Mopeds, mopeds and a few more mopeds in Hanoi

The Vietnam leg of our trip started off on Wednesday 22nd September when we arrived in the capital city of Hanoi!. We arrived at around tea time after a long bus ride from Nanning in China and were both pretty knackered. The constant travelling is starting to catch up with us a bit so we decided to give ourselves a well earned rest after we checked into the hotel. We obviously needed it as it didnt take long for us to fall asleep! We also managed to squeeze in a couple of films that we watched in bed – it was so good to just relax for a bit without having to think about what to do or where to go next.

We woke up fully refreshed the next morning for our first full day in the city.

Once again we’d written up an itinerary for all of the things we wanted to do while we were here and checked the weather forecast so that we knew when to do it! We had decided to spend our first day inside the Old Quarter itself. Historically, this part of Hanoi is known as “36 streets” – some of the oldest streets in Vietnam (including the most ancient – Hang Bac) so we wanted to fully soak it up by having a good walk around the area.

The streets were all pretty busy – mostly mopeds as you would expect in Vietnam, as well as hordes of pedestrians. Just walking around here was an interesting experience in itself – it was impossible to use the pavement, as it was littered with parked bikes, shop fronts and fruit sellers and far too dangerous to stay on the roads, so we found ourselves weaving on and off the streets, dodging mopeds as we went!

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There are absolutely loads of shops in the old quarter – most of them nestled inside ancient-looking houses and buildings that you have to look up at to spot. Each street seemed to feature a particular product – for example one street appeared to sell nothing but toys and teddies!

We kept our eye out for anything we wanted to buy and Richard thought that it was fitting to buy a Vietnam t-shirt – just like Jeremy Clarkson did when Top Gear visited Vietnam!

We spent the majority of the afternoon walking down the buzzing streets and were pleased to find that the whole place had a really nice atmosphere. Despite the amount of mopeds, bicycles, cars and people milling around, it didn’t have a stressful vibe and we were still able to take our time. Everyone was really friendly, apart from an old woman who followed us down two streets, waving Vietnam-embroidered baseball caps at us and shouting out different prices – despite the fact that we didn’t want one!

One thing that did surprise us during our exploration of the old quarter (and continued to surprise us during the rest of our trip) was just how much ‘money’ is kicking around – something we definitely didn’t expect in Vietnam!

We spotted at least 3 shiny BMW x6’s, Mercedes and even a Bentley Continental driving around. There were also quite a few fancy clothes shops hidden in between souvenir shops as well as wine bars, cellars and delicatessens dotted around. We had braced ourselves for going back a decade or two when we arrived in Vietnam, but this certainly doesn’t apply to Hanoi!

That evening, we went to sit at the top of the City View cafe, by Hoan Tiem lake – this overlooks a big roundabout as well as the lake and is a great place to sit and watch the city go by, especially at night. We sampled our first taste of Hanoi beer here – and it was very refreshing!!

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After the cafe, we walked round to a pub called Le Pub – it’s owned by a guy from Stowmarket who is a friend of a friend of ours. We were told that we had to pop in for a drink and something to eat! It was a great little pub, in the heart of the old quarter and the food was excellent! The owner wasn’t there but we had a chat with the manager who, as it turned out, had done his fair bit of travelling too and had followed a pretty similar route to us through Iran and Pakistan.

Le Pub has just opened a new bar in the West Lake area – north of the old quarter, so we made a note to go and see that the next day when we visited that area.

After we’d had our dinner we went onto another bar (an Irish Pub) near our hotel, which was pretty dull to be honest – no sign of the ‘Irish’ owner and no atmosphere at all! Didn’t stay there long! Then we went ‘local’ and had a beer in a street bar – the drinks were more than half the price of tourist pubs and we got to sit on tiny little plastic stools on the pavement!

Satisfied with our day of soaking up the Hanoi Old Quarter we headed back to bed – at a very reasonable time! (the bars all seemed to close at 11 or 12).

