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A Woman in Hanoi

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

Men sought to shun her. But still she endures.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

She lives in the forests, in the ocean, in the sky.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

She exhales the winds, she cries the storms, she beams the sun, she burns the fire.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

She brings happiness and bliss in this moment, in this life

to those who worship her beauty, to those who admire her strength.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

She is the mother goddess of Vietnam.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

The Dao Mau religion in the North has honored her for thousands of years

by channeling her spirit through female mediums in sacred rituals of costumes and dance.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

With their fears of superstition the communist regime outlawed this worship for decades.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

But today the mother goddess lives on in Hanoi.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

She rides with the confidence

of a badass biker chick

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

with her skinny jeans and stilettos

weaving around cars, bicycles, and tourists.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

She sits and watches the sunset

at Hoan Kiem lake

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

posing for photos

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

perhaps keeping up

with the men lifting weights.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

She brews a cauldron of broth

with spices, herbs, and sausage

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

or squats on the street on her lunch break

careful not to spill the juicy noodles

on her little black dress.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

She bellows like a songbird

or greets patrons at the door

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

dressed in satin head to toe

with a smile genuine and pure.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

She leaves behind her family

to work the streets of the city

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

balancing bananas and flowers in baskets

bouquets on her bicycle

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

selling what she can

to support her children in the country.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

The goddess might be mystical, fabled, or even fantasy

but I have seen her

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

strong and beautiful

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

in each and every woman

right here in Hanoi.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

What I did in Hanoi

 

Wandered the Old Quarter

I walked for hours through tiny streets dodging cars, motorbikes, and bicycles. I stared at strange shops, ate strange food, and let myself be a total stranger in this strange land. This is the beating heart of Hanoi, maybe even Vietnam.

 

Temple of Literature

$2 admission

This beautifully preserved temple is a great place to observe Vietnamese architecture and sit in a sunny courtyard to rest your weary feet.

 

Hoa Lo

$1 admission

A fascinating museum inside of the old prison originally used by the French to imprison Vietnamese aristocrats, poets, and philosophers, later used by the Viet Cong to imprison American soldiers.

 

Women’s Museum

$1 admission

An excellent museum for any city in the world, the Women’s Museum houses a large collection of traditional costumes, jewelry, and housewares to demonstrate life and customs for women in Vietnam. They currently have an exhibition dedicated to the Mother Goddess religion in Vietnam.

 

Hoan Kiem Lake

This was hands down my favorite place in Hanoi. To my fellow Seattleites it reminds me a lot of Greenlake. I went there every day I was Hanoi to escape the stimulation of the city and stare at the beautiful temple. The lake is the best place for people watching. Joggers make their laps, older women do tai chi, and men lift weights and do pull ups. At sunset couples line the lake taking photos of one another. The temple on the bridge at the North end of the lake is a peaceful place to sit and ponder.

 

Water Puppet Theater

$3 to $5

The water puppet theater performance truly exceeded my expectations. Water puppetry originated in Northern Vietnam by villagers living in the rice fields. Hanoi’s water puppet theater has stage filled with water to replicate the tradition. While the performance is done in Vietnamese, the artistry and music is stunning and entertaining without words. The theater is quite small, so even the cheap seats are good.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

Where I ate in Hanoi

 

Street Food

$.25 to $2 depending on your haggling skills

 

My first night in Hanoi I walked sheepishly down the neon lit streets in search of dinner. I had forced myself to stay awake despite my 24 hours of travel from Seattle. A kind family welcomed me to the plastic tables and chairs out on the street in front of their restaurant that seemed to be made for children. I sat down, my knees in my chest and pointed to something, unsure what, that cost $1. It ended up being the most flavorful pho I have ever tasted in my life. I sat around locals unable to discern their chatter.

 

Eating on the street with the people is one of the best ways to experience local culture. Learn a few of the Vietnamese names for dishes and dig in. Hanoi is famous for its spring rolls and pho.

 

Quan An Ngon

$2 to $5

 

This restaurant seems too good to be true. The enormous menu features Vietnamese specialties from all over the country in an open, airy, beautiful space and it costs next to nothing. Different cooking stations line the restaurant so you can walk around the perimeter for a food tour of Vietnam. My favorite dishes I tried here were the green papaya salad and the ban xeo (crispy fried crepe stuffed with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts served with rice paper, fresh herbs, and lettuce).

 

Tamarind Café

$3 to $7

 

Hanoi is a city that loves its meat, so it was nice for me to find a place with a vegetarian menu. The space is really cozy, the perfect spot to chill with a book or do some blogging. I had an amazing juice that was reasonably priced for less than $3 with beets, carrots, and ginger. They also had a wide selection of salads and other healthy meals.

