Today we spent the morning getting ourselves acquainted with the area. For several hours we followed a route through the old quarter giving us a real taste of 'local' Hanoi. What was striking were the amount of temples hidden away behind shops or down little alleyways. You cannot go a single street without stumbling across a temple or two. All are very ornate and for many different purposes of worships. People would leave out offerings of food and drink and would burn incense and fake money as a gift to the gods.
We started our tour at the Hoan Kien lake (restored sword). Legend has it that the sword used to defeat the Chinese in the 1500s was taken by a tortoise and hidden somewhere in the river. The turtle was said to be a myth until scientists went looking for one and found one. He is over 2 metres in length and weighs 250kg. He is now available for observation at the temple which sits serenely ok an island in the middle of the lake. Apparently there used to be many such turtles in the lake but only one is said to be left, with the last sighting in 2011.
After the lake we walked the streets of Hanoi discovering that each street was dedicate solely for the sale of specific items. One street purely sold herbs and spices, another anything metal, some mirrors, some toys, etc. the names of the streets in Vietnamese actually mean the items that are win sold on them.
We came across a huge idle market (not too dissimilar to the World Famous Silk Market in Beijing) that sold anything and everything you can think of, although it seemed to specialise in silk, more so than in Beijing.
Along the way we stopped several times to try all the local dishes recommended in the guide book. My favourite was a dish consisting of a rice crepe filled with marinated pork, shredded mushrooms and shrimp paste, eaten with a soup and lashings of mint an lemongrass. Really good!
The evening was spent in a similar fashion trying many different local foods until we got full.
The plan for tomorrow is to get up at the crack of dawn - 6am - to watch Tai Chi in the park followed by a real fast at a place that is only open between 7 and 9 and gets very busy very quickly. The rest of the day will be spent ambling the streets of the French quarter and maybe a museum too. All in all a great day and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.