Teeming with culture, history, great restaurants and nightlife, Hanoi offers a fantastic introduction to Vietnam. High-rise buildings are rare in this city which is striving to retain its character. Instead, grand colonial buildings, tranquil lakes and a maze of narrow streets provide the intriguing contrasts. Hanoi is an elegant city located on the banks of the Red River with tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake at its heart. North of the lake are the bustling streets of the Old Quarter, each street named after the trade that used to take place there.
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the second largest city with 6,449 million in population. After the Hanoi administrative area expansion in August 2008, the city’s total area has risen to 334,470 hectares.
Following years of rampant inflation, poverty and repression, the government introduced economic reform or doi moi in 1986, allowing people to own their own businesses. Now Hanoi has been totally transformed and visitors are entranced by the city and its residents.
The wide boulevards and large colonial buildings reflect Hanoi’s period as a French Protectorate, whilst other areas are truly Vietnamese with a muddle of narrow streets which bustle from dawn to dusk.
As a capital of Vietnam with more than 1000 years of history, Hanoi has many cultural and historic sites that attract a lot of tourists nationwide. Hanoi’s Old Quarter with unique characters represents the eternal soul of the city.
BEST TIME TO GO
The best time to visit is during the autumn months from September to November or the spring (March and April) for their milder temperatures and pleasant weather. The winters in Hanoi can get colder and damper than expected with temperatures reaching 12-15 Degree Celsius. Summer temperatures tend to hover around 30-35 Degree Celsius. Hanoi has high humidity year-round. The rainy season in Hanoi lasts from May to September but the rain is not consistent and does not usually interrupt travel or ruin a visit.
You can get to Hanoi by air plane, train and bus.
By Train: The Thong Nhat (Union) train that runs across Vietnam arrives at the center of the city. From the Ha Noi train station, it is very convenient to get to hotels in central areas. A taxi ride should cost a few dollars. Some taxi driver might not drive using the meter but rather they will offer a price before the trip. This amount is usually higher than the charge using a meter. So try to bargain by estimating the distance from the station to your hotel. The fare varies from 8,000-12,000 VND per kilometer. If you are going alone, an alternative and cheaper way is to catch a motor-taxi (xe ôm). Again, remember to bargain.
For information about train timetable and fare, please visit Vietnam Railway
By airplane: You will land on Noi Bai International Airport which is around 30 kilometers from the city. Money exchange is available there but the rate offered is usually lower than in the bank. From the airport you can get to the city by airport mini bus (30,000-40,000 VND), public bus (5,000-10,000 VND), by taxi (250,000-300,000 VND). You can also contact the hotel in advance to arrange for a pick up.
By bus or coach: High quality coach running from the south to north of Vietnam usually stop in Hanoi center. These coach operators offer either open tour or express trip across the country. Popular and recommended brands are Hanh Cafe, Sinh Cafe or Phuong Trang. The coaches usually drop passenger at some hotels. Do check with the service operator if the coach comes across your hotel. Recommended taxi operators: Mai Linh taxi, Huong Lua taxi, Long Bien taxi, VinaSun taxi.
TOURIST ATTRACTION IN HANOI
HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM
Ho Chi Minh is probably the most popular leader of Vietnam and known to his people as ‘Uncle Ho’. His body is preserved here in a glass case at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in central Hanoi (albeit against his wishes).
For visitors, a trip to Uncle Ho’s final resting place can be an extraordinary experience as it is not just an average attraction; it’s a part of a unique history.
Started in 1973, the construction of the mausoleum was modelled on Lenin’s mausoleum in Russia and was first open to the public in 1975. The granite building meant a great deal for many locals as it ensures that their beloved leader ‘lives on forever’. Read More…
HOAN KIEM LAKE
Hoan Kiem Lake is located at the heart of Hanoi. The name literally means ‘”The Lake of the Restored Sword’”.The name refers to the 15th-century legend in which the nobleman Le Loi, who fought for the Vietnamese against Ming China, received a sword from a magic turtle living in the lake. The nobleman defeated the Ming and returned home in victory. One day, the emperor was boating in the lake when the turtle appeared asking for the sword to restore it to its heavenly owner. In memory of this event, the emperor built the Tortoise Tower on an island at the south end of the lake. Enormous turtles still live in the lake today. When they are spotted, it is supposed to foreshadow the death of one of the country’s leaders.
IMPERIAL CITADEL OF THANG LONG IN HANOI
The large central sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long in Hanoi was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site just in time for Hanoi’s millennial anniversary in 2010. The ancient site was the political centr of the country for 13 consecutive centuries and served as the capital of Vietnam for eight centuries. The central sector of the imperial citadel includes relics in Hanoi Citadels and an interesting archaeological area at 18 Hoang Dieu Street. Excavation work took place from 2002 to 2004 at the Thang Long Royal Citadel site and as a result many artifacts and items from the 6th to the 20th century belonging to the Ly, Nguyen, Tran, Le eras were found.
