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24 hours in Hanoi

Yes, it can’t all be done in 24 hours but you can try your hardest. Here’s what you can expect from a day in Hanoi.

9am

They tell you to just go. Just step off the pavement, into more oncoming motorbikes than I can count. Fighting all my natural inhibitions, I step gingerly off the pavement. I'm still choosing to cross at the ‘zebra crossing’ but little does that matter, I'm still in the firing line of zig zagging motorbikes, scarcely visible from their mammoth overload. And so I cross. 

Of course it’s all true; the motorbike riders are highly skilled at dodging travellers cum rabbits caught in headlights but eventually I master the quick step through the maze of revving engines, landing feet first in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, a labyrinth of commercial goodies, each resting in a dedicated street.

11am

My hotel, Hong Ngoc 2 is located just two minutes’ walk from the Old Quarter and I quickly freshen up before hitting the streets again. Located on the ‘toy street’, I make my way along the barely there pavement, and what strikes me is the excess street vendors go to with carefully crafted toys overflowing from stalls and onto the road. All colours of the rainbow flourish from hidden stalls and locals are barely visible, peeping from behind their stock.

The street markets of the Old Quarter are best explored by meandering through them, getting happily lost amongst all manner of artefacts. At one point I find myself face to face with a skinned toad, a very angry snake, some beautiful hand crafted shirts and what looked to be some ‘North Face’ bags. After a few hours, I eventually head out of the maze and wander around the Hoan Kiem Lake, always on the lookout for the 100 year old turtles that may still live there, but alas, none were to be seen.

2pm

Lunch in Vietnam is best enjoyed on a street corner, perched upon an upside down plastic beer crate. Joined by locals and backpackers alike, I sipped my noodles straight from the bowl; with the feeling of noodles slapping at my chin and not a care in the world, the streets of Vietnam pass me by for a happy hour.

3pm

Next I go in search of some Vietnamese history and I don’t have far to look. Around 2km west of Hoan Kiem Lake, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum lies as a perfectly preserved place of pilgrimage where many nations flock to pay their respects. The traffic-free area is dedicated to lush botanical gardens, many monuments and pagodas.

Unsure of whether to proceed to Ho Chi Minh’s place of rest, curiosity gets the better of me and I find myself face to face with the waxy completion of the Vietnamese Marxist-Leninist revolutionary leader. A humbling moment and as I look around, locals and tourists alike are wiping their tears away.

Again I follow my pursuit of history and visit the Temple of Literature and the infamous One Pillar Pagoda, the Buddhist temple balancing on a single concrete pillar above a pretty square lotus pond.

6pm

Hotel stop. I quickly shower and change before another adventure begins as nightfall descends on Hanoi.

8pm

I’ve never experienced anything quite like the Water Puppet Show (mus roi nuoc) and I would recommend anyone visiting Hanoi to catch one. The Vietnamese traditional art form has been around for over 1000 years and as I take my seat in the fifth row, I’m very aware of the sea of backpackers that surround me, clearly a very popular show for a taste of Vietnamese culture.

All I am faced with is a shallow pool of bubbling water and silence falls on the audience as we’re plunged into darkness. A spotlight illuminates seven musicians high up on a balcony off to the left and soft magical music begins to play. Narrated in English, dragons, fish, dogs, soldiers, sailors, queens and farmers all rise in and out of the water in brazen costumes, working perfectly in time with the music and narration. Suddenly the story comes to an end and ten locals advance on me from the wet shutters and bow graciously in the water, the puppets still fastened on their sticks.

9pm

As I filter out into the street, the crowd is awash with excitement and energy from the quirky show we had just witnessed. Dinner is a delicious mix of Cha ca, fried morsels of fish served alongside crispy crêpes bulging with pork, shrimp and beansprouts known as Banh xeo. Seated in Duong Than in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem district I enjoy a welcome beer and settle in with a friendly local family for a delicious dinner.

11pm

Dancing descends on the narrow, shuttered laneways of Hanoi and it’s time I join the party. Hidden bars line the streets, but little would you know if you weren’t looking for them. Not known for its nightlife, the ambiance is small and friendly and crowds welcome me into their happy embrace.

1am

I fall asleep to the sounds of the busy capital, calming for a few precious hours.

 

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