Hanoi in winter has a sweet melancholy feel to it. This captivating city, has survived its colonial invaders, keeping its striking embellishments from the Indochina era, mixed with modern architecture from the Ho Chi Minh communist party. While visiting the vibrant capital of Vietnam, I stayed at the Metropole Hotel built in 1910, this grande dame has witnessed and been part of Hanoi’s history, located in the french quarter. The hotel is walking distance to the picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake, known to Hanoians as the Green Lake of the Restored Sword. The legend tells of King Le Thai To, of the Le dynasty, receiving a magic sword from an ancient tortoise, which he used to liberate the country against the Chinese in 1400. After his victory, the king took a boat to the center of the lake to return the magic sword given to him by the divine tortoise. In honor of the legend, you will find a Tortoise Tower (Thap Rua) perched on a tiny islet in the middle of the lake. At the end of the lake you will find a red arched bridge known as the Huc, or the Rising Sun Bridge, leading to Ngoc Son Temple, also known as the Temple of Jade Mound. The temple is dedicated to the famous 13th-centuary general Tran Hung Dao who defeated the Mongols at the Back Dang River in 1279, and La To the patron saint of doctors.

The old quarter, known as the 36 Streets, is located north of Hoan Kiem Lake, most of the action takes place in these streets. In the 13th century artisan guilds were concentrated along each lane, bamboo basket makers are found in Hang Bo Street, tinsmiths are found on Hang Thiec (Tin Street), silver is found on Hang Bac (Silver Street), Hang Gai (Hemp Street) specializing in silk and embroidered articles, my favorite lane was Hang Ma (Paper Votive Street) which concentrated on stationary and paint brushes and Lang Ong Street, which focused on traditional medicine, selling cures and remedies from ancient teachings. Each lane has a specific artisanal trade, making it Hanoi’s heart and soul. Filled with tradition, maintaining an art form and integrity from modern civilization. This city is filled with intrigue, mystery and secret doors. If you take the time to dig the surface, you will find a proud heritage, rich in culture and tradition. Despite the rapid progress coming from Korean and Taiwanese investors, a modern metropolis with luxurious shopping malls, restaurants and apartment complexes is being created, Hanoians make sure to protect their ancient traditions and civilization. The charm of this city is the constant contrast between the old and the new, and  the balance tying everything together, while maintaining a strong identity.

©Chloe Garcia Ponce – All Rights Reserved