My wife Marcie and I just finished up a creativity camp in Korea and have now made our way south to Vietnam and Cambodia for some must-deserved R&R—and to discover new inspiration.
Visiting Vietnam is a bit trickier than going to other countries, just because of the advance paperwork that has to be completed. Visas have to be sought in advance and, once you arrive at the airport, it’s not a simple matter of going through immigration. You have to actually line up three times—once to hand in your passport and visa documents, once to retrieve them after they have been processed, and then once to go through the regular customs, like you would in any country.
Thankfully, Marcie had us prepared and we went through all the stages without a hitch. The only thing we needed during this time was patience, but we had only been on a five-hour flight from Korea, so weren’t plagued by jet lag, like so many other travellers we saw, scratching their heads as they tried to sort out the various steps.
Marcie had also arranged a car for us, so, once we cleared customs and collected our luggage, we were quickly on our way. Our first afternoon in Hanoi was rainy, misty, and just a bit magical. In fact, we were only in the car for about five minutes, when I looked out the window and saw my first water buffalo. Welcome to Vietnam!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough to snap a photo, but here’s a look at the landscape without Mr. Buffalo:
Hanoi itself is a collision of cultures. The remnants of French colonialism can still be found in the architecture and the streets are a mixture of people in traditional clothing (love the hats), riding old bicycles or zipping along on scooters. Crossing the streets here sure keeps you on your toes. Having been to Bangkok several times, I have some experience!
After getting settled into our hotel, the first thing we decided to do was go out and explore. Our hotel is a few minutes walk from Hoàn Kiém Lake, which means “Lake of the Returned Sword.”
According to legend, the Viet hero Le Loi was given a magic sword by the Divine Turtle that lives in the lake. Le Loi used the sword to fight off the invading Chinese and, after a successfully doing so, restored the weapon to the lake.
Today, Hoàn Kiém Lake is in the historical centre of Hanoi and its focal point is Tháp Rùa, or “Turtle Tower”, in the center. The haze was still clinging to the city as we ventured around the lake, giving us many mystical views.
It may seem cool from the photos, but the temperature was in the 20-degree Celsius range and there was a tropical hint of humidity in the air. We ventured across the red bridge and visited the temple shrine on the other side.
This afforded us not only a close look at the temple and its unique Vietnamese architecture, but at the various tropical trees.
I especially love the details that we find in these spiritual places. Just check out this gorgeous incense burner . . . the handle actually appears as smoke billowing from the creature’s maw.
I also decided that this tree root system looked like a sleeping giant who had been petrified by some magical force. (Or, perhaps, just by time!)
After leaving the temple, we walked the circumference of the entire lake, which actually did not take very long, but gave us a glimpse at more of the old quarter. It is not uncommon to find bits of architecture just like this, sticking its neck out through modernity to remind us of the past.
At this point, evening had settled in on Hanoi—and with it, the buzz of nightlife. We caught dinner in a lounge on a multi-story restaurant tower, which allowed us to sample local cuisine and also get a great view of the lake.
More adventures await us!