Our bodies thought it was 3 hours later than the clock was telling us, so by 6:00am we wide awake. By 7 we were at breakfast – a breakfast that could have been at any hotel in the world – and by 8 we were out the door, heading south to the Old Town and Ho Hoan Kiem- a lake with a famous turtle and sword legend. Walking the streets of the Old Town was like stepping back in time, except for the constant threat of traffic. At times it was difficult to know if we were ever going to be able to cross a road, but the advice of walk steadily across and the traffic will go around you seemed to work. As we approached the lake an area was barricaded to keep traffic out. We soon discovered why, as a fun run strided past.
A short time later we were walking behind a group of young children in matching T shirts. “Hanoi English School” was written across their backs. We said hello, and struck up a conversation with their teacher. They were there to find tourists to practice their English language on. So practice they did, then photos, then more questions and more photos. Quite an amazing experience for both sides of the conversation.
We continued around the lake and found a bridge crossing to a small island. People were giving tickets toa guard on the gate, so we investigated and discovered it was a temple. 20000VD later we were in. A stroll around the gardens with amazing bonsai style plants, a temple complete with the usual offerings and an explanation of the sword turtle in the lake.
We then met and talked with lots more children – some school children, but others were mothers with very young kids who wanted the kids to practice English, and even a few uni students approached us to practice conversing.
Next stop was a coffee by the lake, then a stroll back towards the hotel through an area of hardware ‘stores’ that collectively would put the stock levels of Bunnings to shame. Back at the hotel we had a break for a while, before setting off again to explore the other direction from the hotel. By now it was approaching beer o’clock, so we had a Hanoi Lager at a very local looking café next door to the hotel (18000VD – about $1.30) then a few more at an Irish Pub (of course there are Irish Pubs in Hanoi!) where they cost an outrageous 40,000VD (still less than $3)
6:00 was the official start of our tour, meeting with our group leader Bruce, an expat Aussie who’s lived here and worked for Intrepid for 22 years. Our group consists of 15 people from Australia, Ireland, England, America and Germany. After the meeting we all headed off for a genuine Hanoi dinner (and a few more beers). Yum. Total bill for the 2 of us – 250,000VD – all of about $17 for 5 or 6 dishes and 2 beers.
A few other notable mentions: The electrical wiring in the street. OMG. The variety of shops, from up-market fashion shops to belt buckle shops to sidewalk noodle bars all within a few metres of each other. Lots of young women, dressed to the nines taking selfies in front of expensive hotels – building a portfolio maybe?