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Saturday, April 13, 2013

The West Lake in Hanoi – is it for everyone?

How can you appreciate a vast city - especially one with such a rich history - in four days? The metropolis unfolds slowly, unveiling its tapestry only to the patient visitor. But since the itinerant tourist must make do with the limited time he has, one way is to stay in two different localities. And that's what's recommended for tourists visiting Hanoi. 

Staying in the Old Quarter is of course mandatory. For a dramatically different vista of Hanoi however, if you choose the West Lake area, you would have chosen wisely. But be clear – this is a place to wind down, relax, take it easy, stroll, stare at the placid waters of the lake, and watch the patient fishermen that line the sloping banks with their long fishing rods.

A surprise reward for the explorer is the exquisite Kim Lien pagoda tucked in one quiet corner. It stuns us with its amazing collection of ancient bonsai.

Bonsai @ Kim Lien
Later you can flop in one of the many street cafes and sip very hot Vietnamese coffee, or down a bottle of chilled Tiger beer, or maybe even polish off a bowl of pho: enjoy the tranquil life, in short.

Lots of good hotels here, but it's the Sheraton Hanoi, with its spacious rooms and huge bathrooms that invites us. From the large windows the seventh floor room we get a bird’s eye view of the West Lake, and beyond that the delightful patchwork of sloping roofs in various shades of red and maroon and green and brown.

Rooftops viewed from the Sheraton

And close to the Sheraton is another nugget – the cafe St. Honore with its most excellent French style offerings made with fresh ingredients and drowned in flavors of herbs. It has a bright, cheerful atmosphere and many a regular client. (It couldn't be more different than Com Pho Co in the Old Quarter). It’s a delight - we went again and again and again!

Our salad @ St. Honore

The West Lake Hanoi - I wish they’d convert the dull grey embankment of the lake into a lush green paradise. And if they plant flowering trees, imagine the riot of beauty in season!

Even so, if you want to experience a part of Hanoi that's almost (but not quite) devoid of the ubiquitous two-wheeler, and doesn't blast you with the onrushing, incessant traffic, spending a day in the West Lake area will be most rewarding.

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