Whereas the touristy and traditional history of Vietnam is located on the East of the city around Ho Hoan Kiem lake, the modern developments are mostly located West toward West Lake. My first stop was Hanoi Citadel, with cannonball damage to its walls, marking an apt beginning of the end to feudal Vietnam.
The area surrounding the Citadel are military occupied, so I followed the road south, casually observing the personnel and making sure to avoid trouble, which meant a roundabout route to my ultimate destination.
I passed by the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, a large catalog of ancient and modern displays, from Buddhist sculptures to communist propaganda. Next, I accidentally entered the nearby Temple of Literature, an ancient and large Confucius temple complex, which served as a center for academics, eventually helped bring in the modern era as Vietnam’s first national university.
Finally, I reached the Presidential Mausoleum Park and Hanoi Botanical Gardens, a sprawling space dedicated to Ho Chi Minh, with museum, mausoleum and military guards as well as other tourist sites such as the One Pillar Pagoda. Ironically, Ho Chi Minh insisted on not being deified with a mausoleum.
Further north is the Presidential Palace, a grand french colonial style yellow structure, and Ho Chi Minh’s much smaller house where he preferred to live. Eventually, I find my way out of the park and reach the south end of West Lake, a huge body of water.
I decided to explore one side to get various views of the building developments across the river and also to watch people fishing along the water. It was a pleasant stroll revealing day to day life, and I even saw some incredibly complicated folding gift cards, but soon I realized that the street I was walking on was part of an extremely large city block without any connecting alleyways! Thankfully, wifi access is ubiquitous at cafes so I was able to order a Grab (motorbike) and get back to my accommodations.
Be careful around military areas or around military personnel. Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, they have the power to cause you grief. Depending on the state of the government, some may try to extract bribes from foreigners.