Following our exhilarating visit to Angkor Wat, we pressed on to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
Our flight arrived in the early evening and after collecting our bags we located the driver that had been arranged by our hotel. As we neared the hotel we found that the surrounding streets were closed, and chock-full of people eating, drinking and dancing to live music.
After checking in we joined the locals on the street, sitting on tiny plastic stools for a bite and some drinks.
Hoan Kiem Lake
The following morning we took a walk to the nearby Hoan Kiem Lake. Here we learned the legend of the Golden Turtle God. The turtle lent a magic sword to the Vietnamese Emperor in 1428, which he used to defeat the Chinese.
The temple adjacent to the lake has several embalmed turtles on display.
It is supposed to be good luck to spot a turtle in the lake, unfortunately the last remaining giant turtle died in 2016.
We’re not sure what part this tiger plays in the legend but our daughter liked it nonetheless.
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Later we visited the Museum of Ethnology This museum showcases the 54 different ethic groups that live in Vietnam.
The outdoor portion of the museum includes a collection of traditional buildings. It was very interesting to see the different building techniques and styles.
This house was narrow but long, with enough room for a large multi-generational family.
In the main exhibit area we learned about the customs and characteristics of the various ethnic groups.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
Our next stop was the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which tells the story of “Uncle Ho” and Vietnam’s struggle for independence.
We learned that Ho was quite an interesting character and very well traveled. The descriptive displays seemed to have equal parts history and propaganda.
A few of Ho’s clothing and accessories.
Several of the displays were quite surreal and we didn’t really understand what message they were trying to convey.
A few steps away from the museum, we stopped to see the One Pillar Pagoda, one of the most iconic temples in the country. The original temple was built in 1049, although it has been re-built multiple times.
After his death, Ho Chi Minh was laid to rest in a large mausoleum. Here visitors can pay their respects and/or see Ho’s embalmed body. For better or worse, it wasn’t open on the day that we visited.
Flag Tower of Hanoi
As we walked back towards our hotel, the next stop was the Flag Tower, part of the Hanoi Citadel and one of the symbols of the city. Since it was sweltering we sat in the shade and sipped some cold drinks at the adjacent coffee shop.
Finishing our drinks, we wandered around the outdoor displays at the Military History Museum, which included several American-made tanks and aircraft.
Temple of Literature
Later we visited Vietnam’s Oldest University, the Temple of Literature.
Beginning in the 1400s, the names of the graduates of the university were carved on stelae that sit on the backs of stone turtles.
The boys were quite popular in Vietnam and people frequently asked if we’d take a group photo with them. Many people thought they were twins.
Of course we couldn’t leave Hanoi without browsing the night market. We observed that one popular category is clothes made from fruit print fabrics. We spotted some people wearing a shirt, shorts, and hat in the same crazy banana print. We debated getting matching outfits for the whole family but ultimately decided to settle for some smaller mementos.
Hanoi was a great stop on our journey through SE Asia. The city is rich in culture and history and feels a bit more unique than some other capital cities that are full of skyscrapers. The food was wonderful and cheap; we ate our fill of Pho and Banh Mi from streetside eateries. Everyone we met was friendly and we didn’t sense any resentment towards us over past conflicts.
Next up, we sail Lan Ha Bay!