Hanoi is a paradoxical place. Crazy Asian energy and genuine Communist enthusiasm live there together with the devotion of Catholic cathedrals and Buddhist temples. In December in Hanoi it is sunny and the temperature is around 20 degrees. I had the impression of getting into the Estonian summer in its best manifestation. So I wandered around Hanoi and enjoyed it thoroughly, despite the aggressiveness, even machismo of the Vietnamese, which takes time to get used to and to see it as openness and directness.
I will start simply from the street photos. Maybe these motocycles crossing every which way and these big groups of people sipping lemon tea together will communicate the energy of this place.
The foreigners are transported with a special pomp
A street market
A busy crossing close to the lake Houn Kiem, which is the focus of central Hanoi
The lake itself. In the centre of the lake is the island holding the Ngok Son temple (Jade Mountain Temple)
This little bridge (the Bridge of the Rising Sun) full of tourists leads to the island:
Inside the temple:
There is a giant turtle, reportedly over 150 years old, still living in the lake. They were four once. The mummy of one of the four turtles is held inside the temple.
Another temple in the centre, Bach Ma:
The backpacker area is concentrated around the Catholic cathedral:
I was there around the time of the Catholic Christmas. The Cathedral was full of people:
Not to forget that we are talking about a Communist country, this monument is found right next to the lake. I also visited the main communist monument of Hanoi, the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. It is strictly forbidden to make pictures there, anything that can take pictures is confiscated at the entrance, so one morning I jumped onto a motorbike taxi and went there without any photo equipment whatsoever, not even my phone (what freedom!) The mausoleum leaves a surprisingly dignified impassion, without too much pathos. It is a bit funny to look at the very young Vietnamese soldier-boys in their shiny white uniform and white shoes, who are obviously squirming from discomfort of standing there for hours and hours. This being done, I have now visited all three communist mummy houses. The other two are Lenin’s in Moscow (he seemed rather small and dried up) and Mao’s in Beijing (this one on the contrary seemed watery and large).
There is a phantasmagoric museum next to the mausoleum, commemorating the triumph of Uncle Ho’s ideas. The Vietnamese ideologues who created it must have been smoking something rather strong. The museum’s symbolism is daring yet foggy. For examples it features a cave in the form of Ho Chi Minh’s brain, which symbolises his conception of the project of the Vietnamese revolution. Wonderful.
I also visited the famous Central Prison, which was given by the American POWs held there the nickname Hanoi Hilton. The prison is in fact rather old, initially it was used by the French to imprison the Vietnamese revolutionaries – which as you would expect is the main topic of the exposition there.
The model of the prison. Only one wing has been preserved, most of the prison was removed in 1990s to create space for business.
The conditions in which the Vietnamese prisoners were kept by the French:
The guillotine – a special French touch – used by the colonial powers:
The exhibits demonstrating the protest in various con tries against the Vietnam war. In general it is the favourite take on the war in Vietnam: every museum features long rows of photos of these protests. Indeed these took place all over the war, including extensively in USA itself. The Soviet version:
And this is John McCain’s uniform in which he was captured. His plane crashed right above the Hoan Kiem lake. He was also kept in this prison.
The second floor of the prison offers these lists of heroes of Vietnam:
A monument in the prison courtyard:
A Street Food Tour is a wonderful way to sample and learn all that the streets have to offer. It is led by a local guide, you pay for the tour and then eat as much as you want (or can). We started from this place, famous in Hanoi, Hang Bac 11, where you can eat the tomato pork soup.
Never in a million years would I identify the pork – it looks like tofu balls.
Various sauces that the Vietnamese love adding to their soups. Verrrrry spicy. The violet concoction above is some total poison which gives an incredibly strong aroma. Some kind of a fish extract.
Our guide, a very funny girl, constantly joking. Here she is point at various derivatives of pork and chicken. Not only the white pieces on the top, also the little stones in the centre are pork!
The tour is highly useful to understand all the varieties of the street food, of which otherwise you would not be aware, as well as to learn the best places to try it – not necessarily on the tour itself. This Vietnamese pho I checked out later, in a place suggested by the guide. Their speciality is pho with half-cooked beef..
In a secret café, whose entrance is well hidden inside a shopping labyrinth:
and which offers this great view of Hoan Kiem lake:
I checked out their speciality – ice coffee with egg white. It reminded me of the taste of the dough from my early childhood. Yummy.
And finally – the frog legs! A Vietnamese speciality. As everybody knows, the taste is much like chicken!
This hairdresser updated my hair style for 100000 dong (5 USD!) in this saloon. A primer in international communication!
And a night view of Hoan Kiem lake, to top it off. A great place, Hanoi!