We immediately fell in love with Hanoi which quickly surpassed all our expectations. This was our first stop in Vietnam, arriving from China. We were staying in the French Quarter. Our hotel was right next to the beautiful Art Nouveau style Hanoi Opera House, with many up market and expensive shops in the other direction and just a short walk to the famous Ho Kiem Lake. The French colonial period in Vietnam was responsible for encircling the lake with many trees, creating an attractive park, with stunning views across the lake. Strolling and jogging around the lake is much favored by both the locals and the many tourists visiting the city. The lake contains a number of giant tortoises, so it must be pretty clean.
Our first morning in Hanoi, we took a two hour cyclo ride around the Ho Kiem Lake and the Old City. Cyclos are three-wheeled vehicles, where the driver pedals and the one or two passengers sit in the back admiring the view. At first, we felt pity for the cyclo driver, concerned how hard he must work to transport us as tourists but we then considered that this is how he has to earn his living and put food on the table for his family. Cyclos are a great way to see the city, with the cyclo often able to negotiate, more effectively than pedestrians, the narrow streets with motor cycles parked on the pavements. The cyclo driver warned Marilyn not to keep her bag and camera on view and where it could easily be snatched – we worked this out by his pointing, as he did not speak any English. We left the hotel and took the route towards the Ho Kiem Lake through some beautiful avenues, with some wonderful French designed buildings along the way. The lake was quite lovely and relatively peaceful, despite the traffic and thousands of motor-bikes chasing around it. We left the lake and ventured into the Old City with its amazing warren of lanes, containing every imaginable trader, tailors, shoemakers, stone engravers, florists, carpenters, metal-workers and the hundreds of food stalls, clothing of every description etc. Interestingly, all like shops and stalls are clustered together, so for example, all the silk shops are to be found in Silk Street, the shoe shops in Shoe Street etc. Marilyn was eager to return on foot and explore the Old Quarter in more detail. The beautiful narrow houses with a shop front are the homes and businesses of the retailers in this area. The houses are called Tube Houses and are very narrow but very long with the shop-front being at street level and accommodation, workshop and storage being elsewhere in the property. They are also extremely pretty, very often with window flower boxes and also small verandas, that were inspired by the French and are usually wrought iron.
That evening, we went to see the famous Hanoi Water Puppet Show, in a theatre adjacent to the lake, near the Old City. The Water Puppet Show according to all the guide books is a “must do”. Water puppetry in Vietnam dates back to the 11th century AD. It’s a wonderful, colorful and entertaining spectacle, suitable for all ages and nationalities, a true delight for photographers. To share the fun, open the following YouTube link and see some video footage: