Hanoi is a big and charming city with lots to see and to do, hence we decided to stay a full week here (not including side trips), and we could have probably stayed even longer. We saw a few of the most popular and cultural sights and we were not disappointed.
Walking around the streets of the Old Quarter was an attraction in and of itself. These streets of old Hanoi were not only charming but still reflect the atmosphere of the old times. There were originally 36 streets, each with shops specialized in a particular trade, such as silk or jewelry. Nowadays, few of the streets are still specialized, but they are still worth walking by.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Right in the middle of Vietnam’s capital city, Hoan Kiem Lake provided a nice view and plenty of space for people to do some tai chi early in the morning. The lake is considered the symbolic center of Hanoi. It was basically a hub to go anywhere in the city and we passed by many times, both during the day and at night. It was lovely to just walk by, especially in contrast to the other small and packed streets of Hanoi.
The name of the lake means Lake of the Returned Sword, which according the ongoing legend is where a Golden Turtle God asked emperor Le Loi to return the sword that was given to him by another god to defeat the Chinese during the Ming Dynasty invasion. A small island in the middle of the lake has a “Turtle Tower” to commemorate the legend.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
Resembling Notre Dame in Paris, St. Joseph’s Cathedral was built by the French in 1886 and is Hanoi’s oldest church. Mass on Sundays are always crowed with people standing on the streets, listening to the priests from improvised speakers.
The interior of the church was very ordinary as compared to European churches, but the stained glass windows in the main entrance certainly caught our attention. I have to admit after many temples and shrines, a church was kind of refreshing.
Water Puppet Show
The Water Puppet Show was a tradition started in northern Vietnam and we couldn’t miss it. It was literally as the name says, a show of puppets in the water. There were several theatres in Hanoi that have similar shows, but we chose the most traditional one at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre next to Hoan Kiem Lake. The tickets were pretty cheap (USD 5.00) for premium seats (closer to the pool where all the action takes place).
I wish I knew Vietnamese so I could have understood what the performers were singing and saying during the acts. All I could understand was that it seemed to show the life in the countryside and legends in Vietnam. The show itself was very funny and entertaining, with the most exciting part being dragon puppets spitting water (making it rain during drought periods) or fire (killing the enemies during war periods).
All the puppets were controlled by long bamboo rods and strings under the surface, which was different than what I’m used to for puppets. A traditional Vietnamese orchestra also accompanied the show with some strange instruments I’ve never seen before. The music was beautiful though. In the end, the puppeteers came out from the backstage to thank the audience.
Those were a few of the cultural sites, but more to come on the many historical sites in Hanoi.
For more pictures from Hanoi, please visit the gallery!