Vietnam had turned out to be quite a surprise from the moment we got out of the airport and rode the private van sent to us for our airport transfer by Hanoi Capital Hotel.Â For one, I never knew a million motorcycles can converge in such narrow streets and tight alleys.Â It was then that I confirmed that the Vietnamese people rely heavily on motorcycles as a convenient and accessible means of transport.Â Even young women in high heels cruise along the highways on speeding pink motorbikes and bright yellow Vespas.
Upon arriving at our hotel, we were informed they were fully booked and couldn’t accommodate an early check-in.Â Still dead tired from not being able to sleep a wink at Tan Son Nhat International Airport the previous night, I gladly accepted their offer to transfer us to a sister hotel.
Two representatives escorted us outside, to hail a cab we assumed, to take us to the Hanoi Plaza Hotel. I got the surprise of my life when they gestured to two motorbikes out of what looked like fifty parked right in front of the hotel.Â It was my inaugural ride on a bike and a thrilling way to experience Hanoi’s lively streets. It was scary seeing hundreds of motorcycles coming right at you from all directions. Good thing, we reached Hanoi Plaza Hotel in one piece and in no time at all, as the hotel was only a couple of blocks away.Â Â I have never been so happy to see a soft bed and shower.
After two hours of rest, we decided to brave the streets of Hanoi again but this time on foot.Â I got a city map from the front desk and tried to figure out which interesting place we should head to first.Â I was so hungry that I immediately made a mental note to look for a good pho restaurant.Â We were starving and really looking forward to our late lunch. Our hotel recommended a nice place right at the south end of Hoan Kiem Lake.Â Since we were passing by the lake on the way to the restaurant, I felt it was the perfect time to enjoy the scenery a bit before grabbing a bite.
Photo credit theshutterbugs
Hoan Kiem Lake is a famous landmark in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. The name means “Lake of the Returned Sword” or “Lake of the Restored Sword” – based on legend wherein an emperor turned over a magical sword called Heavenâ€™s Will to the Golden Turtle God that is in the lake.Â This is also why a certain Tortoise Tower can be found built on a tiny island right in the center of the lake.
Photo credit theshutterbugs
Another notable point of interest is Ngoc Son Temple or Jade Mountain Temple.Â Built in the 18th century in honor of an officer who fought against the Yuan Dynasty, the spiritual shrine is a significant lake landmark.Â The entire temple is erected on Jade Island, which can be found at the northern end of Hoan Kiem.Â Visitors can reach the island by crossing a red-painted wooden bridge known as Huc Bridge.
Some locals told us that if we were lucky, we would see some soft-shelled turtles, considered endangered, swimming in the lake.Â Along the lake, I also noticed a lot of locals and tourists seated on benches enjoying the lazy afternoon.Â A group was practicing Tai Chi and others jogged along the lake-side promenade.Â Couples and families were picnicking too – it was all very idyllic.Â There’s a coffeeshop at the south end of the lake where tourists hang out to take photos and admire the view.
The area surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake is peppered with numerous stores that carry upmarket brands like MAC, Calvin Klein and Nine West.Â There’s also a wide selection of restaurants that serve both local and international dishes.Â The Tourist Information Office can be found at the north end of the lake and is a good stop for those who would like to get info on tours, places to see, great restaurants, and a lot more.
As for us, we found our way to a quaint restaurant at the south end of the lake which was recommended by our hotel.Â We entered the doors and took in the sumptuous aroma of spices from a huge pot of simmering soup.Â There was enough time to see some more of the lake on our way back but at that time, we had to fill our hungry stomachs with our very first authentic Vietnamese meal in wonderful Hanoi.