On day 15 of my south east asia trip, I fell in love with Hanoi.
In the heart of the old quarter area is the beautiful and serene Hoan Kiem lake, which is associated with local mythological tales of kings and turtles (turtles are worshipped in Vietnam). In the morning I went to take a stroll by the lake. I was accompanied by some other travellers from the hostel and Mehdi, whom I had met in the cruise to Halong bay . We stopped by at a coffee shop to try out the unique egg coffee which you get in Vietnam. It was delicious, creamy and thick; and thankfully did not smell of egg at all.
We walked around and explored the old quarter and French quarter of Hanoi. Under the French colonial rule, many impressive regal buildings and boulevards were built, which are well preserved till today. We saw the neo-Gothic St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the Opera House with its grand colonnade facade, the famous Sofitel Metropole Hotel (the oldest hotel in Hanoi), the Trang Tien plaza (a high-end shopping mall in an old art deco building). I even shopped a little in the shops of old quarter which sell every kind of merchandise imaginable. The old quarter comprises of 36 streets which were traditionally divided on the basis of trade guilds.
In the afternoon, Mehdi and I went to see the temple of literature which is an ancient university dedicated to Confucius and is built in Chinese architectural style. Although people recommend visiting this place, I personally did not enjoy it much as I found it a little boring. However, it is located in the downtown area where many points of interest are situated within walking distance. So we walked till the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, which is a huge grim block of concrete. Just behind that is a pagoda complex, which houses the ancient one pillar pagoda.
By the time we returned to the lake area, the sun had set. By this time the lake was buzzing with locals and foreigners alike. One can just sit by the lake – observe passers by, fellow sedantary watchers or just get lost in your own thoughts. I chose to watch (and learn!). There are so many interesting sights to see around you – soon to be married couple dressed in wedding attires getting their photo-shoot done in the backdrop of the well lit colonial buildings, musicians playing their instruments with dedicated elegance, etc. The locals are cheerful and forever smiling people and the Vietnamese women are really very pretty. Due to its 1000 year old history, Hanoi is a vibrant city full of character which can only be experienced in old cities.
My most memorable experience though, was when I was sitting at the lake side and two young local girls came to me. They were college students who just wanted to talk to me in order to improve their own English speaking skills. Vietnamese people are catching up on English as they realise its importance in a globalised world. While the girls’ were not very fluent in English, their determination and eagerness to learn new things and to overcome challenges was very inspiring and humbling. Kind of reminded me of the determination and resilience of their simple ancestors who turned heaven and earth to overcome the imperialistic yoke during the French and American wars, in which they emerged victors.
I spent an hour teaching and generally speaking to them in English and more young Vietnamese people gathered around me. When it was time for us to leave, I had had one of the most satisfying experiences in my entire trip.
Teaching English to some really enthusiastic kids
Chicken pho and Bahn Mi
The willingness of the kids to learn a new language made me think about how back home, we (the educated lot) end up taking certain things for granted which have literally been served to us on a platter.
Next up: Halong Bay