by Richard Henderson
(VNS) With endless construction, roads clogged by seas of motorbikes, and a growing number of cars, Ha Noi is definitely not the most conducive city for exercising outdoors.
Group co-operation: A group of local residents conclude their morning exercises at Hoan Kiem Lake by giving back massages to each other.
|Yawn: Hoan Kiem Lake is a favourite place for many locals to get their morning exercise. — VNS File Photos
The capital is also one of Asia's most polluted cities, due mainly to large-scale building sites producing unhealthy amounts of dust in urban areas, which is inhaled by the expanding number of residents.
There is still hope, however, for those with a penchant for jogging in open spaces, as this marvellous city is speckled with hidden corners which open up vast areas to break a sweat and clear your head.
An area popular with the locals for exercise is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, nestled in the heart of the city, a few blocks west of the Old Quarter, where giant parade grounds and a lawn area host hundreds of keen joggers and the fitness-savvy.
This sacred area is a spiritual home of sorts for Viet Nam, with Uncle Ho interred only metres from where Ha Noi residents and tourists alike wonder, enjoying the bold Soviet-style mausoleum architecture.
Another advantage of exercising here is the surrounding streets, which are mainly large boulevards, with empty footpaths as big as Old Quarter streets. These roads are ideal for running, and although the traffic is constant, the large amount of trees and open space is enough to separate you from exhaust fumes and drift off into your own thoughts.
For those seeking a more foliage-intense exercise location, the Botanical Gardens, although not a large park, offers a guaranteed no-vehicle area with trees, small hills and even a lake, to help you escape the city. The one major drawback is that it costs to enter, but at VND2,000 (10 US cents) it's quite affordable. There is also ample motorbike parking for those who don't live close to the gardens themselves.
Ha Noi is also witnessing a rapid proliferation of gyms across the city, from expensive full-service clubs, to basic facilities to pump iron or workout on a treadmill.
If you're looking for an inexpensive option, the Olympic gym at 4 Tran Hung Dao Street offers monthly memberships and single entry prices. This particular gym, like many in Ha Noi, is largely a male-dominated space, although women are welcome.
There is a relaxed atmosphere here, with the wide selection of weights often lies partly strewn across the old carpet, and a number of machines sitting idle needing repair.
There is a community of body building enthusiasts who assist each other with heavy weights, grunting and strutting around the gym, which gives the place a surprisingly homely feel.
There is a popular women's gym at 37 Tran Quoc Toan in Hoan Kiem District, which also offers single entry option, and is said to be a comfortable space to exercise.
Another classic locale for burning calories is Hoan Kiem Lake, right in the middle of Ha Noi. The calm waters are lined with trees and flowers, and there is a constant buzz around the lake, which is itself both a Ha Noi icon and an epicentre of the city.
Throughout the day, and particularly in the mornings, you can join elderly men and teams of middle-aged women circling the lake, welcoming in the day by increasing their heart rate with a stroll around the lake, often simultaneously flailing their arms to intensify the workout.
The distance around the lake measures around 1.5km, making it a perfect length to run laps and tailor your run or walk to your desired distance.
Hoan Kiem Lake also offers the best people-watching, with the natural drama of Vietnamese life unfolding before you, from the animated discussions of elderly groups to the frequent pageantry of young couples having their wedding photos taken, there is always something interesting to accompany your exercise. — VNS