 

Hanoi Social Club

$3 to $7

 

This darling little café is definitely a tourist/expat spot but we all need these meccas when traveling. The menu has a selection of salads and other healthy dishes, including energy balls, and this is the only place I’ve found in Vietnam with brown rice. Check their schedule for nights when they have live music.

 

Zenith Cafe

$4 to $8

 

This is the one truly healthy place I found to eat in Hanoi. It’s definitely pricier than other restaurants and cafes, but it’s totally worth it for truly organic whole food. I had a pot of fresh, hot ginger tea with lime and honey, a green super smoothie, and a pumpkin chia seed burger on whole grain bread. All were amazing. The café is also connected to a yoga studio which offers daily classes.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

Where I slept in Hanoi

 

Hanoi Backpackers

$7.50 for a dorm bed, $25 for a private room

If you’re traveling solo and hoping to meet other backpackers, this is the place to stay. Nightly events, pub crawls, high quality tours, and an Australian staff make it an approachable place to begin your travels. They have a new hostel with great facilities smack dab in the old quarter with an onsite bar and restaurant. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, the original location is much more chill. The price includes a small breakfast of either eggs or fruit salad.

 

Little Hanoi 

$6 for a dorm bed, $18 for a private room

Little Hanoi quickly felt like home. The staff speaks excellent English and is so nice and accommodating, the rooms are as nice as a high end hotel, and they offer free coffee, tea, and fruit all day. The breakfast is satisfying with fruit, made to order omelets, bread, rice, noodles, and veggies. They also have a great location in the Old Quarter.

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

How I arrived to Hanoi

 

Airport shuttle

$5 flat rate

 

Rather than deal with a taxi, they have caused me many problems in the past, I walked right over to the shuttles that take passengers into the center of Hanoi about a half hour from the airport. Everything I researched online said $2, but after the longest day of travel of my life and an asking price of $10, I settled for $5. If you’ve got more people it could be worth arranging a shuttle through your hotel or hostel.

 


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Comments

  1. Cristina Marques Says: October 22, 2013 at 7:36 am

    Again! This is my favorite blog! How beautiful!

  2. Camille, I so appreciate your ability to quickly connect with the fascinating aspects of a location, and your detailed information…what a great help to anyone planning to travel. As always, love the photos.

  3. So beautifully captured! I almost could taste the pho…. <3

  4. Outstanding job. Thanks for sharing. Makes me want to visit (which I wouldn’t have wanted to before)…

  5. Madeleine Agour Says: October 23, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Love this post for so many reasons! Pure art!

  6. Hi, love reading, as Wednesday, I leave Nashville for Hanoi. I, like you, do the same type of research ahead of time, so much of what you are writing, I already have on my travel planning document. 😉 Nice to get the affirmations. I will do a 3 week DIY solo trip of Vietnam and Cambodia. 3 full days Hanoi, 2 Sapa with Red Dau Homestay, Hue, motorbike ride down Hai Van Pass to Hoi An; 4 days in Hoi An over the full moon festival; 1.5 days Saigon, 3 day Mekong Delta tour w/ local private guide; 1.5 Phomn Penh, 4 days Siem Reap, back to Hanoi for 2 night Halong Bay tour on Legacy Cruise. Whew!! I return back to the US on 12/1. Perhaps we will overlap somewhere. Will try to come back and read every few days to see where you might be. Have fun! I can’t wait. Stay dry! I see Typhoon Krosa is headed to Danang now. :(

    • This American Girl Says: November 2, 2013 at 11:28 pm

      Wow, sounds like you’ve planned out a totally amazing trip! Tomorrow I’m doing my own Mekong tour, will let you know how it goes. :)

      • Thanks! By the way, I failed to mention: you met my friend Cindy when she visited PV….English teacher who stayed at Lisa’s place. :) I talked to her tonight and she asked if I was going to Hoi An. When I told her yes, that is when she told me about your being there. I realize you are about to leave Vietnam now….so have fun on the rest of your adventures!!

        • This American Girl Says: November 3, 2013 at 12:06 am

          Thank you so much! I will be writing about Hoi An very soon so stay tuned for the tips! Send Cindy my love :)

  7. […] My trip had not gone well thus far and I seriously considered fleeing to Thailand, Laos, really anywhere with a direct flight from Hanoi. […]

  8. […] I made the flight that night. The plane did not crash. I arrived in Hanoi. […]

  9. Candy Nguyen Says: January 4, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    Beautiful pictures about Hanoi, love it