I spent over a week in Hanoi waiting for Mike and Antonia to arrive from Bali. Apart from the last horrible night of wondering what had happened to them, I had a really nice, chilled out time, and honestly didn''t do much except wander around a bit and become a regular at a few local restaurants. After they arrived, I wandered around again with them. I still didn't see all the sights, but it's mostly because I was happy just mooching.
The Old Quarter - The Old Quarter of Hanoi is an amazing place to go clothes shopping if you're a woman who happens to fit Vietnamese clothes sizes. I normally hate clothes shopping, but here I found lots of styles I liked, which suited me and cost very little money. On a long trip like ours, clothes wear out and I was short of warm weather things to wear but it was very tempting to buy more than I needed. I had to remind myself that the usefulness value of super light summer shirts is limited in the UK. Yes... that's a reminder that we'll be getting back to Europe soon! I'm on the smallish size and many tourists may find off the shelf clothing in Vietnam doesn't come in their size. In that case, the main entertainment value of the Old Quarter will be looking around while not getting run over by a motorcycle. If this is your first stop in Vietnam, you will no doubt find crossing the street a challenge. I'm used to it by now, though I sometimes make a dash through a gap. This is not a cool thing to do in Hanoi - the locals saunter across, if necessary with one arm extended in a stop sign towards the traffic. The locals are usually right by definition and I have noticed that might irrepressible urge to either hover or dash puts motorcylists off in their judgement of how they should get around me, but I haven't managed to overcome it yet.
West Lake and Hoan Kiem Lake - West Lake is a fun, traffic free place to go for a walk, for the very small price of 4,000 dong, though my hotel's location 5 minutes from the smaller but free Hoan Kiem Lake took some of the edge off it. In the evening, lots of Hanoians gather at West Lake to exercise or hang out. We also went there on Sunday when all the children's rides and swan boats were functioning which was good for us since we have a child (albeit nearly too big for such things). Hoan Kiem is much more accessible from most parts of the Old Quarter and has a temple on an island at one end which you can visit for 20,000 dong. That's not an awful lot of money, so I'd say it was worth it, though it's nothing compared to the Temple of Literature.
The Temple of Literature - Wow! This is well worth visiting, and everyone in Hanoi does visit it of course. The temple of literature has a series of five courtyards of which the first two are basically gardens and the third contains stelae recording the names of graduates of Vietnam's ancient imperial university. The fourth couryard contains the temple to Confucius and four of his disciples. Together these men were taken to be the authors of pretty much the entirety of the university's curriculum (though historian's quibble about what Confucius really wrote and who wrote the rest of what's attributed to him). Behind the temple, in the 5th courtyard was the university, but it now contains a modern building in traditonal style with a variety of exhibits about university life and some other atars. The temple is interesting, peaceful and has some amazing artwork, especially bronze dragons and birds, the like of which I had never seen.
Fine Arts Museum - The Fine Arts Museum is more or less opposite the Temple of Literature so you may find it worth a look. It certainly has some nice pieces though the themes of war and destruction in anything from about the 1940s onwards was quite depressing.