We landed in Hanoi late at night, and had an hour or two in the morning to explore before being picked up to go to our final destination- Nghi Son, Vietnam. We stayed at the Hilton Hanoi Opera, which sits right next to the Hanoi Opera House. We were not very impressed with the hotel (we much preferred the Lotte City Hotel Hanoi), but it is one of only a few nice hotels within walking distance of the Old Quarter. When we set out on our walk, I wanted to check out the Opera House and hopefully wander down to the Old Quarter. Without a map or any real street signs/tourist signs for guidance, we ended up not making it to the Old Quarter, but we saw some cool stuff along the way. The Opera house was built in 1901 during the French Colonial Period. It was built to look like the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. The inside was not open when we walked by, but the outside architecture was beautiful, and looked a little out of place on the side of the noisy, busy, dusty streets of Vietnam.
With the warmth of the morning and the palm trees and other tropical plants, we knew we weren’t in Korea anymore! Having previously spent a few months in Indonesia, we found Hanoi to be similar to Jakarta, but less developed, at least in the area around the Opera House.
After walking a few blocks, we made it to Hoan Kiem lake. With no sense of what direction we were walking in, or in which direction the Old Quarter actually was, we walked around the south end of the lake. In the middle of the lake is Turtle tower. There is an interesting legend surrounding this lake that I’ll touch on in a later post. After enjoying the lake for a few minutes, we continued on in our quest to find the Old Quarter and a bank that would exchange Korean won for Vietnamese dong. (Spoiler alert: No bank in Hanoi could do the exchange, so we had to wait until we flew back to Seoul to exchange our won). We then turned around and headed back to the hotel to get ready for our long van ride down to Nghi Son.
Coming from Korea, where it was getting cold and trees were bare, Vietnam was green, warm, and sticky. It was a welcome change, as I’m more of a warm weather creature myself. It was fun to see banyan trees and other tropical flora!
Vietnam is a developing country. Poverty is widespread and there are many people out on the streets selling things for cheap just to get by for the day. There were tons of ladies on the street selling these pop-up cards for $1. There were ships, ferris wheels, and all sorts of other cards, but we opted for a birthday card for Austin. Landon helped pick it out. He loved the cards, and the ladies let him play with them a little. I was worried he was going to rip the delicate paper structures, but he did OK. Something I did not expect in Vietnam were all the stores selling “Made in Vietnam” products. I was intrigued, but never investigated if the brands were legit or fakes, but it makes sense that they would sell some of the clothing that is manufactured in Vietnam to the Vietnamese. Perhaps the clothing that didn’t pass inspection to be shipped overseas? Shopping is great in Hanoi, we did not have time to explore, but prices are very cheap and bartering is the norm. It is tricky to find clothes and shoes in western sizes- Vietnamese people are smaller- but that’s why we bring our giant clothing with us! Stay tuned for more from Vietnam- Nghi Son area, Ben En National Park, and then a whirlwind day in Hanoi on our way back to the States!