THE TEMPLE OF LITERATURE
This beautifully preserved temple dating from 1070, originally dedicated to Confucius, became the first university in Vietnam where the sons of mandarins were educated. The temple is an oasis of calm in the heart of Hanoi. The central entrance gate was reserved for the king and the two side entrances for the mandarins. The interior is divided into walled courtyards with both sides of one courtyard lined with stone stelae mounted on the backs of tortoises engraved with the names of the students who passed their exams.
Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi is one of the most enchanting spots in the city. The early morning misty air is energetic for people who throng the footpath that circles the lake for morning exercise, badminton and tai chi.
THE OLD QUARTER
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is an enchanting maze of 36 narrow streets named after the products that were traditionally sold here – such as ‘paper street and medicine’ street – and home to the amazing tunnel houses which have a very narrow frontage hiding very long and deep rooms. Now the streets are more likely to have a mix of shops including places selling household items, silk clothes, funerary items and traditional medicine. Interspersed will be bars, boutique hotels and even karaoke clubs. A great way to see the Old Quarter is to cruise through the chaotic traffic in a cyclo.
CO LOA CITADEL
Co Loa Citadel is the first fortified citadel recorded in Vietnamese history, This is perhaps the most ancient Citadel in Vietnam, built by Thuc An Duong Vuong in III Century BC. The Citadel was built to conform to a helicoidal design and comprises 3 turns: the exterior, the medium and the interior turn. At the base of the exterior rampart, was a deep moat, where boats could go to and easily. Now the remaining vestiges are the Communal House of Co Loa, the temple devoted to the worship of the Princes My Chau and that devoted to the worship of An Duong Vuong, the King who loved his daughter with all his heart, but lacking vigilance, he left Co Loa and lost both his family and his country.
ONE PILLAR PAGODA
The One Pillar Pagoda (Chùa Một Cột in Vietnamese) is a Buddhist temple in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex near Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi, Vietnam: a replica of an older temple that was built in 1049 and destroyed by the French in 1954. The Pagoda has a unique design that is meant to evoke a lotus flower rising out of the water. On this flower sat the goddess of mercy, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who was seen by the Emperor Ly Thai Tong in a dream handing the latter a baby boy. Afterwards, the Emperor married a peasant girl, who bore him a son. Overjoyed by his good fortune, the Emperor ordered the construction of the One Pillar Pagoda in 1049.
VIETNAM MUSEUM OF ETHNOLOGY
The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology opened at the end of 1997. Since then, it has attracted the attention of visitors as well as ethnographers and researchers from all over the world. It contains more than 10,000 objects, 15,000 black and white photos and hundreds of video tapes and cassettes which depict all aspects of life, activities, customs, and habits of the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam. The museum has successfully recreated the daily life together with the religious rituals and the symbolic festivals of each ethnic group in Vietnam. Visitors have the opportunity to admire costumes, embroidery as well as outside stilt houses and habitats from the different groups. All displayed objects mingle and supplement one another to create a colorful and diversified picture of Vietnamese culture. An open-air exhibition in the museum’s spacious and peaceful ground features ethnic houses from all over Vietnam.
VIETNAM MILITARY HISTORY MUSEUM
The Vietnam Military History Museum, also known as the War or Army Museum, has a comprehensive and stimulating collection of war relics charting Vietnam’s struggle for liberation. If you’re only going to see one war museum in Vietnam this should be it.
The museum is arranged in a series of galleries that start with the period of Chinese colonisation, through to the French period, and then on to the American War and more recent skirmishes. There is a lot to see, so pace yourself, or decide what’s really of interest to you. If you’re mainly interested in the American War, you may have to skip through some of the earlier exhibits, or risk being too overloaded with information to really appreciate it.
QUAN THANH TEMPLE
It was built in Ly Thai To Dynasty (1010 – 1028), three ancient Chinese characters, which are still seen today on the top of the entrance. Quan Thanh Temple is dedicated to Tran Vu Saint who was a combination between a legendary character and a saint who had earned the merits of assisting An Duong Vuong King in getting rid of ghost spirit during the his citadel construction at Co Loa.
The most attention shout be paid to a black bronze statute of Tran Vu Saint with 3,600 kilograms in weight, 3.96m high and 3.48 in circumference. Another special object is an ancient bronze bell with 1.15m high.
