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.
Hoàn Kiếm lake.
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.
Turtle Tower at night.
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.
Street in Old Quarter. Every house has become either a hotel, a coffee shop, or a restaurant.
Tourists, especially backpackers, love the Old Quarter which has added some Western flavor to the old French colonial buildings.
Part of Old Quarter as seen from Hoàn Kiếm lake.
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.
Traffic scene in Old Quarter. Note the Western tourist enjoying a cyclo ride.
Street scene in Hà Nội. Old colonial buildings on the left, new high-rises in the background.
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.
Part of Hồ Tây (West Lake) which used to be on the city outskirts.
One important feature of Hồ Tây was Trấn Quốc pagoda built in the 6th century, and still quite well preserved
Trấn Quốc pagoda on West Lake.
Back at Hoàn Kiếm lake, I was able to capture some shots of daily life.
Early one morning, some ladies were practicing some form of Tai Chi with swords on the bank of Hoàn Kiếm lake.
A young girl preferred something more modern for exercise.
Ready to ride to work.
At 7 AM, this lady was going around selling fresh vegetables in the Old Quarter.
Weeding flower beds at Hoàn Kiếm lake.