For whatever reason, I was in a much better mood when I arrived in Hanoi. I think I finally felt that the end was near, and I was happy to enjoy the rest of my adventure.
I flew in from Huê, took a shuttle that I hoped would drop me off near the part of town where my hostel was, and navigated Hanoi’s particular brand of chaotic traffic. Hanoi was certainly a chaotic city, but it was the kind that I enjoyed. The streets aren’t as big as in Ho Chi Minh City, so if you’re confident enough, walking around isn’t as much of a problem.
The first night there I decided to get some pho, and found a place that looked to be popular with locals. I sat down, and they didn’t even bring a menu, just some spices and the best bowl of pho I’ve ever had.
The next morning I was able to cross off the last item from my culinary to-do list at The Note Coffee, a café that lets travellers write messages on sticky notes to decorate the walls. I tried egg coffee here, which surprised me by actually being enjoyable.
I decide to slow my pace down in Hanoi, which allowed me to relax a bit in the city. My biggest daily obstacle was literally the two dogs that liked to sleep in front of my hostel door that didn’t take kindly to being pet.
In the historic centre of Hanoi is Hoàn Kiêm Lake, the Lake of the Returned Sword, which has its own legend involving a Turtle God. A beautiful red bridge connects to Jade Island in the lake where the Ngoc Son Temple stands.
The lake has another smaller island upon which is the Turtle Tower, consistent with the lake’s legend.
The walk around the lake was very nice, as there were temples, monuments, the remains of a tower, and a nice park to sit in.
I wandered through the Old Quarter without any particular destination in mind, simply enjoying being in the hustle and bustle of Hanoi life. One landmark that really stood out was St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which is clearly another remnant of French occupation.
The next day I went on a walk that took me farther out into the city.
I went to Ba Ðình Square, where Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence from France in 1945, and where his mausoleum stands today.
The Canadian embassy was around here, so I said hello to the Vietnamese guard stationed in front. I was expecting a stony faced nod, but he smiled and said hello, which I’m hoping means friendly Canadians saying hello is a common occurrence. I asked many locals and fellow travellers everywhere I went about Canada’s reputation and can say that either we have a very good reputation or we’re just not thought about. So… Good news!
Continuing my walk, I checked out the One Pillar Pagoda. It was a pretty cool temple, with a line of people to go up, so on I went to the Temple of Literature.
The temple is dedicated to Confucius, and was Vietnam’s first national university.
Throughout Vietnam, I always loved seeing the temples and the many colours that went with them. I think the Vietnamese styles are beautiful.
I ascended to the top floor for the balcony view, then made my way back towards the Old Quarter where my hostel was. There was a fancy cafe near the cathedral where I got some jasmine tea to finish my day. It came with dried coconut and ginger coated in sugar. Turns out that even with sugar, ginger is awful.
While there are many places in Vietnam I wanted to see but didn’t get to, there was one that I simply couldn’t miss – Ha Long Bay. Hostels actually make travel life easy in many ways, and usually there is a tour you can book through your hostel that isn’t too sketchy and isn’t the most expensive. I booked the day trip to Ha Long Bay and had a fantastic time.
A UNESCO world heritage site, Ha Long Bay is one of Vietnam’s most popular attractions. The limestone karst landscape is extensive, and is supposed to have taken millions of years to form.
The bus picked up people from various hotels and hostels around Hanoi before heading to Ha Long Bay. Once there, we were brought onto the boat that would take us around and served lunch as it set out. I shared a table with a South Korean couple, and three ladies from Russia, Australia, and Germany, and listened to their travel stories. After lunch we were able to go to the top deck to enjoy the views and take pictures. There were boats everywhere but it was still easy to get some unobstructed pictures.
We were let off at one point to transfer to some smaller boats so that we could see some of the grottos. The boats were manned by locals, some of whom sang in Vietnamese as they rowed.
Following the grottos, we were taken to a larger island with caves.
We then took the boat back to where our bus was waiting to return to Hanoi. Ha Long Bay was certainly worth the excursion.
Back in Hanoi, I had another day before I would fly out. I went back to the lake because it was a cool day with a warm breeze, and being outside felt amazing. I was sitting on the edge of the lake when a local student came over to sit with me. He asked me if he we could talk so he could practice his English, and we had a nice conversation. I had gone to some parks in Ho Chi Minh City hoping to have a conversation like this, because that was where I heard students usually went looking for tourists, but that didn’t work out. It was therefore quite nice to cross that off my list of things I wanted to experience in Vietnam without expecting it.
Later in the evening I took my last of many walks around the lake, enjoying the illumination and some live music that was being performed nearby. Before I knew it, my time in Vietnam was over, and I was very excited. I was now on my way to the second last country of my trip, and the last one I would do alone – South Korea.