It was already pretty late in the evening when our train from Ninh Binh arrived in the capital of Vietnam; Hanoi. On our way from the train station to our hostel ‘Little Hanoi Hostel’, it already became clear that Hanoi was a bit different than Ho Chi Minh City. The first thing that struck us was that the streets weren’t as clean as they were in Ho Chi Minh City. Also the food places didn’t seem as well maintained, which led us to loose quite some time finding a decent street food place to have dinner.
But while our first impression of the city was a bit disappointing, I ended up falling in love with the city in the evening. Especially the evenings during the weekend. There is constant hustle and bustle in Hanoi, but at that time, the city really comes alive.
We had two whole days to discover the city and of course ended up doing the classic city sights: Temple of Literature, Ngoc-Son Pagoda, Dong Xuan Market, Bach Ma Temple, Hang Bac Street Nr. 102, Presidential Palace, House of Ho Chi Minh, Quan-Thanh Temple, Tran Quoc Pagoda and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Quite of bit of sightseeing as you can see.
But what I will remember most of this city is the absolutely amazing atmosphere around the Hoan Kiem lake on weekend evenings. Then the entire area around the lake is traffic free. As every major city in Vietnam, the traffic is completely hectic in Hanoi, so by making the area pedestrian only during the weekend, the Vietnamese – and tourists – can enjoy some time away from all that hustle and bustle and just relax. There are street musicians, food stalls, street games,… It feels like one big party. I feel like you haven’t really experienced Hanoi if you didn’t at least spend on Saturday or Sunday evening around the Hoan Kiem Lake.
At the Hoan Kiem Lake, you can also find the Water Puppet Theater. There you can go watch one of the famous Vietnamese water puppet shows. It may sound dull but it’s quite delightful. The show lasts about 45 minutes and while I couldn’t understand a thing that was said, I still enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s also quite entertaining trying to figure out how they make those puppets move.
Be sure to reserve your tickets in advance though. The theater is quite small so there is a limited amount of tickets. We passed by the theater in the morning after visiting the Ngoc-Son Pagoda and were luckily to get hold of few of the last tickets for the last show of the evening at 10pm. Entrance price is 100.000 dong. It’s quite expensive for Vietnam, but it’s a unique experience you can’t miss out on.
So while the sights in Hanoi are of course something you must see, you absolutely can’t miss out on a Saturday or Sunday evening at the lake. That’s where the city comes alive. And it’s also fun to walk in the middle of the streets in Vietnam without having to worry about being hit by a hoard of motorcycles!