Vietnam is not as popular as its neighbour, Thailand, and why is one of life’s great mysteries. Maybe it’s the lingering hangover from the Vietnam War. Or maybe it’s because instead of screaming ‘PARTY’, Vietnam speaks with a soft, welcoming and exotic voice. Which, incidentally, are excellent reasons for visiting Hanoi.
Hanoi is where Vietnam unloaded its culture. The city is brimming with history and tradition (the National Museum of Vietnamese History can tell you more), yet it is also embracing the present and future – as the Vincom City Tower shows. On every street corner, whispers of the French colony still linger. It’s in the architecture or the Presidential Palace and the history of Ba Dinh, but also in the food. After all, baguettes are a staple part of the Vietnamese diet.
Aside from bouts of historical insight and divine inspiration, Hanoi is defined by its abundance of motorbikes. They swarm like bees through the streets, ducking and weaving effortlessly in and out of the fray. If the noise doesn’t bother you, join the locals for a street-side meal or bia hoi (beer), sitting on tiny plastic stools so low to the ground they seem toy-like.
In Hanoi, unlike some other Southeast Asian cities, the mix between the old and the new works effortlessly. A thousand years of commerce can still be seen in the hawkers thronging the streets where, after dark, the young and trendy will dine and dance the night away.
Intriguing, invigorating, Hanoi is simply unmissable.
Hanoi's Top 10
10. Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum A memorial for Ho Chi Minh at Ba Dinh Square, where the revolutionary leader read the Declaration of Independence in 1945.
5. Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre There’s no better place to see the traditional water puppetry of Vietnam.
9. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology There are 54 officially recognized ethnicities in Vietnam. This is the place to find out more.
4. Tran Quoc Pagoda The name of this impressive pagoda translates to ‘stabilising the nation’. It’s one of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam.
8. St Joseph’s Cathedral The Roman Catholic cathedral was built in 1886 and is a fine example of the neo-gothic style.
3. Temple of Literature The most prominent temple of Confucius in Vietnam.
7. Presidential Palace With traces of Italian Renaissance design, this palace is the former home of the French Governor-General of Indochina.
2. Hoan Kiem Lake Divides the French Quarter and Old Quarter. The Turtle Pagoda rests on an islet in the lake. Get up early to see synchronised t’ai chi at dawn.
6. Hanoi Citadel Home of the old kings of Vietnam, there have been buildings here for over 1000 years. Destroyed by the French colonialists and army headquarters during the Vietnam War, it’s a moving place to visit.
1. One Pillar Pagoda A Buddhist temple built on a single stone pillar. It resembles a beautiful lotus blossom. If architecture can ever truly be Enlightened, this is the place to see it.
- Temple of Literature – Founded in 1070 and became the first university of the country in 1076.
- Son Tay Citadel in Hanoi – This square-shaped citadel was constructed in 1822.
- Ho Chi Minh’s Vestige in the Presidential Palace – Visit the grounds where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked for the last five years of his life.
- One Pillar Pagoda – A small, charming outdoor area that should be visited when it is least crowded.
- Turtle Tower – Located in the middle of Sword Lake.
Hanoi Art & Culture
- Ho Chi Minh Museum – Focuses on the story and struggles of Ho Chi Minh.
- Fine Arts Museum – Features Buddhist art, silk paintings and revolutionary art.
- Army Museum – Focuses on Vietnam’s military with history and artefacts that are more than 2,000 years old.
- National Museum of Vietnamese History – This collection of antiques and artefacts covers the past 1,000 years of Vietnamese history.
- Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre – Features musicians and storytellers who recount Vietnamese folk legends.
- Hang Da – A local area full of kiosks.
- Cho Hom – Has products for all types of shoppers and is well known for the fabrics sold on the second floor.
- Hanoi Cooking Centre – A cooking school with a lovely courtyard.
- Dong Xuan – A wholesale market that is a great place to observe buyers and sellers performing their trades.
- Night Market – A unique shopping area that is open after 7 pm.
- Boa Khanh Street – A wonderful place to meet people with outdoor coffee shops lining the street.
- Go Go Club – A welcoming spot that includes jacuzzis, steam baths, dry sauna, herbal baths and more.
- Aqua Club – A small and cosy spot located in downtown Hanoi.
- Golden Cock – An upscale joint with a pool table and Western music.
- Solace Bar – This is the place that many visit at midnight when other joints are closed.
- Lenin Statue and Park – A lively spot with activities that range from aerobics classes to badminton in the afternoon.
- Ly Thai To Statue and Park – Located on the banks of a lake.
- Viet Climb – Features a climbing area of 200 meters, along with a cafe and terrace for relaxation.
- Ho Tay – This is the biggest lake in Hanoi and has a floating restaurant.
- Tran Quoc Pagoda – Located on West Lake and has structures from the mid-1800s.
- The Vietnam national soccer team practices in the My Dinh National Stadium.
- To catch your favourite sporting events on TV in Hanoi, check out Jaspas.
- Many of the locals walk, jog and bike around Hoan Kiem Lake.
- The beautiful lakeside and mountain view courses of Kings Island Golf Club are great places to watch games of golf.
- You can watch badminton games in the morning at Ho Hoan Kiem Park.
Hanoi LocalBa Dinh
Sometimes also known as the French Quarter, this is the political centre of Hanoi, containing government offices and embassies. Centred on Ba Dinh Square, it is the place where Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam independent – and so holds huge significance in terms of Vietnam’s troubled recent past. Wonderful mansions line the streets, which are also home to the Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Presidential Palace.
