Exotic Escape: Hanoi Gives A Glimpse Into Vietnam’s Stunning Culture, Rich History, And Relaxed People

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Many weeks of winter lie ahead, and there is still time to enjoy a special winter vacation. If you are tired of snow, fog, and cold weather, and you just do not like typical winter tourism, there is a solution for you. A perfect destination for winter tourism may be Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Singapore. You can take a simple and exciting tour by visiting all five of them. So welcome to my new mini-series about trips in the exotic paradises of Southeast Asia – cities, scenery, beaches, and of course warm weather. Each article will contain one town or location in one of five countries.

The first country on our trip is Vietnam. Vietnam is one of fastest developing economies in Asia and the world and has a very long history and a colorful culture. In recent years Vietnam has become a more and more popular tourist destination because its extremely cheap prices, its distinctive culture (a mixture of local and Chinese influences), and its rapid pace of economic development are attractive to people worldwide.

You can start your trip in Hanoi, the sunny capital of Vietnam, a very interesting and dynamic city.

What to do and visit?

Walk around and take a look: A typical winter temperature of 25-27 degrees gives the visitor an excellent chance for easy-going exploration without too much exertion. My best advice is first to wander through the chaotic and unpredictable city center as it is an unforgettable adventure. It is a really impressive and asymmetric combination of, on the one hand, broad streets, tall modern skyscrapers, and modern shopping malls, while on the other hand off the wide avenues there are torturously narrow streets with traditional Vietnamese buildings and French buildings from the colonial period. Vietnam is famous for its beautiful lotus or rose flowers, so buy some if you want. In the older quarters there are many tiny restaurants and street stands selling fruit, flowers, and souvenirs. Check out some of the beautiful souvenir shops, where traditional jade or porcelain figures, bracelets, necklaces, and very colorful traditional silk and cotton clothes are sold. Pay attention to the chaotic traffic as there are hundreds of cars and motorbikes passing everywhere around and drivers are not too careful, so watch your step.

The Vietnamese Women’s Museum: It is a museum dedicated to the women of Vietnam, devoted to Vietnamese female warriors who have brought glory to Vietnam during its history from ancient times to the latest American invasion. The museum is also devoted to the traditions, customs, and legends related to women in Vietnamese culture. There is a big collection of photos, paintings, and texts related to Vietnamese women through all of Vietnamese history. In the museum you can find many exhibits speaking about women and their position in Vietnamese society and their contributions to it. The entrance fee of 1.25 eur is extremely cheap.
The Single Pillar Pagoda: This is a pagoda which stands on a single pillar above a small, beautiful pond in a park. It is unique in the world. You should definitely check it out.

The Hani Temple: Devoted to the Goddess Hani, the Vietnamese goddess of love and beauty. This is a nice temple with a colorful courtyard. You will see many people there bringing incense, money and flowers to worship the goddess. Both men and women come to the Hani Temple to pray for true love or to maintain a successful relationship. Also women pray to become more beautiful or to stay beautiful.
The Temple of Literature: One of the oldest temples in Hanoi, founded in 1070. This was the main temple where writing and education were practiced in ancient Vietnam. Its halls, architecture, and educational ambience remind one of Chinese culture since it was built during the period when Chinese influence in Vietnam was extremely high. The temple’s purpose was based on the Confucian ideology of learning, morality, and self-achievement. Later, the temple served as the first scientific academy and university of Vietnam until the modern period. It is still a very interesting and inspiring place. There are many ancient, well preserved stone tablets on which important expressions of wisdom and the names of the academy’s graduates were carved. The stone tablets are fixed on the backs of large stone turtles as the stone turtle was the main symbol of wisdom and education in Vietnam and China.

Hoan Kiem Park: It is the major central park in the Hanoi. The park is full of trees, stone paths, benches, and green grass. The park is a popular spot for the citizens of Hanoi to enjoy the outdoors, ride bicycles, sit on benches next to the lake, or practice tai chi. So if you want to meet local people and enjoy tranquil scenery this park is a great spot for you. The name of the park is derived from the Vietnamese word which means returned sword. The name traces its origins to an ancient legend in which King Le Loi got a magical sword from the water deities in the big lake at this place, and that thanks to this divine sword he managed to stop a Chinese invasion of Vietnam. After his victory, King Le Loi put the sword on the back of a turtle which dived back into the lake to return the sword to the gods. Even today you can see many turtles in and near the lake in this park. Also check out the Ngon Son Temple, which dates from the 19th century and is a very beautiful temple located on a small island with beautiful trees.

