After our morning flight from Saigon, we arrived in the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. The city is known for it's rich culture and old architecture, influenced by both the French and Chinese, with a flurry of scooters driving around. The narrow streets around the Old Quarter are roughly arranged by trade and the goods they are selling And around the serene Hoan Kiem Lake, many locals perform t-ai chi at dawn, creating a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.
After we checked in to our hotel in the Old Quarter, we wandered the ancient, charming streets of Hanoi. Nate checked out some local street eats while I got a $5 manicure :) #lovetheprice
A must try on our list was the Bun Cha Huong Lien restaurant to try the Bun Cha, a local Vietnamese dish of grilled pork, rice noodles, and herbs. This is the same restaurant Anthony Bourdain took President Obama while filming his Parts Unknown episode (watch here).
Once we were inside this street side restaurant, with small plastic stools, and metal tables, we saw pictures all over the wall of Obama and Bourdain eating there #marketitforallitsworth They also advertised The Obama Combo, where you could eat exactly what President Obama did while he was there - for a low low price of $4! Of course, we had to try it. It included the bun cha soup with some charcoal grilled pork patties (kinda tasted like little hamburgers), and grilled pork slices, served with a fried sea food spring roll and a local Hanoi beer. #perfect This food was delicious, cheap, and tasted authentic. I was glad we found the place and got to eat at a spot of 2 men I'm huge fans of #loveObama #pleasecomeback #AnthonyBourdainIwanttotravelwithyou
We walked back to the Old Quarter from the restaurant, enjoying the views of Hanoi and the constant hum of scooters driving through the streets #somanyscooters #maintransportation
We headed over to the Old Quarter, Hanoi's historic heart, where the streets are narrow and congested, and bustling with activity. During the 13th century, Hanoi's 36 guilds (an association of artisans or merchants who control the practice of their craft in a particular town), established themselves here and each took a different street (The original name was "36 streets" - #makessense). Today, there are more than 50 streets in the Old Quarter and they are typically named Hang (merchandise) followed by the word for the product traditionally sold in that street. For example, P Hang Gai translates to "silk street". Most the stores on streets now a days sell more touristy stuff vs. what the street is named after, but still a cool history. The maze of streets also contain tunnel (or tube) houses - due to their narrow fronts and long rooms, built this way to avoid taxes based on the width of their street frontage. By feudal law, houses were also limited to only 2 stories tall, out of respect for the King, they couldn't be taller than the Royal Palace. #themoreyouknow We also visited the Dong Xuan Market, a local market located in the Old Quarter, displaying the flavor of Hanoian street life.
There are lots of bicycle carts for hire along the rode as well, where the guys peddle a bicycle with a cart in front. We caught a ride back towards Hoan Kiem Lake to try Hanoi's famous egg coffee.
We found a cute little cafe that served egg coffee called "The Note". This place was adorable, and was covered head to toe with post it notes from visitors all over the world, and views of the lake across the street. (Definitely check this place out if you come - maybe you can find the notes Nate and I left :) ) Back to egg coffee though.... egg coffee (cà phê trứng), a Vietnamese drink popular since the 1950s, prepared with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk, and Robusta coffee (coffee with low acidity and high bitterness). It's made by beating egg yolks with sugar and coffee, extracting the coffee into half the cop, followed by a similar amount of the egg cream (prepared by heating and beating the yolks). I didn't know what to expect but egg coffee is delish! #wherecanifindthisinthestates I think I'll be drinking my coffee with condensed milk from now on
The next morning, we took an early tour to the area of Hoa Lư (華閭), which was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries. The city is 90 km south of Hanoi and is lush with rice fields broken by picturesque limestone mountains. Along the way, the tour guide gave us some fun facts about Hanoi/Vietnam. He said the city of Hanoi has 10 million residents and 7 million bikes #soundsaccurate He told us that green lights, yellow lights, and yes, red lights all mean 'go' to the Hanoi people #watchout #keepyourheadonaswivel
We also learned about the flag of Vietnam. It takes its style from the Soviet 'hammer and sickle' flag which also includes a yellow star, as well as the Chinese flags #communistcountries The 5 points on the star of the flag represents the 5 people of society: farmers, intellectuals/professors, factory workers, businessmen, and the military/soldiers. The red coloring of the flag signifys revolution, strength, blood, and courage, and the yellow coloring of the star is the color of the Vietnamese people #truestory #tourguidefacts #notjoking #themoreyouknow
Our guide also informed us more about the Vietnamese houses. The houses are tall and skinny with multiple floors, with each family living on a floor (grandparents, parents, kids, etc). The skinny houses help keep their taxes down because they can build them on small plots of lands. The eldest son is expected to stay home and take care of the family, while the younger sons and daughters marry and move out. The year you were born helps determine the colors you paint your house and supposedly helps your life get better. For example, if you were born in 1989, you should paint your house yellow, red, or orange. All public buildings are painted yellow because it's the color of the King/power, and it makes them easy to see. (See example pic below)
In addition, he also educated us more about Vietnam's burial practices. In Vietnam, every body is buried twice; once for 3 years in a wooden coffin, and the second time it is moved to a tomb. In Vietnam, it is believed there are 2 worlds, one for the living and one for the dead. The Vietnamese believe the dead needs everything we do when we live, so the tomb represents a house for the dead (they also leave offerings such as food for them as well). They also have to be careful where the tomb is located and which way the tomb faces. They consult the ley type lines, which are straight, over ground energy lines that are associated with Heavenly consciousness and human spiritual ceremonial sites. A good location is one that is in harmony with its surrounding and the right spot for a person depend on what Chinese astrological sign they are born under. They are also buried in accordance with how they died, (accidental vs. natural).
