The Down Town, where hundreds of centuries-old small houses are located, is the perfect place to start our journey. At that time the city is in its sleep and the houses along the narrow streets look like baby mice nestling peacefully on each other. (But when you come back to finish the circular route, seeing these “rodents” waking up, you might be surprised that the serene scene is replaced by the great hustle and bustle)
On the way running to Sword Lake, you will learn how Hanoi was formed 1000 years ago by a white lie. Reaching Sword Lake, you will see the Turtle Tower standing solemnly in the middle of the lake, listening to the story of how World War II saved the lonely landmark from hosting a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty on the top.
Then you might want to touch the Pen Tower in the same way that Vietnamese students usually do when there are exams. Nowadays examinees visit the site to wish luck, but do you want to hear the story behind it and of the great architect with the ambition to write to the sky?
1000 years of history seems to be packed and buried underground in an area of approximately 10km square with the Sword Lake being its center. Departing the lake, we’ll visit boulevards whose two sides are lined up with century-old trees. You will hear the story of two great commanders who died protecting the old citadel and whose names were taken for the boulevards you are running on.
We soon reach the West Lake with Youth Street running through to split it into two. It is the right time for the legend of how the lake was created by the giant golden buffalo to be told. You might also want to find out why Youth Street had its name and the story of Tran Quoc pagoda which lies along the way.
A trip to Hanoi without visiting Uncle Ho’s mausoleum could be a big miss. The site is, of course, in our route. And I also hope we get there on time to listen to the national anthem while standing still waiting for the red flag being hoisted up as any other Vietnamese. That could be the moment of the day.
We will also pass through other iconic sites such as Lenin Park, the Flag Tower, and the Museum of History where relics of two modern wars can easily be spotted. Other than that, you might be surprised to see a number of dark alleys which are so narrow only one person can pass each time and so deep as peering down to the bottom of a well. Whoever lives in an alley like that must deal with countless problems stemming from poor living standards. Who are they? I’ll tell you along the way.
If you prefer a medium distance running, take this tour. The needed time to cover that distance seems not very long, but I guarantee at the end you will understand Hanoi a little bit more and have something to remember when you go back to your hometown. And at the end, I will show you where the best “pho” restaurants in Hanoi are to finish the tour in a cool style. See you in the Vietnamese capital!