The run starts outside May de Ville Backpackers Hostel, in the old Quarter of Hanoi. This was the hostel we stayed at for the three nights we were in Hanoi, it was dirt cheap, well-staffed, safe, and in a great location for exploring the city. I have to mention here that it also had working air conditioning, which led one of my (more emotional, albeit also jetlagged) friends crying with happiness as we entered the room. On our first night we went to Bia Hoi Corner, which was just outside the hostel, which is effectively a junction of different bars and restaurants. It is massively popular with tourists, largely because the food (and beer) is so cheap, and you sit on tiny plastic stools that spill over into the street. After sitting down at our miniature table, made all the more amusing by the fact that one of our group was 6’4″, we were promptly ushered to get up and linger inside the restaurant briefly, whilst all the tables outside each of the restaurants were rapidly hidden away. Scores of people were standing bemusedly (some with food in hand), as the local police went past on scooters. As soon as they had gone, everything returned to its original state as quickly as it had dissipated. The food was quick, cheap, and pretty good, although I was exceptionally tired so the blur of sounds/sights/smells was a little overwhelming. It’s a great spot for your first meal in Hanoi, and I really recommend trying it out.
The next morning I got up nice and early before breakfast to go for a quick jog. We had walked around Hoàn Kiêm Lake the night before, so I headed out that way, as I had seen plenty of people running and doing weights there the previous evening. The lake is absolutely gorgeous, and one lap is about 1.5km, so I did 3 laps and then meandered slightly (i.e. got lost) on my return. The route I’ve put above involves one lap of the lake, and then another much wider loop that goes past some great sights nearby. Be super careful crossing the road at the north of the lake, it is this wide open bit of road, where mopeds, cars, cyclists, buses, and trucks will career past, weaving in and out of each other. You just have to be bold and cross, as soon as you hesitate you are likely to be hit. My tactic was to find other people and just sort of jog behind them. This was the worst bit of road I came across in Vietnam, as there are no crossings or signs, so stay safe! I went anti-clockwise around the lake, so that I could save running past the Ngoc Son Temple for the end of the loop, which is well worth visiting. It’s on its own little island in the lake, and is a Taoist temple built in honour of the 13th Century military commander Trần Hưng Đạo. At night it is lit up spectacularly.
After the first lap of the lake, head back around the northern tip of the lake, but instead of running on the path along by the lake, follow the road that goes parallel. When you are about half-way down the lake, there is a crossing on your right (near SeaBank), go over the crossing, and cross the second road as well, turn right (as though you are going back on yourself, on the other side of the buildings), and follow the road down there. This gives you a better view of Đình Nam Hương, which is a Buddhist temple which will be tucked away on the right. Keep going past the temple, and take your first left down Nhà Thờ, which will take you out in front of St Joseph’s Cathedral. This is the oldest church in the city, and is quite spectacular. I stumbled across it during my meandering home, and it is based on the design of the Notre Dame in Paris. Vietnam’s history is undoubtedly part of what makes it such an extraordinary country, and its religious heritage is fascinating. Vietnam is one of the least religious countries in the world, with only 27% of the population following a recognised religion. The other 74% either have no religion, or believe in Vietnamese folk religion. However there is a strong Catholic influence that still remains, as a result of the French colonial rule in the 19th and 20th centuries. St Joseph’s is a remnant of this rule, although it has been active again since 1990. I would definitely recommend stopping here to have a look at its incredible architecture, before turning left on Nhà Chung and following that road down to Tràng Thi.
This next part of the run will take you to one of the undoubtable highlights of my Vietnam trip. Cross over Tràng Thi, and down Quang Trung for a couple of blocks, until you reach Lý Thường Kiệt. Turn left, and follow the road until you see the Vietnamese Women’s Museum on your left. This museum was absolutely incredible, and something all five of us were absolutely blown away by. It is an incredible testament to the women of Vietnam, as well as showing tourists a side to the country that completely confounds many stereotypes and expectations. Maybe not somewhere to stop if you are trying to do a solid 5km, but now you know exactly where it is for later in the day to come back to. We had lunch next door to the museum at Văn Việt cafe, which was also absolutely excellent, with very fresh and cheap food. I honestly cannot recommend this museum more highly, and nothing I say will be able to properly explain why it is so important. It taught us so much about Vietnam, that we probably wouldn’t have found anywhere else.
After you pass this, you will head up to a big roundabout by the stunning Hanoi Opera House. This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Hanoi, although – I can’t say I got to see all of it, as one side was covered in construction when we were visiting. However google images assures me that it is beautiful, and it is a nice stretch of road to run along anyway! Once you go past the Opera house, you will be heading back towards the lake, and running up the East side again. At the top of the lake on this side is the Water Puppet Theatre (and an array of amazing ice-cream stores), which we missed due to our timings – but comes highly recommended by lots of tour books. Once you have reached the top of the lake, you will have done a bit over 5km!
This is a run route that loops a lot of different places into it, but I think gives an interesting feel for the city, as well as being quite straightforward.
Hanoi is one of the most fabulous cities, and very different from anywhere else we went in Vietnam. There are some incredible museums (visit the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ if you get a chance) and monuments dotted around all over the city. Additionally it has brilliant food (although everywhere in Vietnam seems to have amazing food – Hoi An in particular!), and the people were so lovely and friendly.