It was our first day in Hanoi and we slept through most of it - thanks jet lag! We woke up in the evening, incredibly hungry. However, leaving the hotel was a little daunting and crossing the roads was going to be a bit of a challenge. Eventually, we had to do it… We had to venture out, find some food and see the local area.
The easy option for food was probably going to be fast food. So, going off of the photos on the menu, we tried our best to communicate what we wanted. What we got, was actually the nicest rice I have ever eaten, amongst some vegetables and other bits.
After that, we could take on anything. We only did a few laps of the nearby streets and what we saw was amazing - the street food, the conical hats and the many, many motorbikes. Just like that, I was in my element. I was in love and we had only touched the surface.
The next day, we moved to a cheaper hostel - £4 a night! One of the receptionists advised us on what to check out around the city. First up, was a nearby lake - what I liked to call Temple Lake, but it’s actually called Hoan Kiem Lake. It has two temples sitting on two small islands. One of the temples is accessible via a bridge and it doesn’t cost much at all to go in. Locals come to pray despite all of the tourists that visit, and some even bring offerings. The whole area is amazing - all of the greenery, the fish in the lake and no access for cars on the surrounding roads. I would almost call it tranquil.
Later that day, we also went to the Vietnam History Museum. I liked it, but it would've been more interesting with a guide and more information (just like most museums). What was really cool to see was the similarities that Vietnam has to the Western World. For example, the tools that the ancient Vietnamese made to help their everyday lives, and how they looked a lot like something you’d find in the Museum of Natural History in London.
Before moving into the hostel that morning, I was pretty excited about meeting new friends and other backpackers. What better way to do that than free beer at the hostel from 7pm till 8? Free beers at the hostel lead to more free beers at another hostel, and that lead to a pub-crawl around the city. It was better than I ever could’ve imagined and everyone was wild – locals and tourists alike! However, we paid the price for it the next day and slept for most of it. We only went out for food in evening, but we decided to try lots of tradition Vietnamese food. The best bit was the spring rolls!
We weren’t going to waste the next day, so we woke up early for breakfast and then made our way to Hoa Lo Prison. It was just a short walk away from our hostel. In fact, that is the case for most places of interest to backpackers and tourists. Hanoi may be huge, but everything seems to be in a relatively small area – the old town.
Paying a visit to the prison is a must. However, what you will learn is pretty heavy and horrible. I didn’t know much about Vietnam’s history (even after going to the museum), but I did learn a lot from the prison – all about the colonisation, communism and conflicts. When we left the prison, we ran into a friend from the hostel. He had befriended a local Vietnamese girl who made a fantastic tour guide. So, we walked around for a bit with them, looking at the squares and statues, as well as all of the French-built buildings.
It wasn’t long until the sun started to set, so it was time to grab my camera gear and head back to “Temple Lake”. I already had a few shots in mind so I just had to go to each spot. The sky got pretty colourful and things worked out pretty good. One shot wasn’t working out for me, but I knew that I just had to wait for the sun to go down a little more and wait for the lights to switch on. The warm lights that lit the Thap Rua Temple contrasted against a blue hour backdrop - making for something pretty special.
By this time, I was getting hungry. We had to pay a bit of a premium to eat where I wanted, but the view was worth it. We sat out on a balcony, hypnotised by the motorbikes and cars below. The roads surrounding the lake were no longer closed, so there was lots of traffic going from one road to another and around a roundabout. I captured this chaos with a long exposure to show all of the movement and had to make do without using my tripod – just a glass barrier to rest my camera on. It worked out great. Of course, you've already seen this photo at the top of this page.
On our final day in Hanoi, there was still one photo I wanted to get. A twenty-minute taxi ride took us to Tran Quoc Pagoda. It’s the oldest temple in Hanoi and sits on the West Lake. The smell of dead fish that surrounded this area was almost unbearable, but the lighting was perfect. I had to work around the fountains in the foreground and the strange textures that they caused, but I did what I could and came away with a really nice blue hour shot. Whilst walking back to the hostel, we got to see the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – so we also got to tick off our final must-see location before we left for Ha Long Bay the next day.