Hanoi (Ha Noi, “river’s inner”) is a large sprawling beehive(s) of activity, spotted with large construction projects and relentless motion. With nearly 8 million people (approaching 9 million by 2030, est.), the urban scene is rather vast and can be overwhelming to a first-time visitor. On shorter visits, tourists probably will find themselves confined to the Old Quarter historical district and southern French Quarter (along Trang Tien street).
A focal point of Old Hanoi is Hoan Kiem Lake (湖還劍, meaning "Lake of the Returned Sword”). The small lake itself is relatively unattractive, in my opinion, probably because I am not a particular fan of its color — green. In the past, the lake also had the name "Luc Thuy Lake"("Green Water Lake”). It is isolated by geological factors in between the Red River and Nhue River.
- 2008 photo, manipulated
Near the northern shore, a modest island linked by a jewel-like red wooden bridge enfolds the Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple), erected in the 18th century. The Huc Bridge, or Morning Sunlight Bridge, invites romance, misty reflections, spiritual aspiration, and hordes of visitors after the morning sunlight departs. Pilgrims come to the lake hoping for a blessing from the enigmatic Golden Turtle God, but usually have to settle for silent contemplation with friends over lunch.
According to legend, in early 1428, Emperor Lê Lợi was boating on the green lake when a Golden Turtle (Kim Qui) surfaced and asked for the return of his magic sword— Heaven's Will. The Dragon King (Long Vương) had given Lợi a sword during his revolt against Ming China. After the fighting ended, Emperor Lợi gave the sword back to the turtle and renamed the lake. Obviously, at times the Chinese have not been well-received in this small tributary nation.
Hence I posit another possible name for this greenish lake in Hanoi -- "Turtle Soup."
Ngo Quyen defeated the Chinese in 939 and is celebrated as the first head of the new independent Vietnamese province. Ly Thai To, the founder of the Ly dynasty (1009–1225) and later rulers established their capital at Thang Long (Hanoi), located in the heart of the Red River delta. Dai Viet (formerly the Chinese district of Annam) began to emerge as its own power but then had to contend for several centuries with new warfare from another direction — the Islamic kingdom of Champa on the central coast and the Khmer (Cambodian) empire, with its capital at Angkor.
I love you like Uncle Ho loves the country When I lose you, it feels like the French lose Indochina. Poem (unknown, Vietnam); Photo, Ho Chi Minh City
Back on the street, it is generally hot and humid in September.
I bolt bravely into the midst of cycles and other vehicles roaring down the street from every direction. These drivers seem to know how to avoid running over pedestrian novices like me, but just barely. I myself am learning to avoid stepping on vendors crowded into the narrow alleys and along the often water-soaked sidewalks lined with motorbikes. While in Vietnam, I did not witness a single accident between vehicles either, a remarkable feat. Taxis flourish here but Uber has combined its business operations with Grab to offer an instant pickup for stranded urban hikers; this is a good touring option besides the fairly inexpensive buses. But on the bikes you must wear a helmet; it’s the law.
Ten years ago I managed to negotiate my own bike in this city, but now it looks like suicide for me and death to others nearby.
The Hip Generation (in front of Hanoi's famous Opera House)
The Opera House (Hanoi) - a central gathering place
How can anyone be bored....?
(to be continued)