Hanoi is the second largest city in Vietnam yet so unlike Ho Chi Minh. Landing in Hanoi you are struck by the tall green mountains, lakes and farmland quite unlike landing in Ho Chi Minh (later referred to here as Saigon) to the south.
Driving from the airport you see banana trees and farms. From the airport you travel on a modern highway towards the T. Long bridge and only a few scooters are on the road. Then, through the clouds, Hanoi appears and the road teems with scooters again.
Traveling in further, you get the distinct feeling that Hanoi is much more traditionally Vietnamese than Saigon and has a more relaxed lifestyle with low rise buildings instead of sky scrappers outlining the skyline.
The old quarter is a popular area to stay in Hanoi, and I highly recommend it to solo female travelers. The old quarter is pretty compact with nothing further than a 15 minute walk away (even if it looks larger on a map). Peeking into Buddhist temples and then gazing on French styled cathedrals, you can feel the different push and pull (and contrasts ).
This area has a wonderful character and old world feel and I felt safe moving around solo.
The buildings have a combination of French colonial and ancient Vietnamese architecture throughout.
These shops, apartments and hotels are all supplied through huge power line birds nests humbled up poles and hanging just out of harms way.
Scooters are a way of life in Vietnam & they go hard!
Scooter dodging is an art form in Vietnam. There are no rules. You just have to get the courage to take that first step off the curb and slowly yet deliberately walk through all the oncoming scooters. If you walk with confidence and only continue moving forward, miraculously, they will adjust their course to drive around you. Breath a deep breath and go for it! Needless to say otherwise you will remain on the curb forever wondering how to get across the road.
Scooters are piled high with everything imaginable. While I missed the photo of one exceptional scooter carrying two refrigerators, here are two below where you can see an example of how they roll, daily.
Vistas from my hotel room show busy streets, alive with stands selling Pho, other foods, coffee and spa treatments.
The view from the breakfast area of my hotel faced the famous Hoan Kiem Lake which is best used as a good physical compass. Use the lake as a reset point to find your way around the Old Quarter and then back to your hotel once again.
The Ngoc Son Temple sits in the center on an island connected by the red bridge and is the focal point of the city.
This Red bride connects to the most visited temple in the city. Again, it is smart to use the lake and bridge as this compass to remember where you are located as you wander the area. Simply make it back to the lake and you can reset your bearings based on where the bridge is located.
So on day one, I did some walking around before joining an evening walking food tour. However to get the day started in Vietnam, try Pho for breakfast as is traditionally done. I personally enjoyed the Pho Ga (chicken). Delish!
Finally, in my room, I conducted a final review of the must see sights on my map before heading out into the streets of Hanoi.🇨🇳
Next up – Join me as I review food tours experienced while in Vietnam.