TRAN QUOC PAGODA
Chùa Trấn Quốc (or Tran Quoc Pagoda) is located beside the dazzling West Lake, on Thanh Nien Road, Hanoi. Particularly, it is seated on an island linked by a bridge to the causeway between the two most romantic lakes of Hanoi: West Lake and Truc Bach Lake. It must be said that the island and pagoda provide a beautiful backdrop, particularly when viewed at sunset. Standing at one end of Thanh Nien Road, one can see the towers of the pagoda rising above the lake’s surface. In the pagoda’s garden stands a Bồ Đề (Bodhi) tree, which is attached to a past story. The story tells that in 1959, on his visit to Vietnam, Indian Prime Minister Razendia Prasat offered the Pagoda a bodhi tree as a gift. The plant was grafted from the holy bodhi tree where Sakyamuni sat in zen (meditation) position and achieved enlightenment in India 25 centuries ago. Now the bodhi tree is easily recognizable from its heart-shaped leaves, taken from a cutting of its original tree. Today, the tree green and luxuriant, shading over part of the pagoda’s yard. These days, Tran Quoc Pagoda, as a religious relic with a spectacular surrounding scenery, is a favorite stop-over of so many foreign visitors and pilgrims.
ACTIVITIES IN HANOI
VIETNAMESE COOKING CLASS
Learn to cook delicious Vietnamese dishes on a half-day course in Hidden Hanoi’s purpose-built kitchen. As well as hands-on cookery, students learn about the cultural significance of rice, when and how different spices are used, and the importance of fish sauce. Students are taken around the colorful local food market before being taught how to whip up four dishes from five themed menus. ‘Seafood’ includes fresh spring rolls with prawns; ‘Monsoon’ has a banana flower salad; ‘Street Food’ includes barbecued pork; the ‘Village Menu’ has clay pot stewed eggplant with pork; and the ‘Vegetarian’ fried tofu balls.
BIKING IN HANOI
Hanoi biking tours give riders a chance to leave the city and visit some of the countryside villages dotted further afield. Sites include rice fields, pagodas dating back to the 12th century, a chance to meet and talk with a host family, a visit to a war memorial and other historic places of interest. One special place worth a bike outing is Duong Lan, an old village that has its roots in the origins of rice farming and includes ancient houses still in use today with fascinating architecture built four centuries ago.
WATER AND THEME PARKS
Ho Tay Water Park in Tay Ho District is a magnet for those wishing to escape the extreme heat and humidity of Hanoi in the summer. The park has water slides, a diving pool, a massage pool and a wave-making pool. When you’ve had enough of the pools, head next door to the Moon Park, an entertainment complex with a 60m (197ft) swing, electronic games, mini-golf, roller coaster and bumper cars. In addition there is a sports complex with tennis and badminton courts and table tennis. Be aware both parks are particularly busy at the weekend.
TREKKING IN AND AROUND HANOI
There are quite a number of trekking tours, ranging from half-day walks to more challenging trekking lasting a number of days. Options include Mai Chau valley, Pu Luong nature reserve, and Tam Do and Cat Ba national parks. The most popular trek is Pu Luong nature reserve which usually takes four days and will take you to Thai hamlets nestled in mountain foothills. Despite its length, this trip does not require too much exertion or skill. Alternatively, Mai Chau valley is a great option if you are short on time and it will offer a rare chance to see rural Vietnamese villages. Additionally, there are an array of jungle treks designed to test more advanced trekkers, including a seven-day challenging trek to Ha Giang and Bac Ha in Northern Vietnam.
The Hash House Harriers are a huge international organization, found wherever there are substantial communities of expats. They are a social outfit and they organise regular runs in the countryside surrounding Hanoi, which always end with some food and a drink. There is no formal membership so look out for the notices around the city which give details of the next run and just turn up. In Hanoi, the Hash House Harriettes also organize runs but these occur less frequently.
WALKING AND JOGGING
Hanoi’s Botanical Gardens, to the west of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, are an ideal place to go walking or jogging – and to get married, judging by the steady stream of newly weds being snapped in all their finery. Join the locals who go there for a spot of Tai Chi, or play a spot of early morning badminton. This maybe not the most outstanding botanical collection around, but there are two pleasant ponds, interesting public art in the grounds and refreshment stalls on hand.
Golf is as popular in Vietnam as it is throughout the rest of Asia, and there are several opportunities within easy reach of Hanoi for visitors to enjoy a round or ten. Popular golf courses in the Hanoi area include the 18-hole Hanoi Golf Club, which is around 45 minutes north of central Hanoi, in Minh Tri Commune; King’s Island Golf Course that sits 45km (28 miles) west of Hanoi and features two 18-hole courses; and Tam Dao Golf Club, 65km (40 miles) to the north. For an inner city driving range, head to Lang Ha.
Main Shopping Areas in Hanoi
HOAN KIEM LAKE AND OLD QUARTER AREA: Popular and Fun
When travelers ask local people or tour guides where they can find the most various types of traditional Vietnamese gifts to purchase as souvenirs, most of them will receive “Hoan Kiem Lake” and “The Old Quarter” as the answer. The reason is that this is the most exciting tourist area in Hanoi where attracts a huge number of foreigner tourists to visits every day, so there are numerous souvenir and present shops located in this area.
