Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital is a really beautiful city. Its beauty stands out with ancient and pensive features, and is mixed with lasting cultural and historical marks. Hanoi is beautiful, by the beauty of its elegant people, and by the beauty of its refined spirits, etc. Let’s discover Hanoi with us.
- Hoan Kiem Lake is a pleasant park in the center of town, within easy walking distance from anywhere in the Old Quarter. It’s the locals’ favorite leisure spot, and a great place to watch people practicing tai chi in the morning or to sit and read in the afternoon. Hoan Kiem means “returned sword”, and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle, who grabbed the sword and carried it down to its depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had come. (You can see a version of the legend at the Water Puppet Theater – see below.) Rumor has it the giant turtles still inhabit the lake.
- Ngoc Son Temple (admission 10,000 dong) extends out into the lake, with small but attractive grounds, displays on Vietnamese history and, more memorably, displays on the giant turtles, including a mummified specimen. The world’s skinniest kitten lives on this island–please bring it some meat or fish.
- Ho Tay, or “West Lake”, is northwest of the city, and is mostly a residential hub of the well-to-do. Sofitel Plaza Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in Hanoi, is located on this lakefront.
- Hoa Lo Prison (“The Hanoi Hilton”), 1 Hoa Lo, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. Open 8.30 to 11.30 and 13.30 to 16.30, admission 10,000 dong. This prison was built by the French at the turn of the 20th century, in classical French prison design. This is where the French imprisoned and executed many of the Vietnamese freedom fighters. The prison was also used to hold U.S. prisoners of war. Now a museum (2/3 of the prison was torn down to make way for the Hanoi Towers), the museum exhibits the brutal French colonial regime and the struggle of the Vietnamese people against imperialism in chilling detail.
- B-52 Lake. Until December 19, 1972, this was just a small brackish pond just off Hoang Hoa Tam Street, about 1km west of the mausoleum. On that day, in a twisted retelling of the Hoan Kiem legend (see above), Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns (possibly with the help of flying turtles) retook the enemy’s eight-engined, 100-ton sword and sent it, too, to the shallow bottom of the lake, where it remains today.
- Downed Aircraft Memorial. Along Thanh Nien Street on Truc Bach lake there is a stone plaque commemorating the shooting down of a U.S. Navy (not “USAF” as depicted) aircraft in 1967. Peruse the Vietnamese script and you can pick out the name of John McCain, one of the airmen.
- Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (57 Dinh Tien Hoang St., across the street from the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake; tel. +84-043-824-9494). A visit to the water puppet theater is a real highlight of a trip to Hanoi. Live musicians accompany folk legends from Vietnamese history, told with wooden men, women and dragons, dancing and splashing on the face of the water. The narratives are sung in Vietnamese, but a list of titles is available in several languages. Tickets are 30,000 and 50,000 dong. There are several performances throughout the day, but it’s virtually impossible to buy tickets for the same day, and most performances for the following day will be sold out as well. Camera passes are an extra 30,000 dong, but whether you buy one or not is purely on the honor system. Don’t worry about getting wet, but the seats are very small, and visitors with above-average height will have to squirm a bit.