Our first stop on our tour was some old ancient temples of Hoa Lu located on the grounds of the former main palace of the royal citadel. The location incorporates the principles of phong thuy (Chinese feng shui) with a river in the front and a mountain in the back. We walked through the Gateway to the Emperor Đinh Tiên Hoàng Temple and past the Half-moon Lake.
The Temple of Đinh Tiên Hoàng was built to honor Dinh Bo Linh, the first emperor of Vietnam. He defeated 12 rival warlords, reunified the country, and founded the first imperial dynasty of Vietnam in 968. Alcohol led to Dinh Bo Linh announcing that his middle son would replace him as king after his death. This led to his eldest son, Dinh Lien, becoming angry and killing his younger half brother so he could become the next king. Unfortunately, due to Dinh Tien Hoang's (Dinh Bo Linh) authoritarian regime, and fondness for courtly pleasures and alcohol, made him many enemies within his family and the court. In 979, a mystic seer envisioned himself as the true emperor of Dai Co Viet, so he murdered both the king and his eldest son when they were drunk. After his death, the country was plunged into turmoil because his youngest son was too young to rule. Lê Hoàn, Bo Linh's top general, who was also having an affair with one of the emperor's wives, Queen Duong van Nga, took control and kept the Chinese at bay, establishing the Lê Dynasty, Vietnam's second imperial dynasty. #didtheyplottokilltheemperor #whoops To this day, no one knows where Dinh Bo Linh (the first emperor of Vietnam) is buried since he was buried in secret so no one would raid his body and treasures. They sent off 12 different groups of men to throw people off, and the soldiers were killed in order to keep the secret of where the first emperor is buried #whowantstogodigging #secretburial
Only 200 meters north of the Temple of Đinh Tiên Hoàng, lies the temple of Lê Đại Hành, in honor of Lê Hoàn (who took over power after Dinh Tien Hoang was murdered). He ensured the country's ongoing independence by his forces defeating and repelling 2 Chinese armies around 982. In 1005, Lê Hoàn passed away and became known as "Lê Đại Hành". His sons fought over the succession, and order was not restored until Lý Công Uẩn took over the country in 1010 and declared the Lý Dynasty.
Inside the temple has 5 structural chambers, with the middle chamber containing a statue of Emperor Lê Đại Hành sitting on his throne and wearing a Binh Thien Hat; and to its left is a statue of Empress Dương Vân Nga, who was a wife, first of Đinh Tiên Hoàng, and later of Lê Đại Hành, who's face is looking towards the Temple of Đinh Tiên Hoàng.
Throughout the temple complex we also saw temple flags, from Buddhist origin, which are made up of 5 different color squares representing the 5 earth elements: red for fire, yellow for earth, blue for water, white for metal, green for wood. Our guide informed us that there are 2 types of Buddhism practiced in Vietnam; the north practices Chinese Buddhism, and the south practices Buddhism from India. There are also 4 holy animals: the cow, the turtle (longevity and luck), the phoenix (the queen and beauty), and the unicorn (holy and knowledge).
We had a yummy buffet lunch after our temple visits, and then headed over to Tam Coc to take a boat ride down the Ngo Dong River. Here, there are beautiful, sweeping limestone outcrops sweeping up from peaceful rice paddies. Tam Coc translates to "3 caves" because this span of the Ngo Dong River goes through, you guessed it, 3 different caves. We hopped one one of the many boats and began our journey.
Most of the locals paddle down the river with their feet #impressive There are a shit ton of boats, but despite that, the sites around us were still beautiful and breathtaking.
After our beautiful boat ride, we got to ride bikes around the area during that magical hour, sunset :) The sun setting, shining through the limestone outcrops and reflecting off the water was stunning and peaceful - something I won't soon be forgetting
After our long, fulfilling day visiting the area of Tam Coc and Hoa Lu, we made it back to our hotel in Hanoi. just in time to finish some last minute shopping and a tasty dinner.
Tune in next time for our celebration on New Years Eve in Ha Long Bay.
Follow in our Footsteps:
Hanoi Imperial Hotel (nice hotel, good value, good location, spa on site)
44 Hàng Hành, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
+84 4 3933 5555
Bún chả Hương Liên
24 Lê Văn Hưu, Phạm Đình Hồ, Hai Bà Trưng, Hà Nội, Vietnam
+84 4 3943 4106
14 Yên Thái, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam (near this area - multiple blocks)
Dong Xuan Market
Đồng Xuân, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
The Note Cafe
64 Lương Văn Can, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
+84 4 3938 0468
Hours: 6:30am - 11pm
Tour to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc
Booked through Viator here
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Megan Bond - AUTHOR
Just a girl raised in California and loved exploring Southeast Asia with my husband! We're back in the States but still exploring the world as much as we can!