The backdrop of hustling, bustling Hanoi is a gentle fusion of ancient pagodas, charming French colonial architecture and grand leafy boulevards. The capital of Vietnam, this exotic city is a unique blend of East and West and an all-round sensory experience to boot.
Get acquainted with Vietnam’s past at Hanoi’s museums and sacred temples, sample the region’s fragrant, fresh and colourful street food, explore the city streets on foot and, at the end of a long day, retire to the quiet havens of the local parks and lakes.
Temples, museums, gardens and architectural wonders abound in this energetic city. The Temple of Literature should be your first stop on your walking tour of Hanoi. Built in 1070AD to honour the Chinese philosopher Confucius, this finely preserved temple is also home to Vietnam’s first university. A grand and imposing complex, it hides within its walls a calm and serene sanctuary. Step inside and discover 5 leafy courtyards, beautiful pavilions, cavernous halls, historic statues and the large square-shaped pond named the ‘Well of Heavenly Clarity’.
Next it’s on to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. This museum offers an enlightening and highly informative insight into Vietnam’s ethnic minorities. Browse a fantastic range of tribal artefacts, artworks and objects from everyday life.
Finally, take a trip to one of the most sacred buildings for the Vietnamese people, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Around 3 kilometres west of the popular Old Quarter you’ll find this towering memorial for Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. His embalmed body is displayed in the central hall and is protected by military guard. This is a sacred place for many Vietnamese people who come to pay their respects. Tourists are permitted to enter, but you’ll be subject to security procedures and a modesty dress code. It’s wise to arrive early to avoid the queues.
Eat and Drink
Throw yourself into French-style café culture at any of the charming cafés that line Hang Hanh, where you can sip coffee among young Vietnamese locals. For dining out, the area surrounding the picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake is great for restaurants, as is the chic French Quarter – be sure to try the freshly made French baguettes.
For something decidedly more Vietnamese, the Old Quarter is full of vibrant street food and local watering holes. The local must-eat is the famously fragrant Pho Bo (beef noodle soup), which is best enjoyed with a Bia Hoi (fresh beer).
Where to Stay
The bustling Old Quarter is packed full of affordable hotels and places to stay, so take your pick. Slightly pricier, the area surrounding St. Joseph Cathedral in the Old Quarter offers some trendy boutique hotels within walking distance of the charming Hoan Kiem Lake.
For a quieter, more up-market experience, the beautiful French Quarter offers majestic buildings and villas, wide streets, high-end hotels and luxury boutiques.
Boasting gorgeous French-style architecture, the chic and modern Trang Tien Plaza located at the corner of Hoan Kiem Lake in downtown Hanoi is known for luxury labels, high-end brand names, jewellery and designer cosmetics.
For something a little more unique with artisan flair, Hang Gai Street is a haven of beautiful silks, embroidery, lacquered woodcrafts, art galleries and quality clothing. And, of course, there are markets peddling fresh produce, fabric, clothing and souvenirs all over town.
Hanoi Like a Local
A popular hangout after dark is the area surrounding the stunning St. Joseph Cathedral, where locals fill up the bars to drink beer and tea. To see how the locals shop, head to Dong Xuan Market in the Old Quarter. The largest covered market in Hanoi, this place houses shops selling everything from clothing and food to electrical appliances. While it’s predominantly a wholesale market for locals, if you see something you like why not try your hand at bartering for a traditional Vietnamese experience? In any case, it’s a fascinating place for a spot of people watching.