If Hanoi revolves around its bustling old town, Old Town revolves around Hoan Kiem Lake. Easily conceived as a sort of Central Park for Vietnam’s Capitol, the lake is a favorite of locals up for morning Tai Chi, tourists heading to a water puppet show, university students looking for a place to study, and couples and friends gathered together to talk and share a baguette with the turtles.
After a few busy hours spent jostling through the ever-crowded markets right off the lake, emerging from between narrow roads to see the lake spread out in front of me brought a palpable sense of relaxation. I walked the path around it, watching New Years event preparations, catching couples sneaking kisses, and even overhearing part of an English lecture a professor was giving to several attentive students–it seems they had decided to hold class outside for the day. After making a circuit, I picked a cafe, ordered a latte, and sat outside with a book, relishing the total peace this park provided in the heart of a constantly loud and busy city.