Hoan Kiem is the district in Hanoi referred to as the Old Quarter. It’s the business centre, and also where you can explore traditional and colonial architecture. Aside from popular spots like St John’s Cathedral, the History Museum and the Hanoi Opera House, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to Buddhist temples and pagodas. If you’re pushed for time, the Bach Ma Temple (Temple of the White Horse) is arguably the best of the bunch. Built in the 11th Century, it houses a – you guessed it! – statue of a white horse. The Old Quarter also has the Dong Xuan Market, Hanoi’s largest market. Rummage through the stalls for clothes or food, or anything else that tickles your fancy, then while the night away in some of Hoan Kiem’s fashionable restaurants, bars and clubs.
Hanoi Eat & Drink
Hanoi has its fair share of delicious food regardless. The national dish is pho. Try the pho bo (which is actually beef noodle soup and not a Vietnamese celebrity in the J-Lo mould), which is more potent, daring and downright addictive than the pho ga (chicken soup).
Club de L’Oriental Upmarket and very popular with Hanoi’s sexy young things. Boasts an excellent wine cellar.
Emperor Restaurant If you can’t travel all the way to Hue, you can at least taste its food at this redesigned French villa.
La Lua (Wild Rice):Take a ride on the wild side at Wild Rice, a contemporary Vietnamese restaurant.
Soft Water fuses Latin American and Asian cuisines. The gorgeous restaurant is located on the banks of Red River.
Cay Cau Double your pleasure with traditional Vietnamese food and live traditional music. Hoan Kiem
Hemispheres at the Sheraton offers an array of Vietnamese and Asian cuisine. Also has cooking classes.
Bleu de Thuy (Blue Water) Innovative fusion with Western inspiration in a French colonial building – opt for the degustation.
Restaurant Bobby Chinn is an award-winning restaurant where you can enjoy an eclectic fusion of international cuisines, with sprinklings of Vietnamese flavours. Tay Ho
Wild Lotus Contemporary Vietnamese fare with hints of Thai inspiration, enjoyed in an old French building.
La Badiane French for star anise, this restaurant dishes up Asian-influenced French food.
Tet Nguyen Dan (Vietnamese New Year, celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year) is the most important event and holiday in Vietnam. Join in the festivities of Tet around January or February.
In February the Co Loa Festival kicks into gear. The festival commemorates the legend of An Duong King of Au Lac and his magic crossbow. Be a spectator of the parades, wrestling and, um, cockfighting.
Le Mat Festival in spring starts with water and carp processions. You could be offered a glass of snake wine (made with real snake blood!). Yikes.
In autumn a three-day religious festival called Keo Pagoda Festival presents music, boat races, and ceremonies.
In September, the National Day holiday commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 and the death of Ho Chi Minh. Many of the festivities take place at Ba Dinh Square.
During the Mid-Autumn Festival in September, a street fair is set up primarily for children, but adults can also enjoy it, especially when there are countless moon cakes that need to be eaten!
When To Go
Vietnam has four seasons, but the winters are very temperate.
Average temperatures in spring range from 22 to 31°C (72-88°F) and are accompanied by light rain.
Summer is a consistently warm 27-32°C (81-90°F), but the heat is amplified by the high humidity, which also makes insects like mosquitoes thrive.
Autumn is a pleasant 19-28°C (66-82°F). It’s less humid, making it the perfect time to visit Hanoi.
Winter temperatures are a mild 14-22°C (57-72°F), but it can again get uncomfortably humid.
Around Hanoi, you can choose from taking taxis, cyclos (pedicabs), or even riding on the back of a motorbike. The buses are very cheap, but it may be difficult to understand and be understood.
What To Miss
Stay safe. The crazy motorbikes whizzing around Hanoi can be dangerous. If you’re crossing a street on foot, simply walk steadily at a constant pace and in a straight line. This seems daunting (and it is) but you’re much safer this way than trying to anticipate the erratic traffic.
Stay alert when taking taxis. While most are safe, the occasional driver has been known to dump passengers on the street without warning and try to take off with their luggage.
Out of the ashes of war, Hanoi has emerged triumphant in recent years as one of the most complete and intriguing cities in Southeast Asia. In 2008, a measure to reorganize the metropolitan area increased Hanoi's effective population to well over 6 million. Done in part to mark the city's 1,000th birthday in 2010, the bottom line for tourists about to discover and travel to Hanoi is that the superb destination in beautiful Vietnam is a dizzying feast for the senses.
From near-millenium-old temples to elegant pagodas, scenic lakes and a distinctly Gallic flair, still evident years after the demise of the French colonial era, Hanoi is a special place and is regarded as a favourite Asian holiday destination by many foreign visitors. The city's bustling markets offer frenetic glimpses into local life and a wonderful array of artisanal goods. The best way to experience Hanoi however, is perched on a low stool by a streetside café, with a comforting bowl of pho on your lap.
Attractions & Activities
- Hanoi Opera House
- Temple of Literature
- National Museum of Vietnamese History
- Hoa Lo Prison “Hanoi Hilton”
- Jade Mountain Temple
- One Pillar Pagoda
- Presidential Palace
- Keo Pagoda Festival
- Le Mat Festival
- Chu Dong Tu Festival
- Perfume Pagoda Festival
- Nui Ba Festival
Restaurant & Nightlife
- Cha Ca La Vong
- Phuong Nguyen
- Cay Cau
- La Lua
- Apocalypse Now
- Café Pho Co
- Club 51
- Jazz Club Minh
- Ho Guom Xanh
Like the rest of north Vietnam, summer weather in Hanoi is hot, humid and wet, while winters are cool and dry.
- Winter (December to March) 14-22°C
- Spring (April to May) 22-31°C
- Summer (June to September) 27-32°C
- Fall (October to November) 19-28°C
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