Legend of the Tortoise and Sword
The lake Ho Hoan Kiem means the lake of the sword returned.
According to the legend, King Le Thai To was given a magical sword by a genie to help him defeat his enemies. After his victory, while on a lake, a tortoise came and took back the sword from the King. Hence the lake was named "Ho Hoan Kiem".
There is a temple dedicated to this legend at the lake.
Not really sure this is off the beaten path - Halong Bay seems to be one of the major tourist destinations around Hanoi. Anyhow, the scenery is very pretty (although it does wear off). If the option is available, take a kayak out for an hour or so.
A fantastic memento
There is a small shop in the Women's Museum that sells, among other items, small paintings. The paintings are done by a young man who is deaf, and the giftshop is run by a woman who's also deaf. The painter and I 'talked' about where I was from, etc. by writing his small notebook. He was lovely, and it was a great interaction.
I bought a small painting when I was there. I kept admiring it in my hotel room, and though, well, when I get it home, it'll look silly hung on the wall all by itself, I think I'll buy two more! So, off I went, back to the Women's Museum, this time with a friend I had met at the hotel in tow, and I was greated as a long lost friend.
It was really sweet. They threw in a few extras after I bought my two additional paintings, and we posed for photos all around! Really, I couldn't have bought from nicer people! In this case, the small women's heads are great paintings, and easy to pack and carry with you! Around $6.
Cosy Jazz Joint
Chi-chi villa setting, cushy couches, pool table, and resident jazz band and a scrumptious restaurant upstairs. Need I say any more? Have a drink here after dinner. Dress Code is Strictly Yuppie ! The expat scene gathers here
The Night Train is Wonderful
We took the night train three times and I highly recommend it. We used the night train to go to and from Hanoi to Lao Cha (Sapa) and then from Hanoi to Hoi Ann.
There are different classes of seats…hard seats, soft seats, hard berth, soft berth and a luxury one. We took the soft berth which was a little cabin with 4 bunks, two on bottom and two on top. For overnight trips you’ll definitely want at the soft berths...don't skimp on your ticket here! To ensure you get the soft berths make your reservation a few days ahead of time
Traveling this way couldn’t be easier. We basically got on the train, visited with our bunk mates for a bit, went to bed and woke up in the new location. An added bonus….we slept like a baby with the gentle swaying of the train.
The "overnight" train from Hue to Hanoi takes is quite a bit more than just overnight...taking 17 to 22 hours. Due to limited time we flew instead.
The train provides a small bottle or water and some sort of snack but if you’re on a longer route you may want to bring something to snack on. There is also a dining car and there are vendors on board selling a drinks and food.