Hanoi was chosen to be Vietnam’s capital more than 1,000 years ago. Today, it is a chaotic and exciting city filled with fascinating sites and tons insane traffic,(mostly scooters and motorbikes). There are some traffic lights and signs, however, there are no visible indication of anyone obeying traffic laws.
An early morning stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake was both peaceful and entertaining. Local residents use the walkways (where no scooters are allowed) to practice Tai Chi and other forms of group exercise.
There is a picturesque red footbridge which leads to a Buddhist temple, Ngoc Son, on a small island in the lake. Hoan Kiem lake means “lake of the returned sword”. This name is related to the famous historical legend of King Le Thai To. During the war against the Minh, King Le Thai To was given a precious fairy sword by the Golden Turtle God. After ten years of continuous struggling, the King finally defeated the Chinese and reclaimed the nation’s independence. The turtle god then reclaimed the sword. The King named the lake Ho Hoan Kiem or Lake of the Returned Sword. The temple honors the 13th century military leader Tran Hung Dao who secured many victories against Mongol invasions.
The Old Quarter of the city is packed edge to edge with cafes, stores and motorbikes. There are 36 named streets, each related to a trade. In the 21st century certain streets are no longer dominated by their trade and have all types of souvenirs and handicrafts instead.
A nighttime street food tour introduced us to several delicious local foods. Most of the vendors use the front room of their home as their shop, the sidewalk acts as the dining space with many toddler-sized stools and tables to maximize space for customers. Typically, it is many generations of families that have passed on their secret ingredients list for their recipes.
All of these delicious foods plus many more that didn’t get photographed because we gobbled them up before a picture, filled our bellies and our souls. Our dreams will be filled with happiness.