There are many famous places in Hanoi, but I like the streets best. Walking in the streets is the best way to experience the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. But there are some problems if you walk alone.
In the street, you’ll see someone wanting to sell you food, that's an old woman carrying a “yoke” (two baskets slung from each end of a wooden pole) or riding a bike (you can see in the photo above) . In their baskets they carry fruits or flowers or vegetables. Their food is fresh becaue they collect the food in their farm. Some of them are friendly, but some are not. If they see foreigners, they will "force" you to buy something. They know that foreigners don't know the price so they will make you pay more than the real price. That's annoying but we can't blame them. They are poor. My advice for you is not to look at them or to hire a guide, to stay in a local house. Locals will help you.
It is beautiful, so I do not resist to show a bit more of what can be seen outside. . . .
Some Garudas in the backyard, like the one on the main picture, former decoration of a temple, a female bird , celestial singer (Picture 2), a Kala’a –like divinity (Picture 3), all these showing the influence of Hinduism on the local Buddhism, and another divinity; the building again, on the last picture. I really wish visitors will enter this museum soon, as it has lots about old history, religion, architecture, and not the usual military and national hero cult.
Tuesday-Sunday, 8-11 and 1.30-5.30 pm
This museum is currently (December 2008) being renovated, and it is not possible to visit inside; so, a small tour for free in the gardens and a look at what is displayed outside only.
The building itself has a particular character, constructed in a pagoda style, with very well chosen colours, giving it an exotic charm and very well integrated in the surroundings; it has been built in the thirties by the French and was the French Far East school (Ecole Française d’Extrême Orient, now based in Paris, cooperating with institutes from Far East countries; Ethnology, history of arts, civil engineering, etc. . . would not be in the shape they are in Viet Nam, if that school would not have worked here; it is a statement, not a post-colonialist lamentation, for instance, these guys “found” and saved Angkor. . . . http://www.efeo.fr/en/presentation/vocation.shtml).
Let us walk in the gardens where we can have a look at the building walking around; in the front garden are many statues like this Nghe (Picture 2), a sacred animal from the 18th century, used to protect and decorate gardens, or this tortoise, other sacred animal (Picture 3). Dragons with a little pagoda (Picture 4), another pagoda and various artefacts (picture 5), and many more statues can be seen outside.
This very very short overview gives an idea of what could be found inside, and lets the visitor frustrated; hopefully, the museum will re-open soon.
Tuesday-Sunday, 8-11 and 1.30-5 pm
Why not after all, walking along the railway gives some insight to backyards, different perspectives, and it is safe here. There are trains, of course, but you also see little shops, people, every day life. . . . The portion in the middle of the city between Bay Mau Lake and Long Bien station, before the Long Bien Bridge is interesting to walk along. People are not really “disturbed” by the train passing by; The traffic is stopped by employees when the train passes, (Picture 2, where you see also a vertical house). Shops and people on the third picture, street scene or railway scene? Arrival of a train at Long Bien station on picture 4. The Hanoi main station has been built by the French and is a bit old fashioned inside; the access to the platforms is closed outside “boarding time”, so only seen from the street.(picture5). Walking 2 hours along the railway gives a lot of discoveries.
Great thing about Hanoi is the streets, living in hot and sticky Saigon means I rarely walk anywhere. But Hanoi in the cool autumn and early winter months is perfect. Life happens on the street here, early morning exercise all over the city, small pavement stalls selling tea or Bia Hoi, couple cuddling on motorbikes around the lakes. Get out of the old quarter and hit the streets, this is where you can find the real Hanoi.
I'm a Singaporean tourist who has been to Hanoi several times ago and found the city rather nice. But after some times of coming to Hanoi, i become quite bored with the familiar sites like Temple of Literature of the lakes..., then my friend gave me a tour guide's email address saying I can ask him about getting around. I wrote him and got quite satisfied with the information I wanted though I hadn't promised I'd take his tour. Then when I have 2 days left and had almost nothing to do, I booked a tour with him, that was nice. As to me, I've been to Hanoi before and moreover, i'm Asian so I didn't actually find those things so strange but he was rather good, gave me a lot of information and most important, showed me the hidden parts of the city and I appreciated it quite much, at least to me, it's the best tour i've tried in Vietnam. I also took some photo, for those who want to explore the city through a local's eyes (not just treat us like some fat tourists in shorts and sunglasses ), the tour is worth a try. I also enclose his email address: email@example.com (i think he'll be very friendly to answer all of your questions whether you say you will take one of his tours or not).
PS. By the way, his name is Jun or something but he said his nickname is Banana (so funny )
The Old Quarters is known for their 36 streets, each named for the merchandise sold on that street. The guild streets were named for their products, service or location.
We started out at Ngoc Son Temple in the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake. Headed north on Pho Hang Dau, we were soon surrounded by shoe shops selling every shape, size and style. The only thing that kept me from buying all those shoes was that I only had a single backpack to carry everything.
We crossed over to Pho Cau Go (meaning Wooden Bridge) to Pho Hang Be (bamboo rafts), continue north to the 'T' intersection with Pho Hang Bac (silversmiths). Near here are several shops, where artisians carve intricate gravestones by hand, bearing an image of the deceased. A short detour north on Pho Ma (sold sacred joss/votive papers) lead you to the Memorial House at number 87. We toured this Chinese merchant's home, recently restored and opened as a museum.
Returned to Pho Hang Bac (meaning silver) and head west, then right onto Pho Hang Ngang (Transversal Street), right again onto Pho Hang Buom (sails). We stopped at the Bach Ma Temple, with its red funeral palanquin. Legend has it that Ly King used the pagoda to pray for assistance in building the city walls because they persistently collapsed, no matter how many times he rebuilt them. His prayers were finally answered when a white horse appeared out of the temple and guided him to the site where he could safely build his walls. Evidence of his success is still visible at Cua O Quan Chuong, the quarter's Old East Gate at the eastern end of Pho Hang Chieu (mats), near the intersection with Pho Tran Nhat Duat.
It was so hot and we were exhausted, so we took a cab over to the striking neo-Gothic St. Joseph Cathedral, noteworthy for its square towers, elaborate altar and colourful stained-glass windows. It was built in 1886. The church was re-opened in 1992 when freedom to practice Catholicism was reinstated. We wandered around the back, where there is a Catholic school, now owned by the government.
Walking around the lanes of old trades and bargaining with the locals is fun. You can see the way their minds operates, their vlaues, their mannerisms and their goods.