Julie is the author of a number of guidebooks, including 'Melbourne's Best Bush Bay and City Walks' & 'Melbourne for Dogs' (with RSPCA). Read more of her adventures at her walks blog: walksmelbourne.com
Tucked in and around Thu Le Lake, just next to the Daewoo Hotel and opposite the Australian Embassy, right in the middle of Hanoi is Hanoi Zoo, a free zoological and pleasure gardens that is very popular with Vietnamese families with young children.
It is a good place to see examples of the type of animals still to be found in the most remote areas of Viet Nam, from spotted sika deer to countless macaque monkeys, gibbons and magnificent blue and yellow macaws. There are also sun bears and Asiatic bears, as well as tigers and cloud leopards. The island in the middle of the lake is home to all the monkey enclosures, and at this time of year (spring), includes lots of babies amongst the monkey clans. There are also a scattering of more exotic animals, with some wallowing hippos and a paddock full of ostriches and kudus to distract.
Amongst all the animals there are countless fairground rides for little children, with lots of photo opportunities with cute kids perched on little cars and kitsch cuddly toys. There are very, very few foreign tourists (none when I was there) and so it's a great way to see families at leisure with their children, out for a day. Keep an eye out for the stall holders who are fashioning tiny figurines out of a type of plasticine.
While the zoo and the animal enclosures are kept scrupulously clean, with toys and other equipment to entertain the animals, and the zoo clearly has an educative role with excellent signage, be warned that the enclosures are not as big or naturalistic as ones you may find in countries such as Australia or the US, which may be upsetting for animal lovers.
The zoo is making conscious efforts to improve and develop and particularly to focus on the conservation and breeding of Viet Nam's endangered species, and is forming linkages with other zoos in the region and beyond.