The main tourist area in Hanoi is the old quarter north of Hoàn Kiếm Lake. We found Hanoi in general to be a bit more expensive, as you might expect from a big city. We stayed at a nice place right by the centre of things just a half block from the lake, bus stop, and near tons of restaurants and the night market. It included breakfast as well, which is always nice.
Our first day we mailed our postcards from Hue, walked down alongside Hoàn Kiếm Lake, and visited the Women's Museum. Quite a large, well thought-out museum, with good signage in Vietnamese and English everywhere. They had exhibits on marriage customs and maternity/birth and how the different tribes differ in customs. Obviously sections on clothing styles and jewelry, and also a good exhibit on the role women played in the Vietnam/American War.
This is a local tribal wedding dress.
Alan tries (and failed) to carry things like the locals.
One wing had an interesting Mother Goddess exhibit.
The next day we planned to take a local city bus to the west. Although it's always hard to work out public transit in a foreign language, Google Maps had the transit system loaded including prices, and with GPS and data on the phone it's easy to find your way or check your driver is going the right way. Unfortunately we didn't realise there were two number 9 buses both driving the same side of the street but later splitting in different directions, and so we ended up heading south. We decided to stay on the bus and go somewhere else, so we spent some time at Bảy Mẫu Lake wandering around the park and looking for a geocache, then walked over the nearby Vincom Center Mall to watch Gone Girl at the cinema (a plan of Kaitlyn's all along while in Hanoi). The bus ride back was a little more straightforward and we got another dinner nearby.
Our third day we took a side trip back south to Ninh Binh for some gorgeous scenery and a little motorbiking. See our upcoming post on the subject.
Our last day in town Kaitlyn's legs were pretty sore from the day before, so we split up and I took the bus west as originally planned two days earlier. I wanted to find a virtual geocache at the site of a B-52 bomber crash from the war. The plane was just left in this pond to rust away while the neighborhood grew up around. There's no real indication it's there until you arrive at the pond where a small sign describes it. Not much to see, but the neighborhood it was in was very interesting - a maze of narrow alleys running in different directions and sometimes connecting, sometimes ending abruptly.
I then walked over to the Hanoi Botanical Gardens, which turned out to not be a garden at all but a regular seeming city park. There were tons of locals playing badminton, đá cầu (foot badminton), soccer, or using the exercise machines. A odd quirk in many Vietnam parks is that you pay a small fee to enter - ususally 2000 or 4000 dong at the parks we saw. I suppose this goes to maintanance rather than being subsidized by taxes?
I met back up with Kaitlyn for supper and then we went to the Water Puppet Show! A well-known art form from Vietnam, it originated from Hanoi, and so we saved our visit to one until we were here. It ended up being much more interesting than we expected with lots of special effects. There was a 6-7 person band on the side and they presented a continuous series of short skits: country life, people fishing, the rice planting and harvest, sacred turtle, dragon and fish dances. The puppets all move around through the pool of water and at times splash or throw it around. There were smoke and fire effects for some skits with the dragons. Very worth the admission and quite interesting to watch.
We spent a bit of time visiting the night market nearby afterwards, but didn't find much of interest after all the markets we've seen now, and we were nearly out of Vietnamese dong.
Next stop Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia