In 1954, my family was among the one million North Vietnamese who left to go to South Việt Nam rather than live under communism. Sixty two years later, I flew back to Hà Nội, the capital of a unified country under a communist regime, with the ubiquitous red flag with one yellow star flying on government buildings, public monuments and even some temples of worship.
This year, the number of tourists visiting Việt Nam may reach 10 million, and the economic impact can be seen readily in Hà Nội. We stayed in the Old Quarter area, in a hotel only a block away from Hoàn Kiếm (Returned Sword) lake. According to legend, a turtle from the lake brought a sword to King Lê Lợi. He used it to liberate the country from Chinese rule, and when he was done with that task, returned the sword to the turtles in the lake.
Hoàn Kiếm lake was visible from the top floor of our hotel.
The Turtle Tower was on a small island at one end of the lake. Once in a while, turtles can still be seen climbing up on the island to sun themselves. I saw them at least once in the 50’s when I was small, but not this time.
At night, the tower was brightly lit, the center of attraction for the lake area.
As can be seen in the above pictures, there has been a lot of building around the lake. Even the Old Quarter with its narrow and winding streets has had a lot of new construction in the form of several storied and narrow hotels rising up where row houses used to be.
Tourists, especially backpackers, love the Old Quarter which has added some Western flavor to the old French colonial buildings.
Traffic in Hà Nội, a city of almost 8 million people now, rivals that of Sài Gòn in congestion and common disregard for traffic laws, despite government billboards urging all to obey them.
In the city northern area, another famous and much larger lake is Hồ Tây, where one can see some of the high-rise and villas built in more recent years. Real estate prices there are sky high.
One important feature of Hồ Tây was Trấn Quốc pagoda built in the 6th century, and still quite well preserved
Back at Hoàn Kiếm lake, I was able to capture some shots of daily life.