Established more than 1,000 years ago, Hanoi (河內) was the most important political centre of Vietnam. It has served as the capital of French Indochina and North Vietnam and became the capital of Vietnam in 1976.
I first visited Hanoi in 2007 and had the chance to rediscover this ancient city with its Chinese and French influenced centuries-old architecture.
My rediscovery trip started with having a bowl of the famous Vietnamese dish, pho near our hotel in the Old Quarter. Apart from pho, Hanoians also love their Vietnamese coffee judging by the many cafes all over the city.
First stop on the itinerary is Hoan Kiem Lake (还剑湖) or Lake of the Returned Sword. Situated in the historical Old Quarter, the lake is a gathering place for locals especially in the morning and evening.
Located on the northern side of the lake is Ngoc Son Temple (Jade Mountain Temple) that sits in the Jade Island. The small temple is dedicated to a national hero, Tran Hung Dao.
A red wooden bridge known as the Huc Bridge connects the temple to the shore. The bridge is a popular photography spot for visitors to the temple. Usually, visitors have to pay an entrance fee for admission to the temple. On the day we visited, the ticket counter was closed.
After a brief stop at the temple, we strolled along the lake towards the French Quarter. Along the way, we made a pit stop at Trang Tien Ice-Cream. This famous local ice-cream parlour offers a limited variety of flavors such as coconut, chocolate, green bean and young glutinous rice.
A must try is the coconut flavour ice-cream. The ice-cream was good and refreshing especially on a hot summer’s day. It’s super creamy due to its coconut milk base but it melts rather quickly though.
The locals usually come in their motorcycles, buy their ice-creams and sit aboard their bikes to enjoy the treats as the shop doesn’t have any tables nor chairs. Hence at one glance, the shop can be mistaken for a motor workshop.
Next destination is to find food :). For this we headed to Trang Tien Alley or Ngo Trang Tien. This narrow alley near the Opera House is a favourite lunchtime place with students and office workers to get their fill of the variety of rice, noodle and sandwich dishes on offer.
From Trang Tien Alley, it was a short walk to the Opera House. This 900-seat French colonial building built from 1901 – 1911 is an important monument in Hanoi.
We made our way back to our hotel for siesta as the summer sun and heat was getting to us. Along the way, we passed by Sofitel Metropole Hotel. This landmark 5 star luxury hotel dates back to 1901 and is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Vietnam. It has hosted famous personalities such as Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda, Stephen Hawking, Oliver Stone, world leaders and royalty.
After dinner, we took another stroll around the lake. The air was still warm but the evening breeze made it more bearable.
The lake seems to come alive in the evening as Hanoians, young and old, couples and families gather at the lake for an evening stroll, exercise or to spend time together.
As 2nd September 2015 will mark Vietnam’s 70th Independence Day, preparation is in full swing for the celebrations. Decorations marking the occasions are seen all over the city.
Spending a day exploring the city, I rediscovered the charm of this old city that is always busy with traffic and create new memories of Hanoi.