AN ESSAY ON HANOI,
Crossover bridge to Ngọc Sơn Temple © The Luxe Brigade
A new year had just barely arrived, yet 11 degree chilly winds were already engulfing the old quarter - an oddly stitched canvas of modernity, outright decrepit and historic excesses. An unscripted fashion parade of sorts unfolded as its citizenry scrambled to keep warm in style outdoors: down-filled parkas, woollen textured beanies, puffer vests, rabbit fur gloves and brogue leather boots. Apocalypse Now played at every turn where dwelling intersected asphalt, as cars and bikes alike (having scant regard for rules of the road) weaved maniacally through spluttering traffic, alongside veteran jaywalkers seen crossing streets with poise and timed precision. The warm aroma of phở (a Vietnamese rice noodle dish) from endless rows of makeshift stalls teased rumbling tummies passing through, spiked in occasion by the distinctly strong scent of local coffee wafting from a random cafe door left slightly ajar.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake abutting the 36 streets cluster (as the old quarter is popularly known) beckoned with a most surreal atmosphere of tranquility skirting its turquoise waters, while one storied turtle tower installed atop an islet held vigil right in the middle of everything. Aspirations of self renewal certainly heightened amidst witnessing episodic floral blooms all around the basin - a lil' nod to better fortunes, improved health and genuine spiritual fulfillment. Let's hear it for the Hope & Love sculpture as well yo.
Ngọc Sơn Temple featured prominently in the lake's northern region, made accessible by a bright red wooden arching connection named the Welcoming Morning Sunlight Bridge. Purchase of tickets at nominal prices granted free rein to explore various sites on its premises, these including the Pen Tower (Tháp Bút), the Ink-Slab (Dai Nghien), the Moon Contemplation Pavilion (Dac Nguyet) and the Pavilion Against Waves (Đình Trấn Ba).
Hoàn Kiếm Lake and Ngọc Sơn Temple © The Luxe Brigade
A casual stroll by the circumscribing Hoàn Kiếm district threw up enchanting yesteryear finds wedged between stretching rows of commercial establishments, government offices and F&B enclaves - chief among them being various edifices memorializing Lý Thái Tổ, legendary founding ruler of the Lý dynasty and Thang Long City (present day Hanoi).
Lý Thái Tổ Park and Monument © The Luxe Brigade
Subsequently pushed past luxury shopping haven Trang Tien Plaza to encounter the Hanoi Opera House on August Revolution Square, possibly the single most spectacular piece of colonial architecture fringing the French quarter. If its neoclassical facade boasting yellow-hued Corinthian stone columns and exquisite Baroque ornamental profusion already made hearts pound, wait till ya get a load of the 3 storey, 589 seater auditorium dressed in crimson themed velvet.
Hanoi Opera House © The Luxe Brigade
Come weekends, barricades seal off major vehicle pathways wrapping the lake, enabling folks to come out and make merry to their hearts' content. Music blasting from portable boomboxes, party lights spinning, heads bobbing and toes tapping......amen to a massive no holds barred celebration happening late into each night.
A toast to living like there's no tomorrow, until the reality of a fresh new week hits hard. Meanwhile, gotta watch out for 'em tiny tots swerving recklessly in their miniature electric jeeps and Ferraris too.