If there's one way, and in my opinion the only way, to experience the streets of Hanoi, it is definitely by foot! We spent a whole entire day wandering the many roads and alley ways and came across an abundance of amazing finds including temples, markets, people and a train track which is just centimetres away from homes!
Around every corner you will find a market of some sort whether they are selling food, clothing, jewellery or bags, you can grab yourself an absolute bargain! What really surprised me though was the food at these markets. Being use to Australian standards where our food is packaged and stored appropriately to maintain health and safety regulations, the food at these Vietnamese markets could not have been more opposite!
Fruit and vegies were stacked directly on the concrete where people would walk through and meat would be hung in these stinking hot warehouses covered in flies, there was not one fridge or esky of ice in sight to keep the meat cool, they were literally cooking from the humidity in the air!
My mum has had a few unfortunate episodes of food poisoning so she didn't dare try the food on offer in these markets but I wanted to embrace the culture and try the cuisine so I had a taste of a few dishes and to my relief didn't feel sick the whole trip.
During our walk we came across a couple of different temples, one in particular dating back to the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam Dynasty; Tran Quoc Pagoda. The oldest Buddhist shrine of its kind in Hanoi, Tran Quoc Pagoda was a favourite amongst royalty for special events including festivals, full moons and Tet Festival.
Surrounded by buildings including incense burning houses and a museum housing historic relics stands the main pagoda reaching a height of 15 meters! On the outside of this pagoda are carved statues dating back to 1639 and each bear a unique facial feature.
You will often see offerings of food and other goods on the shrines in this place and most people pray and pay their respects. There's such a sense of spirituality here and it's so beautiful to walk around and take in the surroundings. Entry is free and is open from 7:30am daily however, during annual events can get very busy so if you want good photo opportunities without having others in the background it's best to go when it's quieter.
Another place of interest that we came across is the Quan Thanh Temple. This place was built to honour Tran Vu the God of the North who was loved by all local Taoists and also used the tortoise and snake as symbols of power. In Vietnamese animal symbolism the snake represents wealth and the tortoise for protection.
To protect Hanoi from bad spirits four sacred temples were built in the four wind directions of the city. Inside the Quan Thanh Temple you will find a four meter tall bronze statue of Tran Vu holding the snake and tortoise.
This place is a must see for those with an interest in history and culture as it is really a beautiful sight to visit with its shrines, carved poems, bronze statues and so much more! Entry is VND 10.000 which is roughly 60c Australian, is open from 5am to 7pm and located at Southern shore of Truc Bach lake, Ba Dinh District (roughly 5 minutes walk from the Presidential Palace).
There is SO much to discover in Hanoi that you would easily miss by transport and many Vietnamese people love the attention of tourists, I had a security guard ask if I could take a photo of him eating his lunch and a fisherman wanting a photo of him with his catch!
Hanoi is like a maze with its hundreds of roads, streets and alley ways that you can easily get lost but that just makes the adventure that bit more exciting! We stumbled across a few interesting places like a mechanics workshop down a deserted alley, a street that would have been about 100 meters long and every single shop along the whole length of the street was selling nothing but iPhones and of course the tourist hot spot and must see for any visitor to Hanoi, Train Street!
Train Street is such an incredible place and if you thought living near train tracks were bad, give a thought for these residents whose homes are literally just a couple of metres away from the track!
When there's no train you will see people go about their business doing housework, constructing, shopping and children playing but when you hear the train's horn tooting it's time to stop what you are doing and move as close to the buildings as you can away from the tracks because when this train comes past you, you won't even have enough room to stretch your arm out!
The train comes a few times a day and times vary so it's best to ask a nearby local if they happen to know when the train will be coming through next.