We’ve spent several days in Hanoi taking in the sights at a relaxed pace and generally just kind of hanging out in the city, walking around in the old quarter. Thanks to Yini’s research we’ve also had some really good meals in nice restaurants.
Except for the markets in the old quarter, most of the things to see in Hanoi are museums.
Hoa Lo prison museum is pretty powerful as the old cells are still there and you can sense the brutal life of the prisoners.
At the etymology museum you get to see tools, clothes and plenty of pictures of the many different ethnic groups in this country, which is really interesting. No pictures there I’m afraid.
The Ho Chi Minh museum showcases the life and work of President Ho. Except for a few artefacts it’s mostly text and pictures but it’s good none the less. It’s always interesting to get a different perspective on things, and here you get to see the Vietnamese perspective on the struggle against the French colonists.
Right next door to the museum is Ho Chi Minhs mausoleum. We timed our visit badly as his body is in Russia for maintenance at the moment. This is actually the third time I’ve been at a communist leader mausoleum and failed to see the body: first chairman Mao in Beijing, then Lenin in Moscow and now Ho Chi Minh. It’s like I’m cursed or something. Well, the mausoleum itself is an impressive piece of communist architecture anyway.
Close to the mausoleum is the army museum. Like the war museum in HCMC it has a number of tanks and aircraft outside which is always cool to see. Inside there’s a small section about older wars, the rest is dedicated to the struggle against the French and the Americans. It has a large collection of various small arms, and the little description plaques are very patriotic, describing how Hero captain such and such used a certain gun to annihilate a certain number of enemies. What’s interesting is that there were even some primitive weapons used by guerrilla fighters such as flint lock rifles and even crossbows.
Lastly there’s the Vietnam Women Musuem. Like the name suggests it showcases the life of Vietnamese women, from the marriage and childbirth traditions of the various ethnic groups to the women fighting in the war against the French and the Americans, to the modern day life and fashion. It’s very good, and shows a different perspective compared to most other museums.
That’s it as far as museums go. My favorite was the Ho Chi Minh museum. I mentioned we also had some really good food. We had some fried fish called Cha Ca which wasn’t what you think of as typically Vietnamese but very tasty. Vietnamese sandwiches called banh mi are a must for anyone coming here and the best we’ve had are at Banh Mi 25.
A speciality of Vietnam is something called egg coffee. It sounds really strange but it’s super good. It’s basically sweetened egg foam mixed with coffee, it tastes a bit like tiramisu. Definitely try it if you come here. We went to a small place called Cafe Giang on Nguyen Huu Huan street.
Thanks to the recommendation from my mom we got some excellent creme caramel at a place called Quan Kem Caramen.
As for evening activities, Hanoi is known for water puppet theater. I’m always a bit auspicious of theater in foreign countries, going to a play when you don’t understand the language can be pretty boring. Using water as a stage however, is cool so I figured it would be worth a try, I did not regret it. It’s not so much a play as a number of short sketches and musical numbers that are easy enough to understand. Some of the slapstick comedy was actually very funny.
Like I mentioned, we also spent a fair bit of time strolling around the old quarter. One thing that Hanoi city does really well is that every weekend, starting Friday night, they close off the streets near Hoan Kiem lake for traffic and the whole area turns into a kind of street festival. There are street performances, bands playing, vendors and just generally merriment. I think it’s great and we really enjoyed walking around there in the evenings.
I’m normally not a big city guy but we’ve had a lovely couple of days here in Hanoi.