We recently spent 5 days lapping up the bustling capital of Vietnam and loved every second of it. To be able to write a post titled something like – ‘Top 5/10/15/20 things to do in Hanoi’ – we literally would have had to do EVERYTHING that the city had on offer and that just didn’t happen. So instead, here are some of the highlights of our time in crazy Hanoi.
The Temple of Literature
Walking distance, or a short taxi ride from the Old Quarter is the Temple of Literature. Founded in 1070, it is the site of the first University in Vietnam and honours Vietnam’s finest scholars. It is quite a picturesque place to visit in Hanoi and at ₫30,000 (AU$1.80) to enter, it’s worth it. Just be careful getting a cab from the outside, as we had a dodgy driver with a fast meter & had to make a quick exit!
Hoa Lo Prison
I enjoyed our visit to Hoa Lo Prison and found it really interesting. If you are only going to pay for one attraction in Hanoi, this would be my pick. The prison was originally built by the French in 1896 to house Vietnamese political prisoners. When the French left in 1954, it was taken over by the North Vietnamese Army, who used it to house American prisoners of war. It was at this time that the Americans gave it a rather sarcastic nickname – ‘The Hanoi Hilton’. As the prison museum is obviously run by the Vietnamese, it is interesting to see how they have presented how their people were treated versus how the Americans were treated (hint: the Americans were treated really well)… At ₫40,000 (AU$2.40), it’s totally worth the visit.
The Old Quarter
The Old Quarter is the beating heart and soul of Hanoi. Depending on how much time you have, spend a day (or 2 or 3 or 4) walking around – looking up, looking down, looking around and definitely looking out for motorbikes.
Cafe Pho Co
I have read a few things about Cafe Pho Co and every one says its ‘a hidden gem’. I don’t know how many hidden gems can really exist these days with the internet, but nonetheless it is a lovely cafe, tucked away and with great views over Hoan Kiem Lake. You have to order at the bottom of the stairs and you then make your way up to the rooftop. A lovely place to have a break from the madness below and sip on a Vietnamese coffee. It’s a little tricky to find.
Address: 4th fl, 11 P Hang Gai. Look for the yellow sign and enter through the silk shop – keep walking and you will find it!
Hoan Kiem Lake
You can’t miss Hanoi’s most famous lake. The closer you get to it, the more tourists there will be. We walked right around the lake, we ate near the lake and we sat by the lake – lakes are cool. There is a small island on the lake, which holds Ngoc Son Temple. We decided to skip this, but it is a really popular place to visit, just make sure you dress appropriately.
Bia Hoi Corner
This may be a really predictable ‘thing’ to write about, but we loved Bia Hoi Corner. It is a famous junction in Hanoi, where you sit on tiny plastic chairs, drink beer and watch the world go by. I’m sure it has been ‘overrun’ by tourists, but we actually sat next to 3 local men who let us try every ‘bar snack’ they had ordered (pig skin.. yum!). The night we went it poured down with torrential rain. We were luckily undercover, but most people either ran inside or ran away. We loved watching the chaos unfold when the heavens opened up and it’s an experience in Hanoi I wouldn’t miss!
Address: The corner between Ta Hien Street and Luong Ngoc Quyen Street.
The night market
The night market is on Friday/Saturday/Sunday from 7pm and runs north to south through the Old Quarter, from P Hang Giay to P Hang Dao. It has every bit of junk (or Hello Vietnam t-shirt) your heart desires. The road is closed to traffic, although the odd scooter does get through and it has a really electric atmosphere.
The food in Hanoi.. wow, just wow. It is so cheap, so simple, so delicious. We ate mostly street food in Hanoi (a post on this to come!) and it never disappointed. We found the street food better than anything else we had in a cafe or restaurant and about 1/3 of the price. I know some people are a bit apprehensive of the cleanliness and hygiene, but we always took note of how many locals were eating there and if it was rammed, we knew it had to be good! It can be a bit intimidating not knowing how to order/what to order/where to order/who to order with, but the good places only serve 1 or 2 dishes and if you sit down, food will come.
There is obviously many more things to do and experience in Hanoi, but whether you’re into food, architecture, history, beer, a bargain t-shirt or lake views – this city’s got you covered! However, if you like to feel relaxed when traveling, Hanoi probably isn’t your place.. it is wild.