The Rail Market: Only in Vietnam can you find a large outdoor market through which a rail line passes. In part of Hanoi’s old quarter, the railway is operating and trains pass through daily. So the market operates in narrow streets very close to railroad tracks. Some of the commodities are put directly on the rails, and when a train appears the shopkeepers pick the commodities up and put them back down when the train goes away. You will see everything from vegetables and fruits to eggs, fresh meat such as pork ribs and legs, fish, and live chickens. It’s a very interesting experience to visit a Vietnamese market full of crowds of buyers bargaining, sellers shouting prices aloud, chickens crowing from their cages, and so on.

When you get hungry: If you love good food at a cheap price you are in paradise. Vietnam is a real heaven for gourmands as it offers extremely appetizing cuisine. Vietnam’s culinary tradition is a special combination of authentic foods with Chinese and even French influence. Vietnamese food aims to feed you enough so you will feel full and well – not to overfill you so you will feel bad or sluggish. It is excellent food for maintaining the right balance. A perfect Vietnamese lunch can start with Goi Cuon, a portion of spring rolls made of rice wraps over herbs and vegetables which can be dropped in sweet and sour sauce. After that you can eat Bun Bo Hue, a delicious spicy noodle soup with vegetables, herbs and lemon to which pork or beef are normally added. After that, as a main course you can try either Bun Cha (grilled slices of pork with fresh herbs) or Bun Bo Nam Bo (beef with rice noodles, lettuce, cucumbers, herbs, and crushed peanuts). For dinner you can try Banh Mi, a French-style baguette with Vietnamese touches – French bread to which are added Asian style ingredients such as cucumbers, pickled carrots, sweet sauces, pork or duck meat, or Vietnamese sausage. Of course these are just a few examples of Vietnamese cuisine, which counts at least a few dozen outstanding dishes and variations. In Vietnam prices are really low for food, and you will probably be surprised by how cheap delicious meals are. A lunch in an inexpensive restaurant is a bit more than 2eur, and at most 3eur per person. A meal for two in a middle range restaurant is only about 15-20eur. A Banh Mi baguette is only 0,70-0,80 cents. Any restaurant where you see a lot of people is a good choice, so just go where the crowds are.

When night falls: Do like the Vietnamese do and simply find a seat at an outdoor sidewalk bar and have a cheap beer. The Vietnamese are very friendly, warm, and relaxed people who enjoy hanging out in the evening. Most of their young people frequent sidewalk bars where they drink beer, talk, and laugh until late in the evening. So if you want to do like most Hanoi young people do, join them in one of the sidewalk bars in the Old Quarter of the Vietnamese capital. Most of them speak fine English or French, so it won’t be hard to communicate with them. Maybe you will be surprised by how keen they are to drink beer. The Vietnamese are probably the most enthusiastic beer drinkers in Asia – together with the Japanese and the Chinese – as almost every pub or bar or coffee shop serves beer. The most famous beer brands are Saigon and Hanoi beer. You will be shocked by the price of bottled domestic beer as it is only about 0,70 cents. Also, in addition to the well-known domestic brands you must try a light homemade lager known as Bia Hoi, which is brewed by brewpubs themselves. Bia Hoi literally means cold beer, and it is a popular name for homemade beers which have no brand name. A 0,5l of draught Bia Hoi costs only 0,25 cents.
Where to sleep? There are plenty of hostels and cheap hotels in central Hanoi costing no more than 4eur to 6eur per night while a room for two is about 10eur per night.

Also consider:

Hue: A town in central Vietnam which was the former capital of Vietnam’s last imperial dynasty. The Nguyen dynasty ruled the country from this city for 150 years before it was replaced by the communist party. Hue is 5h by bus from Hanoi, and a ticket costs only 10eur. You should definitely visit it as there are many imperial palaces, gardens, pavilions, and forts within the Imperial Citadel (Dai Noi). Dai Noi served as the seat of government, the place from which emperors ruled. But was also the place where they spent free time in gardens and pavilions. Also there are imperial tombs where the Nguyen emperors were buried, which are worth visiting.

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