One of the oldest cities in the world has progressed with the world yet maintaining its history and old culture and traditions. Hanoi is the best representative of image of Asia that many carry in their heads and it lives up to the expectation. Stay in the old quarter the touristy area of town and explore the city on foot. Do ensure to ignore hawkers and local tours if you have time. Hanoi and Vietnam to great extend is famous for its jam packed roads, uncountable scooters / moto-bike and small roads. And you are never from it.
Points of Interest:
Spread out around the city, but the bulk is in center / around or near to Old Quarter. Walking to most of them on foot from Old Quarter is feasible. If you like to walk, then all can be walked.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: Ho Chi Minh – The person who bonded and created one Viet Nam. A place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese, this is a sole example of refinement and sophistication in the area. Closed two months in a year, you should go here to pay your respects to Uncle Ho, as he is fondly called. Also, reach here early, before 9:00am to get ample time to see the complex. Buildings around the complex close by 11am.
Ho Chi Minh Museum: Dedicated to the founder of modern Vietnam, museum showcases mementos of Ho’s life and key photos and letters of him in fine moments.
Ho Chi Minh Stilt House: Preserved as Ho left it, it is a fine example or interpretation of simple rural dwelling.
Old Quarter: Old, chaotic, busy with trade, but something you must see. This is the oldest part of Hanoi and now a backpackers mecca / resident. If you are not staying here then visit here on weekend evening to feel the energy in this area and enjoy the cultural show. Night market too happens here.
Back Ma Temple: Temple which I never saw. Being round the corner from where I was staying, I pushed it to the end. And then I forgot to see it! Like the area (Old Quarter) where it is located, it is also old though it was renovated some time back. Sometime in 18th century that is J
Memorial House: Close to Back Ma Temple, this was a merchant house which has now been restored. What a typical Vietnamese house looks like can be known here. You can buy souvenirs or take the services of calligrapher or even craftsman if they are there.
Hoan Kiem Lake: The Lake of restored store! There is a tortoise statue in the temple who apparently in the 15th century, after the war, took the broken sword from the emperor and went into the lake to restore it. Hence the name Hoan Kiem. Visit here in morning 6am to see locals practice ancient martial arts.
Ngoc Son Temple: On the northern side of lake, this is one of the most visited temple in Hanoi. Built in true Vietnamese style, it houses and displays ancient ceramic and bells and gongs and the 250kg tortoise! Visit to pay respects and see the beautiful and colorful decoration. Good place to start seeing Hanoi
National Museum of Vietnamese History: A huge building, and detailed display of history. Even if you are not a history buff you should visit to see how history has been told. After seeing, you can enjoy a cool drink in café in the museum lawns
Hoa Lo Prison Monument: Ironically nick named Hanoi Hilton, visit here to get a feel of Vietnamese struggle of Independence from France and their war with America. The struggle has been told very vividly erasing any potential scope of doubts or lesser imagination. Do not miss to see some real life historical artifacts such as flight suit of John McCain (US Senator) and the French guillotine. French guillotine was used to behead Vietnamese freedom fighters and is the lone article in the room to give that effect.
St Joseph Cathedral: Built in 1886, neo gothic built, it is still a popular church of the area. Mass is held regularly whose timings are listed on the gate. This gate I open only for the mass. At the other time, you can enter through the other gate one block away on P Nha Chung. Do not miss noticing the interiors esp the stained glass.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum: East Asia is full of example of role of women in its history. And this museum is summation of these examples in Vietnam. Visit to know the role women have played in the Vietnamese society and culture including the freedom struggle, and the respect and power they command.
Temple of Literature: How much Confucius was and is revered in East Asia can be known from this place. Once there was a university here which now has become a temple. University was dedicated to Confucius and his studies. In its tenure, 1442 students passed its exam and names of all have been inscribed in stone pillars. It took an average of five years of study to clear this exam assuming you were intelligent. Important fact – Confucius never visited Vietnam. Now you can understand how revered he was in this region. Today Confucius philosophy is studied in master courses in university.
Imperial Citadel – Once part of old city, where royalty lived, its last occupation was as army bunker and command center. Control room with communication links are on display. Visit to start your education on Vietnam War
Army Museum: Located adjacent to Imperial Citadel, it is an excellent museum for army and history buffs. You can easily spend 30 – 40 minutes going around the museum if you have no interest in tanks and fighter jets or history. If you have, then you need more time. Military hardware shot down, uniforms of American soldiers and tools and arms used by Vietnamese citizens and army are on display.
Tay Ho: The bigger lake in town, good area for walk or general exploration. Plenty of restaurants and luxury hotels can be found around the 15km circumference of the lake. Restaurants are closer to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It also has two pagodas on its shores.
Municipal Water Puppet Show: Completely touristy event, you will hardly find locals coming and seeing it. They have grown seeing such shows. It is a normal puppet show mixed with water telling tales of Vietnamese life. This is what makes it attractive. Do not forget to carry the literature with you for reference. Book in advance in high season. Tickets are always in demand.
Opera House: Do check the performance schedule when in Hanoi. You may be rewarded with international performance or local classical performance of highest caliber. You can also check for schedule on www.ticketvn.com
Yes, you are thinking it right. Cafes of Hanoi have to be visited. Hanoi is the world capital of cafes and coffee. City is literally littered with cafes on every road. Here you can observe and see how Hanoi is growing. Cafes are where you can see the youth and sometimes those who not in youth anymore. Menu for you will never finish. Combination of coffees available in Hanoi is from downright simple and best to exotic and adventures. For starters, have you ever mixed yogurt or say egg in a coffee and drank it?
Hostels and hotels are available alike concentrated in Old Quarter followed by north area of town. Cheapest hostels start at $5 or VND 105,000. Hotel rooms are available from $8 / $9 but $12 – $15 rooms are much more pleasant to stay in with better facilities.
Eating & Food:
There are numerous restaurants and cafes in Hanoi. It might not be wrong to call Hanoi as City of Cafes. Finding food from cheap to fine dining is not a problem irrespective of which part of Hanoi you are in.
Moving in Hanoi:
Moto-bike can be easily hired on rent for a day. My preferred mode of exploration is on foot and majority of sights can be explored on foot if you are staying in Old Quarter. Taxis are also available in abundance at $1 / km. When landing in Hanoi for the first time, I will strongly recommend you to pre-book pickup from your hotel.
Reaching to and from Hanoi:
Being capital city, it is well connected with all – road, rail, and air. Depending on where you need to go and how much time you have, you can select your option. Vietnam operates good network of domestic flights and has multiple airports connecting important / popular cities. Trains are punctual and well maintained but expensive than bus. Being a thin and long country, Vietnam requires only one six lane highway connecting North with South. Highway is well maintained with proper marking if road is under maintenance. I did not find many potholes / lose gravel on routes which I took.
Sapa / Ninh Binh & Tam Coc / Halong Bay / Hue