International travelers are easily caught wandering around this area all day and night to visit and explore the beauty of Hoan Kiem Lake and the ancient houses in the Old Quarter, and also to purchase some souvenirs to bring home as a memory of this charming city.
BA TRIEU STREET : Local Frenzy
Ba Tieu Street is a long road that begins at Hoan Kiem Lake area and leads to Dai Co Viet Street. If there is a title to describe this road, this should be only “Street of shopping”, especially luxurious shopping. This road itself act as a market of various shops, restaurants and other service destinations that serve all customers in any range and class, but deluxe products seems to be more dominant and diverse in this street.
Along the 2.5 km length of this road, numerous luxurious shops are located densely on both sides with different types of products and services, including motorbike, clothes and accessories, restaurant, phones and entertainment devices. Beside those high class shops which are pretty expensive, Ba Trieu Street also has a wide range of shops for middle class consumers with affordable price and acceptable quality. The biggest and most remarkable midrange place at this street is Vinatex Fashion Center, where exhibits and sells clothes and accessories made by domestic producers with competitive price to middle class customers.
However, the paradise of superior shopping is situated at the other end of the road, where Vincom Tower is located. This commercial center is the complex of deluxe shopping malls and luxurious services which predominantly serve propertied people are has bigger purse than normal one.
WEST LAKE: New and Unique
West Lake, or also called Ho Tay in Vietnamese, is the biggest lake in Hanoi and also in the second position on list of the most fascinating lakes in this beautiful city. This area is also the most popular living residence for expats and foreigners in Vietnam with a considerable number of non-Vietnamese residents in the region. The massive expansion in number of expats living in West Lake leads to the increase in demand of special goods for this kind of residents, especially convenient products such as foods, beverage and clothes, with a new green market emerging and attracting many local attentions.
Therefore, various home shops which provide such kinds of goods have been established to satisfy the requirement of foreigners here. Those shops offer wide range of international products which cannot be easily obtained in Hanoi.
MARKETS IN HANOI
HANG DA MARKET IN HANOI
An eclectic array of stalls fills the three-story Hang Da market located in the heart of Hanoi’s central business district. Smaller than Dong Xuan and offering a more select product range, this is the place to come for imported wine, flowers, second-hand clothes and fabrics. The outside of the building is also very picturesque with its white multi-perforated façade and it’s expected that the whole interior may one day change from market stalls to boutique outlets.
Hang Da is a great place to pick up one-off clothing items including skirts, dresses and coats and some of the best buys are stylish second-hand clothes which are pretty much all in perfect condition.The market is best visited first thing in the morning when the traders are unpacking for the day and best avoided over weekends or during the midday heat. Take a break when you shop on the first floor where you can buy some freshly cooked Vietnamese snacks.
DONG XUAN MARKET
Hanoi’s largest covered market, Dong Xuan is usually found on most visitors sightseeing list. It’s a sprawling traditional Vietnamese market best visited early or late in the day. There are plenty of trinkets, bags, t-shirts, homeware, art and fake good galore in this bustling, crowded space. The market is spread out over three floors with plenty of hawker stalls inside and out; it’s an interesting place to visit in the evening when it’s all lit up and certainly a great place to get some superb holiday photos. Dong Xuan is a three-story market located in the Old Quarter, 900m north of the Hoan Kiem Lake.
NIGHTLIFE IN HANOI
The nightlife in Hanoi is an active nightlife generally divided in to two subcategories. There are the quieter bars which are generally enjoyed by a slightly older and mellower crowd. There may be live entertainment at these bars but it is generally played at a level which allows for conversation in the bar.
The other side of the nightlife is made up of the bustling clubs of the area, clubs which have at least one dance floor and DJ-based music or live bands playing so loud that dancing takes the place of conversation.
For those interested in the quieter bars, whether for the entire evening or just for starting out the night, the top pick is the Funky Monkey, which is active enough to draw in an all ages crowd all throughout the night but quiet enough to allow visitors to mingle with locals. Other popular bars in Hanoi include Minh’s Jazz Club, Da Gino, Emperor Pub and the Met. For those in the TayHo area try Daluva Wine and Tapas Bar which is modern and has great food all day as well, they also serve spirits and beer. Mostly Expat’s at Daluva but a lot of fun !
For those travelers interested in the more active nightlife, the top pick is Apocalypse Now. During weekdays, visitors can play free games of pool, but on weekend nights, all that takes place here is dancing, dancing, and more dancing. This is a late night place where time can get lost because there are no windows here and the setting is designed to recreate the feel of the old bunkers of the Vietnam War. It may not sound attractive, but this is the place where all of the trendier visitors generally go. Other top club picks include Club Q and the Spark.