The last three days of our trip were spent in bustling Hanoi, so we had time to see quite a few sights. While researching the trip I came across Hanoi Kids, a college club that pairs students wanting to practice English with tourists. That sounded great to us, so I wrote to reserve a spot for our full middle day, Saturday. After a few emails to clarify details we were all set.
On the appointed Saturday morning we met Tram and Lu at our hotel. Bother were very friendly,and we discussed some options for the day. Due to traffic they recommended against our first choice, the pottery village; instead, we decided to start with the Ho Chi Min Memorial complex.
After a short taxi ride across town we arrived at the entrance. Everything was rather confusing, with a multi-lane open street that we were supposed to not walk on, and a security check with little in the way of signage. Thank goodness for guides who could communicate with the guards!
There was also a street in front of the memorial that couldn’t be crossed until a certain point; basically, the site was rather officious. Most people were there as part of a bus tour, and there were many buses, so we stuck to the outside sights including some beautiful restored buildings and a lake.
Nearby there was also the One Pillar Pagoda and a small shrine filled to the brim with shiny offerings.
Next, we walked to the Temple of Literature. The grounds were beautiful, with old gates, bonsai trees, temples, and colors around every corner. Throughout the complex were stellae, stone columns with academic names from several centuries ago that were fascinating relics of ancient scholars.
The Temple of Literature was our favorite site in Hanoi, well worth the admission fee.
From there we tried to visit the Citadel, but for some reason it closes between 11:30-2, so we missed our window. Instead our guides walked us through old town, including the Hanoi Cathedral, then on to the pagodas and shrines on Hoan Kiem Lake. We also got several recommendations for coffee shops and quick eats.
Throughout Tram and Lu were a pleasure to be around, and they explained quite a few of the legends and stories around the temples and buildings. Even better, it was a lot of fun to talk with them in general on how schools work, pets, TV shows, and lots of other topics. It was a lot of fun to walk around with them and we absolutely recommend a tour with Hanoi Kids!
We had most of Sunday to burn before our evening flight, so we went back to try the Citadel (ok, The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long) in the morning. After a reasonably long walk, we learned that Google is wrong about the entrance (it’s on the Ho Chi Minh side). Inside after going to the correct gate, we found lots of bonsai, some surprisingly large. The massive front gate is quite imposing, and was the backdrop for lots of posing students (recent graduates).
We wandered the site for about two hours, checking out the stone dragon steps, and some mysteriously large citrus fruit attached to quite small trees (definitely grafted).
We also saw the war room and underground bunker used in the Vietnam War; and on the side of the complex were some old US planes and tanks.
The bonus archeological site across the street doesn’t offer much (save for this pretty water cistern that Leandra liked), but the rest of the site is certainly worth a visit.