When I was in Vietnam in 2009 I only spent about a half day in Hanoi en route to Halong Bay. I decided to adapt my current itinerary to go to Hanoi to spend more time there and actually see the place, as well as to experience the cooler weather in comparison to other parts of Southeast Asia at this time of year. Also, I wanted to see if Hanoi might be an agreeable place to take the CELTA class. Finally, while in Hanoi I wanted to apply for a Chinese visa so I could go to Yunnan province, believed to be the place where tea (Camellia sinensis) was first cultivated.
Since arriving in Hanoi a week ago, I had been spending most of my time in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, a maze of streets lined with French colonial architecture and choked with motorbike and pedestrian traffic. Other than the need to dodge motorbikes, ubiquitous almost everywhere in Southeast Asia, the Old Quarter was quite walkable. The weather was rainy and chilly when I first arrived in early March, but had become pleasantly warm a week later.
There are a number of sights to see in Hanoi, but I decided to skip the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the government buildings and instead enjoy the simple pleasure of walking around the pretty Hoan Kiem lake and the Old Quarter, with its many quaint cafes and restaurants.
I found a restaurant that had good vegetarian food. Above this restaurant was the Lantern Lounge, where I spent some evenings having tea while chatting with Joni, one of the hostesses there, who entertained me with tragic but darkly humorous tales about one of her foreign boyfriends in Hanoi.
Here’s some interesting information on stamp carving in Hanoi.