PEN Travel Guide: Happy Hunting in Hanoi


Anvika Hegde , Author

For years, Vietnam has been sagging under the weight of stereotypes, creating an impression of a backward and dangerous country. True, Vietnam was once a poor state. But today it has transformed into a tourist sensation, attracting people from every corner of the globe to explore its complex beauty and deep history. My five days in Hanoi opened my eyes to an entirely new culture and lifestyle, and these are the highlights of my trip:

1). A Stroll by Hoàn Kiếm Lake
Despite Hanoi’s jam-packed streets, you can find a quiet side of the city. A stroll by Hoàn Kiếm Lake is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. With its picturesque landscape of drooping willows that gently ripple the calm water to the vivid red bridge that connects a tiny island in the lake to the center of the city, it is the epitome of serenity and grace. On the island, there is a tiny Vietnamese temple, decorated ornately in gold and red, where offerings are made. From the temple, you can marvel at the panoramic view of the city.

2). The Temple of Literature
It is hard to miss the influence of Chinese architecture as you enter the Temple of Literature. Formerly a university dedicated to the teachings of Confucius, only for the aristocracy and the royal, the structure has been well-maintained for almost a thousand years and is now open to the public. The Temple of Literature is considered a must-see Hanoi landmark, for its tranquil beauty as well as a window into Vietnam’s glorious past.

3. Water Puppets
While there is a lot to do in Hanoi, it was the Water Puppet Show that stole my heart! This tradition can be traced back to the 11th century when farmers would set up water puppets in the rice paddy fields, during the flood season, to entertain the villagers. With the help of large underwater rods, the puppets are made to look as if they are gliding through the water. Today, the water puppets perform little dances and chronicle enchanting folktales that are informative and entertaining. Fire-breathing dragons are featured along with water buffalos, with a grand finale of fireworks. Of all attractions in Hanoi, I enjoyed the water puppets the most!

Unfortunately, I was seated in the back during the performance, therefore, I couldn’t record anything. However, I managed to snap a photo of the puppets backstage.


4). Red Bean

At last, how can I forget about RedBean? On our last day in Hanoi, after wandering the colorful streets, we dined at RedBean, a restaurant of a magical ambiance, offering delectable traditional Vietnamese food. It was a memorable night of fun and fine dining.

We had pork dumplings dipped in soy sauce along with vegetables. The dumpling was a soft as butter, and the meat filling was seasoned perfectly. We also ordered fried spring rolls, a crunchy delight, made of vegetables with a chili sauce dip, a side of rice noodles and salad. The fresh rice noodles tasted sweet and savory with the dipping sauce. One of the best feasts I have had.

Behold, a Vietnamese feast!

There is a lot to do and see in Hanoi and my five-day trip was just a sampling. It is an enchanting place with sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that delight all senses!