We were extremely excited when we found out we would be in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi for New Years Eve. As our first stop in this amazing country, we really had no idea what to expect. Here’s a shot of the madness we witnessed as we entered the city:
As you can see, there’s barely enough room for people to walk, let alone cars or motorbikes! But that wouldn’t stop us from exploring this incredible city. Here’s some of the highlights from New Years Eve in Hanoi:
Hoa Lo Prison
This former prison turned museum, dramatically displays a timeline of carnage from the year it was built in 1886. Originally constructed by French colonists to house Vietnamese political prisoners, it famously became the jail for United States POW’s during the Vietnam War. Satirically referred to as the “Hanoi Hilton” by U.S. soldiers, it was a very spooky place to visit. After growing up in America, it was interesting to hear about the war from the Vietnamese perspective. However, the photos we saw of U.S. prisoners playing volleyball, decorating Christmas trees, and having a grand old time were certainly misleading. (Especially if you read U.S. Senator John Mccain’s account of his time there!)
Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem or “Sword Lake” in English, serves as the peaceful core to an otherwise hectic city. Locals and tourists alike gather here daily to take the gorgeous walk around the lake. Legend has it that 13th century Emporer Le Loi was on his boat one day when the Golden Turtle God surfaced to reclaim his battle sword The sword had been used to defeat invading enemies, and had to be returned back to its rightful owner. I think I believe this one more than U.S. prisoners playing volleyball… but nonetheless, an incredibly beautiful place to visit! Other attractions on the lake are the appropriately named Turtle Tower, and the Temple of Jade Mountain.
Rooftop Iced Coffee
We’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a lot of good drinks around the world, but nothing compares to the Vietnamese version of iced coffee. Commonly referred to as “Cafe Sua Da,” these treats can be found everywhere for no more than $1 USD. Nowhere is a better place to enjoy a refreshing Cafe Sua Da than at one of the many cafe’s or rooftop restaurants located around the city. Here’s a great list of the best rooftop’s in Hanoi!
If you’re looking for a fun and interesting way to get around Hanoi, flag down one of these old school bicycle taxi’s! The cyclo’s date all the way back to the French colonial period, and this unique form of transport has somehow survived to modern times. Although very slow, it’s still hilarious to cram into one of these things and get a wild ride through traffic to your destination. The best part is it will only cost you a couple dollars!
As night falls, there’s no place better to grab a drink than the infamous “Beer Street.” Here you will find drink deals that make a happy hour anywhere in the world seem expensive! The popular fresh beer, or “Bia Hoi”, cost only $25 cents a glass (ya you heard me!), and is brewed up fresh daily. Almost sounds to good to be true, right?!? Cheers!
So after an amazingly eventful New Years Eve, our day wasn’t complete without the fireworks! There was an amazing show over the lake, followed by music and partying which looked like it went all night. We chose to retire early and save some energy for what we thought would be another adventure packed day.
What we didn’t know was that we were walking into something completely opposite of the night before. As we headed out we were welcomed by deadly quiet and empty city streets! In fact, while walking around the city of nearly 8 million, it took over an hour to even see someone outside!
The Tet, or Vietnamese New Year, is the most important holiday in the country of 90 million people. However, the way it’s celebrated may be something closer to our version of Christmas or Thanksgiving. As we found out, New Years Day (and the three days following) are a time to stay home and spend time with your family.
This means all businesses and restaurants were closed. The once packed beyond belief streets were now empty, and it was time for us to move on to our next destination!! Luckily, we were able to hop on a bus quickly out of ghost town.
Stay tuned for more as we blog our way through Vietnam!