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Loving Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake

Here’s a deeply foolish idea: Check yourself into a hip, uber-popular Backpacker’s hostel when you are exhausted beyond belief and really just need to sleep.

Screw being social with nubile young Australians, and screw paying just $7 a night, because you will not sleep a wink in a dorm room with twelve Germans who don’t shut up and two Brits with a nasty cough.

Splurge those extra few bucks and get your own private hotel room in any of the zillion cute budget places across the alley from that hip hostel. Your tired brain will thank you! (Not that I learned this the hard way or anything…)

Here’s a smart idea: Spend lots of time, while in Hanoi, Vietnam, walking around Hoan Kiem Lake.

Why? Because it may be the only place in all of urban Vietnam where there exists a continuous sidewalk upon which you can walk for more than ten feet without getting mowed down by a motorcycle. A blessed, delicious miracle!

The lake is also very pretty and is surrounded by a delightful mix of cavorting Vietnamese and tourists.

Today, as I strode around the green water in the smoggy sun, I realized there was an opulent wedding going on! And it had colonized the lakeside! Every few steps you would stumble upon another jewel-toned, poofy dress and big hair. Attendants rushed around, arranging curls and reorienting stray bobby pins, and photographers snapped away like crazy, angling the shot to minimize the motorcycle-choked highway in the background.

There were also about fifty gaggles of punky Vietnamese teenagers slurping on lime green popsicles. (One icy gang is pictured, left.)

I walked the mile to the famous ice cream pop vendor, but it was ultra-intimidating, with its warehouse size, wall-to-wall Vietnamese teens grooving to local pop, motorcycles being driven INSIDE the store, and the fact that every part of the wall-scrawled menu was in Vietnamese. Dum-te-dum… I did that classy: “walk in, look dazed and foolish, casually “see something you need to attend to outside the store” and turn around and walk out” thing.

Along with the lake, another lovely aspect of Hanoi is the cafe havens amid the beeps and bustle.

To the left is a photo of one of many lakeside eateries (overpriced in that their iced coffee is $1.80 instead of the usual 75 cents, but worth it for the setting), and last night I was introduced by a friend of a friend to a gorgeous, tranquil-yet-bohemian, balconied third floor cafe in the Old Quarter that would be my second home if I lived here.

This same friend also introduced me to The New Hanoian, an online resource for the substantial ex-pat community here to find and rate its resources.

Today, I used this site to find and scarf down the most delectable fresh-bread-and-veggies sandwich I’ve had in months, maybe years.

Yes, I admit it: in my fatigued week, I am completely binging on Western food, and I think that’s not so very, very bad for a short time!

Bottom line: Hanoi, Vietnam, is glorious, yet hectic as all heck, so consider the following self-treats to keep your sanity: lake walks, a private hotel room splurge, and chocolate in both ice cream and cake form. Mmmboy :)

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Virginia Lei

Sunday 5th of February 2012

When I saw this article it had caught my eye. I was wondering what lakes in Vietnam would be like since in China the lakes in the cities were polluted. The ones in the countries were cleaner and filled with life. Did you take a picture of the “icy gang” without their permission and posted it online like this? How lucky to bump into a wedding as well, especially at a lake which could be dangerous but it must have been peaceful there without all the motorcycles.

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