Although I lived for several months in Bac Ninh (which is less than an hour away by bus,) I never really got a chance to fully explore the capital city of Hanoi. So, during my second trip to Vietnam, I made it a point to take a closer look at this lovely city. I wanted to especially focus on what everyone considers to be the capital’s most important tourist destination – the Hoan Kiem Lake.
The Hoan Kiem Lake is a natural fresh-water lake right in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. It is very close to some of Hanoi’s most well-loved age-old structures, restaurants, cafes, museums, and souvenir stalls. The lake, which figured prominently in popular Vietnamese legends, is both the historical center of Hanoi and the focal point of Hanoian life.
Traveling to Hanoi from Bac Ninh can be quite tricky during the summer months. You guessed it right – the weather can get oven-hot. So, it was a good thing that my second visit happened during the winter season. During this time, everything was a lot more interesting and way, you know, cooler.
From the bus station of Long Bien, the Hoan Kiem Lake is only several blocks away. The trek is never a bore, however, as there are a lot of things to see along the way.
The road leading to Hoan Kiem Lake is lined with souvenir stalls that sell affordable and pretty nice items. Shopaholics will go crazy!
On weekends, the major roads leading to the lake are closed off to traffic. The lake, the park that surrounds it, and the adjacent and nearby roads all become part of a big walking district.
The Hoan Kiem Lake, previously known as the Green Lake, plays an important part in the history of Vietnam. It is related to the widely-known history of Le Thai To – a Vietnamese emperor and the founder of the Le Dynasty.
During winter, the city of Hanoi can get pretty cold. Temperature can drop to as low as 10 degrees and walking around in a shirt and a pair of shorts is just suicide. I’m sure 10 degrees is not a big deal (in colder parts of the world,) but for someone who grew up and lives in a tropical country, a 22-degree day is already a pretty cold day. So, imagine my panic when I experienced 17 degrees for the very first time. Haha!
Hoan Kiem is a pretty interesting spot. Here, Hanoians (or basically anyone) can showcase their talents in front of a truly appreciative crowd.
The park surrounding the whole lake is well-manicured and maintained. So, it is not surprising that Hanoians just love to spend their weekends here.
Sold in various parts of the park are local sweets and treats. This fruit vendor sells sliced fruits in season for cheap!
One thing that really surprised me was the fact that ice cream (kem) joints are very popular in Hoan Kiem. Yep, even during winter! So, of course, I decided to give it a try. Let’s just say, it was a pretty cool experience! 🙂
The whole Hoan Kiem area houses hundreds of different local and international brands. In this section of the district, high-end brands like Dior, Gucci, and Ferragamo sit right next to each other.
During my visit, I witnessed the grand opening of the very first McDonald’s store in Hanoi. Although McDonald’s already has around 15 branches in Ho Chi Minh, this is their very first branch in the capital city. Many are lauding this move of finally allowing a big American brand into Hanoi.
As was expected, people were extra curious and the queue was crazy long!
After spending one full day walking around Hoan Kiem Lake, I needed to find a quiet place where I could wait for dusk. And this temple was gorgeous.
Pretending to wait for a bus even though I know that buses are off-limits around Hoan Kiem on weekends. Haha. Their bus stops are pretty cute, though.
Now back on the road for more exploring! This can be the next #travelgoals meme, don’t you think?
Finally, with a good spot on the second floor of a restaurant, I got a (sort of) bird’s eye view of the ever-vibrant Hoan Kiem. This spot is perfect for people watching, I tell you!
The red Huc Bridge – a bridge that connects the Ngoc Son Temple to the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake – is a real dazzler after dark.
HOAN KIEM LAKE