I stayed in Hanoi for 4 days in total and I had a great time, visiting its top sites but also some other local places. If your schedule is shorter, these are my tips to spend a cool WE in the north capital of Vietnam.
1-MARKET & OLD QUARTER. Wake up early and after a good shower and breakfast head to Dong Xuan Market and its surrounding streets.
Probably this will be your first contact with Hanoi’s crazy traffic. Stop for 5-10 minutes and look how it works. Soon you will understand that despite the general chaos there are certain non written rules to follow and everything will be ok.
Asian markets are fascinating and Dong Xuan Market is no exception. Its many stalls proposing any kind of goods and its busy owners and clients are also a good opportunity to get a glimpse of local life in Hanoi.
If you are coming from western countries, you will probably find new fruits and vegetables you did not know. Ask the locals about them, they are kind!
After the market take a walk around the Old Quarter, with its narrow alleys full of little shops. In the past house owners payed taxes to the municipality according to the width of the house street frontage so to save some money they built narrow houses but with long rooms.
Probably after this walk it will be lunch time. Stop at a local eatery and order a Pho Bho. This soup is very common in the north and virtually anyone in Hanoi can prepare it for you. It is good, very filling and it is cheap!
2-WATER PUPPETS After a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake for people watching, head to Municipal Water Puppet Theater to see this unique 1000 years old kind of show originated in Northern Vietnam and Hanoi. I thought it was something kids-oriented but it is very entertaining for all public. Eleven puppeteers are involved in the performance, standing in the water tank (the stage) hidden behind a bamboo screen. Puppets are attached to a long pole and most of them have articulated parts. They dance, they play, work or fight like if they were walking on water. A live orchestra with traditional instruments and colorful costumes complements the show with popular songs.This is a popular “must activity” in Hanoi so buy your tickets in advance.
3- VIETNAMESE FOOD & BIA HOI. After the show it is beer time! When the sun goes down Bia Hoi Junction (P. Tha Hien – P. Luong Ngoc Quyen), in the heart of Old Quarter, is full of places proposing bia hoi (draught beer) for a few cents. The trottoirs are invaded by colorful little chairs and tables with a nice mix of locals and tourists enjoying beer. The atmosphere is very cool, and it is also an excellent opportunity to meet new people (or meet old friends 😉 ). This is maybe my favourite activity in Hanoi, ha haa.
End the day in a nice restaurant on Ma May Street and enjoy Vietnam’s fantastic cuisine. This is a very touristy area but there are some nice restaurants with good food. My favourite one was New Day Restaurant (72 Ma May) where I could enjoy its delicious nehms, Hanoi style.
On the way back to your hotel pass by Bia Hoi Junction again, probably the “beer party” is still going on. Why not a last fresh beer (or two) before going to bed?
4- HO CHI MINH MAUSULEUM & COMPLEX I know it is hard but if you wake up early you will have the possibility to visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausuleum,which is only opened from 8.00am till 11.00am (last entry at 10.15am). After this visit, walk around the huge square for a couple of pictures and watch the change of the guard.
From Ho Chi Minh Complex head then to the Temple of Literature, on Quoc Tu Giam. On the way, you will probably pass by Lenin’s Square, where the leader’s statue has become a bikes park guard.
5- TEMPLE OF LITERATURE
If you only have time for one temple or museum in Hanoi, choose this Confucian Temple, a nice example of traditional Vietnamese architecture. Built during the XIth century, it honors Vietnam’s first scholars, being the first university of Vietnam established here. Students came here from all Vietnam to study the principles of Confucianism, literature and poetry. This temple reminded me of the Confucius Temple in Beijing and it’s also a good opportunity to escape the city’s hassle for a while.
Even if you are not a religious person, walk around St. Joseph’s Cathedral during its evening mass. I passed by on the way to pick the shuttle to the airport and I was impressed by Vietnamese’ religious fervor: not only the cathedral itself was full of people praying but also the cathedral’s plaza and the streets around. Most of the people outside were following the mass sat on their motorbikes, all parked facing the cathedral’s facade on a perfect line. It was a beautiful scene to see (and my last one) before leaving Hanoi.
My Tips :
- Hanoi 3B Homestay had a perfect location, nice room & staff but especially an excellent breakfast. You will get a cool price if you book in advance;
- There are many air companies which propose a transportation from the airport to Hanoi city. All have more or less the same price (2$ one way) but I suggest to use the Vietnam Airlines because the arrival point in Hanoi is more central (not far from St. Joseph’s Cathedral. No booking in advance possible so when going to the airport take your time.
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Quirky explorer with a preference for lesser-known sights, I am continuously looking for new ideas and tips to help you plan your dream World Tour!