Hanoi is full of images we associate with Vietnam: iconic conical hats, locals sitting on low plastic stools on the sidewalk eating bowls of soup or drinking beer, full families on scooters, and masses of motorbikes looking like swarms of bees in the streets, but we didn’t see or feel the “Parisian charm” that we’ve heard and read so much about this city. Instead, Hanoi feels much like any other lively and busy Asian capital to us.
We explored the city by foot on our first day, walking around picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake at the center of town and the Temple of Literature, a Confucian temple which was the site of the first university in Vietnam. In the evening we made time to drink some bia hoi (local beer) on the sidewalk, though it tasted so bad we had to resort to playing drinking games to finish off our cups, before checking out the night market for some souvenirs. And on our final day we squeezed in a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum to see the well-preserved body of the leader of Vietnam’s communist movement.
In between, we took an overnight trip to Halong Bay where we did some kayaking, a bit of hiking and (some of the gang) even braved the cold water for a swim. Though the weather was overcast, the limestone karst peaks still looked amazing. The mountain structures were similar to the landscapes we saw in Guilin and Yangshuo in China, but in Halong Bay, they were island-mountains sticking straight up out of the water which looked even more stunning. Definitely one of our favorite parts of Vietnam so far.