First Impressions of Hanoi

It’s already been quite a while since I arrived in Vietnam, but I haven’t posted anything about it. My first stop in Vietnam was the capital, Hanoi, and I wanted to tell you about some of my first impressions.

I like that there are many small cafes selling black or white coffee, or egg coffee, or street stands selling ice tea (also ice coffee) and people sitting on small chairs in front of them and drinking. And the coffee is really tasty. It tastes like the coffee itself has a bit of cocoa in it, and as I found out, they use sweet condensed milk to make coffee with milk. It tastes good, however different from a usual latte/cappuccino.

Ice coffee with condensed milk.

And I feel like the atmosphere here is much more chill than in China. Many local people sitting in those small places and just chatting with each other; also, a lot of people walking around and looking relaxed. Of course, people in China walk as well – but there is this feeling of urgency and haste. Also, I feel like people finish their jobs a bit earlier than in China – streets start to get crowded around 3-4 PM, presumably from people leaving their work.

My afternoon snack – rice flour balls filled with some sweet liquid – I’m not sure what, tasted a bit like ginger and lemongrass – sprinkled with white sesame seeds.

I don’t like walking around not knowing what I’m looking at so I went to the National Museum of Vietnamese History to learn more. Well, I must say that in my opinion, the main exhibition about history is not organized very well. Even though the exhibits were interesting and beautiful, I found myself confused for a few times. For example, in Vietnamese history, there were many dynasties ruling the country. I felt like there was no proper introduction about each of these dynasties, I didn’t know why one dynasty started or how and why it was replaced by another dynasty. You could be reading about one period and have an item from the next dynasty right next to it. Or, another example, Vietnamese people used Chinese characters for a very long time in their history, but it seems like there were some differences between their writing system and Chinese. What were those differences? I’m not sure. I think the writing system is such a huge part of a culture, it should’ve been described in detail. Maybe I missed something but then again, I felt like I was missing something many times. The entrance ticket to the museum is quite cheap, 40 thousand VND (1.7 USD) so I don’t think it’s a waste of money if you go; I just felt like I couldn’t learn much about history from it and maybe I would’ve appreciated it more if I knew more about history before going there.

A cool dragon head from the museum.


The building of the museum – it used to belong to the French School of Asian Studies.

For the first few days, I was staying in the Old Quarter, which is a historical area that served as a city center for a long time (and is still a commercial center bustling with activity) and which was rebuilt by the French during their rule of Vietnam. I guess it’s the place where most tourists stay – on the one hand, it’s very convenient if you want to find a tour or a bus to another place because there are so many agencies providing such services, or you don’t have to go far if you want to find a place to eat or to have a drink. The prices are more expensive than in other areas, though. In some places, the prices are visible so you know how much something would cost and decide if you want to spend such an amount or not. However, oftentimes there are no prices on the menu so you don’t know how much something would cost, and when you ask, it’s obviously much higher for a tourist. In the Old Quarter, sandwiches (banh mi) cost 30-35 thousand VND (1.3-1.5 USD), while further from the tourist areas you would pay at least 30% less. I understand that tourists are seen as more affluent and expected to pay more; also, tourism is a major source of income for the local people. But I guess I need to find a balance between wanting to taste many local specialties, traveling on a budget and, at the same time, providing necessary nutrients for my body (as in eating more fruit and vegetables, not only bread and noodles).

Noodles bought and eaten on the street.
A sandwich with kebab meat.

The entrance tickets are relatively cheap to everything – as I previously said, the ticket to the museum was 40 thousand VND.

Another place I visited on the first day was Ngoc Son Temple (the Temple of the Jade Mountain) on the Sword Lake (Hoàn Kiếm Lake); the price ticket was only 30 000 VND. The lake is also located in the Old Quarter, so it’s a nice walk from a hotel. The name of the lake means “lake of the returned sword” because according to the legend, emperor Le Loi was approached by Golden Turtle God during a boat ride and asked by him to return his magical sword (the sword was used by the emperor, then king, during fights to liberate Vietnam from Chinese Ming occupation and was said to have magical properties, such as making the king very strong and tall). The emperor returned the sword and renamed the lake to commemorate it.

You have to cross the bridge to get to the island.

The temple honors three Vietnamese people: Tran Hung Dao, who successfully fought with Mongolian invasions three times; classic scholar Van Xuong, and writer and official Nguyen Van Sieu.  IMG_6329IMG_6327IMG_6326IMG_6332

A friendly cat hanging out at the temple.

That’s all for today – see you next time!



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