We landed in Hanoi late at night, and immediately the city jolted my senses. The cool air (much cooler than Singapore, where we had just been!) woke us up and made us feel more alive than the slow crawl of deep humidity. As soon as we stepped out of our Grab, I knew that I already loved this city.
The streets were a bit chaotic, but not as chaotic as I had prepared myself. We went to a wonderful dinner where the waitress asked if we were a couple and then called us a cute one, which was a nice way to start things =)
Our days in Hanoi were mostly spent sightseeing and exploring the city on foot. I already felt a natural crossing the street amid the motorbike waves: my days in Rome and NYC had taught me well. We ventured through temples (Temple of Literature to start) with their incense and altars, and the Imperial Citadel, which had just finished with Tet (new year) festivities and were cleaning up. Beneath the citadel we witnessed the bunker of the North Vietnamese army. The mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh loomed large over this area of the city.
Some of my favorite moments were sitting in the alleyways and street cafes on the short plastic stools, a banh mi, strong coffee, or other delicious dish at hand. This city was alive as daily business bustled all around us.
We learned about the four legendary animals of Vietnam: the dragon, the turtle, the ky lan (unicorn), and the phoenix, and started recognizing them everywhere in art and symbols. At Ngoc Son temple, we crossed the picturesque red bridge and gazed at the city (and encountered a cat) in the midday mist.
On one of our last nights, we stayed out late and explored the streets at night. It felt comparatively quiet, with the soft patter of rain and the din of beer street around us. Hanoi was a marvelous way to start our adventure in Vietnam.