me with the extent of activity in the park – the lush, green banks were alive with locals practising martial arts and women bunched together swaying to music. The striking red bridge arched over the water, its reflection quivering in the ripples. It is just one of the many pockets of green parks dotted across the city, perfect to relax and rest weary feet in. From here I made my way to the old French Quarter – a series of wide, tree-lined boulevards and grandiose Colonial buildings. Some were beautifully restored architectural masterpieces; others were in varying states of peeling decay, faintly nostalgic, just as beautiful and predominantly egg-yolk yellow.
Next was Ba Dihn district and a visit to the Military History Museum, which traces the turbulent history of the country, from ancient battles with Chinese invaders right through to the American war still in living memory. I climbed the Cot Co Tower, the flag fluttering overhead as I was rewarded with views over the entire city. Everywhere I looked the Vietnamese always seemed to be busy, whether working or playing a leisurely game of badminton in the streets.
When hunger called, the city was awash with cooking food – women in distinctive conical hats with street stalls, laden with fresh, colourful fruit or tempting pastries. Evenings in the Old Quarter were overflowing with eateries, the tall thin ‘tube houses’ bustling with activity. Whole streets specialised in particular trades – silk or shoes and everything in between was catered for. Even for those who enjoy shopping, Dong Xuan Street can be hectic, mopeds and motorbikes whizzing through the commotion. It’s daunting at first, but confidence is the key. I enjoyed the contrast of these colourful streets, frenetic with families, friends and colleagues working and eating together, to the tranquil and fragrant open spaces of the parks.
Once the full group arrived, we visited the Temple of Literature, with ornate courtyards and calm gardens. Red decoration is everywhere, from the deep red columns rising from grey paving stones adorned with gilded cranes to the bright paper lanterns hanging from the branches.
My many lasting memories of Hanoi are precious. There is no doubt that the city acts as a gateway to the history and culture of Vietnam. It’s full of fascinating glimpses into different ways of life here, from the energy along the pavements to the skilled poise topiary of the formal palaces and gardens. The following two weeks in Vietnam contained too many captivating moments to mention, but one that stayed with me was the peaceful water-buffalo milling about a paddy field, seemingly oblivious to the torrential downpour drenching them. Despite the wet, there was a magical quality about that sight – and there is something magical about the country in general.
By Juliana Gier, Exodus Customer Operations Support who travelled on our Vietnam Adventure