With nowhere else to go, we stopped and waited for the rain to abate. Minutes ticked by, and still, we were rooted to the same spot, my pants already soaked by raindrops bouncing off Hanoi’s slate sidewalks, my mind bored from watching raincoated motorists whizzing along the wet road. We had already turned the small souvenir shop upside down where we were taking shelter, looking for something to buy to while away the time. There is definitely a forever, and we were infinitely stuck there.
|CRAZY ALLEYS IN HANOI|
Hanoi was an impulse trip. Working late one night, I chanced upon a seat sale on a budget airline. In no time, the trip was booked. Two full days in Hanoi. It was only when we landed in Vietnam and started exploring its colorful alleys that regret started to creep in.
|LY THAI TO MONUMENT SET WITH COMMUNIST FLAGS|
Two days was definitely not enough. And imagine if our pre-booked Halong Bay tour wasn’t cancelled due to the dour weather. And there’s the incessant rain to contend with too. Our Hanoi stay was simply too fleeting.
|LOVELY OLD SHOPS|
Still, we made do with what we have. Every single time the rain stops, we’d go running out of Sofitel Legend Metropole and traverse the streets and alleys of the city, checking out the sights and having our Hanoi food trip; our cameras be damned.
|SIDEWALK? MORE LIKE COFFEE AND TEA SHOPS!|
On our first day, we followed a path from our hotel to a narrow street lined with huge century-old trees, dodging uncles having tea on low stools along the sidewalk that leads to to Hoan Kiem Lake [GPS MAP 21.029117, 105.852386]. The sky was already pregnant with rain as we crossed the highway and saw the Turtle Tower on a lonely spot in the middle of the placid waters. This is the spot where supposedly a Golden Turtle God asked an emperor for his magic sword, .
|THE TURTLE TOWER IN THE MIDDLE OF HOAN KIEM LAKE|
|SENTINEL TOWERS ALONG THE LAKE|
Then the heavens poured. Thank goodness for the sentinel towers along the sidewalk which served as our personal shelter at the time. We waited while watching a Korean guy play Pokemon Go on his iPhone. The rain stopped before we saw him catch any monsters.
|WALKING ALONG HOAN KIEM LAKE|
Resuming our walk, we traced the superbly manicured banks of the lake, passing uniformly grown beds of flowers and lush gnarly trees, dipping their limbs across the green waters of Hoan Kiem, before encountering a shockingly red wooden bridge.
|NGOC SON TEMPLE ALONG THE LAKE|
Across it, right on Jade Island, a small parcel of land on the lake itself, stood the gated Ngoc Son Temple [GPS MAP 21.030712, 105.852384]. Built during the 18th century, the temple is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao, a hero during the 13th century who defeated 300,000 soldiers sent by Kublai Khan to sack Vietnam. We heard there are also some artifacts, including a preserved 250-kilo turtle, and religious statues inside the temple. The operative word being heard; we really didn’t enter the place, scrimping our dongs for more important things; like food and beer, lol.
|CYCLOS VERSUS MOTORBIKES VERSUS PEDESTRIANS|
And that was exactly what we had right after. Without any concrete plan or even a definite route, we found ourselves amidst a streetful of shoes and sandals. C badly needed a new pair as her old beachwalk simply wasn’t up to par with Hanoi’s slippery sidewalks. Surprisingly, their flipflops are quite expensive! We shrugged no and proceeded to a hot bowl of noodles for lunch instead. Beer came right after as another bout of heavy rain interrupted our jaunt.
|EVENING WALK ALONG HANOI’S OLD QUARTER|
The heavens didn’t let up until evenfall.
We scoured the sidewalks for a heavy dinner and strong coffee, and by pure chance, found ourselves along Hanoi’s backpacker district. We heard of this place, Ta Hien Street [GPS MAP 21.034980, 105.852080], an alley more than a street really, where most budget travelers in Hanoi converge. We love these kinds of places; it reminded us of Bangkok’s Khao San Road and Siem Reap’s Pub Street.
|THE HANOI BACKPACKER DISTRICT|
|TA HIEN STREET IS WHERE IT’S HAPPENING|
And like those said places, Hanoi’s very own is teeming with travelers huddled in groups, bent over low stools, chugging the night away with colorful when I was in stories, voluminous smoke and cold beer. And like true pilgrims, we picked a vacant spot right by the four-way crossroad and joined in the melee.
|PREPARE TO CROSS THE HIGHWAY|
I love Bia Hanoi, absolutely no hangover the next day. With clear heads, we wandered towards Hanoi’s Opera House [GPS MAP 21.024265, 105.857552] and were promptly greeted with a rushing horde of motorbikes. We were dumbfounded as to how we were gonna cross the highway but somehow, we still made it to the steps of its handsome neoclassical French Colonial facade.
|THE HANOI OPERA HOUSE|
The edifice, built by the French colonial administration in 1901, was modeled after France’s very own Opéra de Paris, which was dubbed as the most famous opera in the world and the setting of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera.
Alrighty, a selfie is in order then.
|WITH JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF DECAY|
|SIDEWALK VEGETABLE VENDORS|
From there, we hunted for another of Hanoi’s French treasure, the St. Joseph Cathedral [GPS MAP 21.028749, 105.848899]. It took a few wrong turns, passing through old houses, tight dark alleys, sidewalk barbers and some asking around to finally locate the Notre Dame-esque church. We inadvertently took the wrong, but eventually, more colorful way to the church.
|FOUND THE SAINT JOSEPH CATHEDRAL AFTER GETTING LOST|
And indeed, the ornate Gothic Revival-styled Cathédrale Saint-Joseph—as the French would say it—with its twin square towers, is very Notre Dame de Paris. Constructed in 1886, the church is built of stone slabs, bricks and concrete. It is the oldest church in the whole of Hanoi.
A break was in order after the hunt for the cathedral. We found a couple of tea houses adjacent to the church and set our asses down on their low stools. Since we were in no mood for tea or ca phe, we asked if they have Bia Hanoi. And a cold one, indeed, they have.
|OLD LADY WATCHING OVER CERAMICWARES|
|MIDDAY GOSSIP AT THE MARKET?|
|HANOI’S SHOE STREET|
My feet was already screaming in agony by the time we resumed our walkathon, this time to find some things to bring back home. We passed by the local market, but were unable to really buy anything, wending our way from one busy street to another busier one. I love the fact that Hanoi seems to have its shopping districts in order, streets are set with particular products; there are streets where only shoes are sold, coffee on another, baby products on the next and so on.
|PASSED BY THE LAKE ON OUR WAY BACK TO THE HOTEL|
It didn’t take long before I was hauling an inordinate amount of coffee, dried fruits, trek apparels and what-nots. We would’ve taken a cab, but thought about how many bottles of bia it would cost us. We walked. My feet died on the way back to the hotel.
|AND BACK AT TA HIEN ONCE AGAIN|
|SMOKING ON A THUOC LAO, A BAMBOO BONG FILLED WITH TOBACCO|
|OUR FAVORITE SPOT IN HANOI|
Resting a bit, checking out and leaving our bags at the hotel, we came back with a vengeance to Ta Hien’s chaotic crossroads [GPS MAP 21.034725, 105.852165]. With no shopping bags to hinder our every step, we were on our favorite low-stooled corner in no time—cold bottles of Bia Hanoi on hand, eyes wandering over the craziness in front of us. I checked my watch, We still have eight hours left before our plane departs back to Manila.