Part 1 of My Hanoi Holiday

Ha Noienglish

Following a highly successful 25-year career as a singer/songwriter and musician, Keith pulled out of the rat race and moved to Southeast Asia in 2008. First living in Thailand, he moved to Cambodia and then relocated to Ho Chi Minh City in early 2013. Keith has had work published in magazines and websites in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and Asia. He has written for the BBC and has appeared on TV and radio in many different countries. His great loves are music and travel, but he writes on a whole range of subjects.

The new bridge on the highway in from the airport

I have visited Hanoi on about 10 occasions the first being in about 2006. I have lived in Vietnam for almost 5 years, in Ho Chi Minh City, and go to Hanoi on business from time to time. It is very different from the Southern metropolis in which I live.

The first obvious difference is that HCMC feels a lot bigger. It has wide streets and broad treelined thoroughfares. Hanoi tend to have narrower streets and not as many big thoroughfares. It is a compact city with a myriad of narrow streets especially in The Old Quarter. It is also more “Vietnamese” than HCMC.

Hanoi is avery green city with trees lining so many of the streets. There are numerous parks and no less than 25 lakes. The biggest and most well known of the lakes are West Lake and Hoan Kiem. Hoan Kiem is right in the heart of the city on the edge of the Old Quarter and is a huge focal point for the local people. They gather here in large numbers in the early mornings to take their exercise. Ladies do tai chi and dance with fans in the early morning mist. In the evenings many people stroll round the lake, old couples, young lovers and groups of friends. This area of Hoan Kiem has now been pedestrianised at the weekends and is really quite pleasant.

The famous Aldo Cafe and the fountain. Panorama NCCong ©2013

Whilst in this part of town visit the coffee shop on the fourth floor facing the Aldo cafe. Try the egg coffee, a true example of something uniquely Hanoian.

For entertainment Hanoi is a long way behind HCMC. Most of the city’s establishments still closed down at about 11 pm, despite the government loosening the licensing laws earlier this year. There is an area called Bia Corner where the bars stay open until the wee small hours. This area is very backpacker driven, so if you are looking for late night smart bars, forget it. There are though, some great street performers here at the weekends.

In the Museum of Ethnology

The Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology is also well worth a visit. Telling the story of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups it is a great way to spend a few hours.

Also worth a visit is the Lanh Hung Fashion at 18 Au Co, in Hanoi. Ms Lanh Hung is one of Vietnam’s leading experts on the history, design and manufacture of this country’s wonderful national dress, the Ao Dai. This costume for Vietnamese women first appeared on bronze drums dated from 20000 BC. It appears to have developed into what it is today during the Ly Dynasty of the 11th century.

This stunning example took four highly skilled artisans 12 months to make. More day to day versions are regular sights on hanoi’s streets.

Áo dài Việt Nam

Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, it is an absolutely fascinating look at the role played by Vietnamese women over the years of the country’s development. I think it’s the best museum in the country.

Where Hanoi really comes into it’s own is as a hub for exploring Northern Vietnam. It is from here where you need to be to get to Halong Bay, Sapa, Ninh Binh and many other significant destinations. Personally I would recommend that nobody misses out on Ninh Binh, it is remarkable.

There is no doubt that Hanoi is changing, but change is coming slowly. It is starting to develop now trying to catch up with its Southern counterpart.

Personally I think its fine for a few days, but that is normally enough for me. I do though, enjoy my time there.

Keith Hancock

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