Exploration day number two started bright and early – it was our day of  ‘Lakes’ and sightseeing and the weather was forecast to be good so we wanted to make the most of it! We hired a moped from the hostel at the extremely competitive price of $7 USD (for 24 hours use) and set off for the West Lake after our breakfast.

Riding a moped in Hanoi is quite an experience and I’m glad it was Richard who had to navigate the constant stream of traffic instead of me! There are absolutely no rules of the road here and no concept of lanes! But the scary thing is that it all seems to work – other moped and motorbike riders seem to be complete naturals at swerving and dodging other road users and you just have to go with the flow as much as you can – without panicing!

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Our first stop was the West Lake in the north of the city and it didn’t take long to get there despite a few wrong turns! It’s a pretty big lake and we decided to ride all the way round it after lunch at the new Le Pub. This branch over looks the lake itself and we had just as good service here as at the first one – and another delicious meal!

On the lake, there were lots of fishermen catching their dinner so we stood and watched them for a while – it was the only time I’d actually seen somebody fishing who actually caught a fish!

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Once we had seen enough of this lake, we got back on the moped and rode towards Ngoc Ha village in search of another lake – Ho Huu Tiep – otherwise known as B52 Lake. It was here that the wreckage of  a B52 bomber that was shot down during the Vietnam war lies – a large portion of the plane fell into a tiny lake, surrounded by houses and was just left there as a symbol of the Vietnamese victory.

After another few wrong turns and directions from villagers, we finally came across the plane!

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It was very strange seeing it just sat there and imagining the day that it was actually shot down and the American pilot hauled off to prison. The Vietnamese had built a ‘historial monument’ there as well as a plaque that explained what happened.

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Another historical lake we went to is Truc Bach – next to the West Lake. This is where US Senator John McCain was shot down during his Vietnam stint. He was later imprisoned in Hoa Lo prison in the centre of Hanoi (which was on our To Do list for the next day!)

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Next, we went to see the One Pillar Pagoda – a historic Buddhist temple which was first built in 1047, in a pool of Lotus flowers, by Emperor Ly Thai Tong. We’d heard that this was the most famous Pagoda in Vietnam, but to be honest we weren’t really sure what all the fuss is about! The Emperor had built it after he had a dream that the Bodhisattva Avalokieshvara had handed him a child while sat on a Lotus flower. He later went on to have a child with his peasant wife and built the Pagoda (based on the dream) in thanks for this.

Unfortunately the pool of Lotus flowers was more like a pool of mud, but we took a photo anyway!

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On our way back to the Old Quarter we stopped off at Hanoi’s two famous bridges – the Long Bien (a railway built by the guy who built the Effiel Tower) and Chuong Duong, which both cross the Red River.

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They were both really long and we got great views of the river and the local people fishing on it’s banks.

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Riding aross Chuong Duong bridge was quite an experience too as it was simply heaving with motorbikes and cars, all trying to squeeze past eachother at speed!

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Before we went back to the hotel, we parked up at Hoan Kiem lake, which is close to where we are staying and took a stroll around that – this is home to a pagoda and a temple, despite being a relatively small lake. We were pretty tired at this point, following the day’s escapades, so just bought some noodles from a supermarket for dinner, and headed back.

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After a couple of hours rest back in our room (me watching the film Wanted on tv and Richard falling asleep!) we went out to the weekly Friday Night market at Dong Xuan. It was rammed and full of clothes stalls, shoes, handbags and cafes. Took us quite a while to get to the end of it, as it spans three big roads and we were practically tripping over people! Once again, there was a good atmosphere out on the streets – apart from those pesky motorcyclists forcing their way through!

So that’s our round up of our first couple of days in Hanoi – we’re really enjoying the stay so far and have been surprised by this city in many ways – tomorrow, it’s time to hit the museums and soak up more about the history of this place…

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1 Comment

  1. September 28, 11:17 #1 Mum

    Hi hun, the weather looks a bit dull there. Can’t believe a guy from Stowmarket owned one of the pubs you went to!!! You’re still looking good despite being knackered. AND those mopeds – Phew!!!


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