I skipped through a lot of country from Hanoi to be here, by way of two weeks spent helping a thankless invalid. I might have been on my way to Cambodia, as originally planned. But who sticks to an original plan these days? I hopped over going to mountains in Sapa, or running through caves in Ninh Binh, and stopped for a walk through Hue’s old war- ravaged citadel, on the way to historic Hoi An. The Viet 'Cong' (the American label for the guerrilla troops of South Vietnam and Mekong who fought alongside the the North Vietnamese), had given the yanks too much credit in assuming that they wouldn’t desecrate these momentous temples of Vietnamese religion and culture, in their bid to chase down Communism.Holy places have a habit of making me wistful. I began to mull over whether I could ever leave Asia. Imagining myself another life where I am ‘settled’ requires decoding of the word itself. ‘To settle’. The verb defined in the Oxford dictionary with more than three meanings. Here are the top three: to reach a conclusion or agreement to a problem; to reach a decision; to come to a dissatisfactory acceptance.To ‘settle down’ is to accept an unrealistic and bogus idea of existence. Even those who think their life is mapped out will find surprises, whether good or bad. And those whose definition of adulthood is based on ownership of some form (cars, careers, mortgages and kids for instance) are only defining their experience of the world through MONEY and possessions.I don’t think that the Cham emperors of the past, when building their red mortar worshipping grounds, would have ‘settled’
Best Time To Visit
Best time to visit Hanoi is from December to February
How To Reach
Book a Package Tour
One Pillar Pagoda
Another place you shouldn't miss is the city’s notable Buddhist temple One Pillar Pagoda. The place has an interesting history. The beauty of this temple lies in the fact that it is built of wood on a single stone pillar and will remind you of a lotus blossom, which is a symbol of purity in Buddhism.
Temple of Literature & National University
You will see lots of these as you travel throughout Vietnam.After having lunch we took a cab to Temple of Literature. It was built in 11th century AD dedicated to Confucius. A few years later the site was expanded to house the first university of Vietnam. Hopeful candidates, in order to get accepted into the university, had to go through a multi-tiered process of clearing local, regional and national examinations. The names of the scholars who finally graduated are engraved on the tombstones above tortoise backs inside the university precinct. The university is now not functional. But we saw many student groups there. Apparently, if there are any important examinations, Vietnamese students come there to rub tortoise head for good luck.
Hoan Kiem Lake
The Old Quarter, near Hoàn Kiếm Lake, is said to have the original architecture of the city. It comprises of almost 40 streets filled with households and street markets. Each Street originally had merchants specialized in a particular trade and the street was named after its chief trading commodity. Today you can simply walk around these lanes to distinguish the fine traditional layout of the city and spend some serene time by the lake.
Chua Tran Quoc
It is considered a cultural symbol of Vietnamese Buddhism partly since it is the oldest pagodas in the country. Spend some time appreciating its tranquil beauty. The construction of the pagoda started in 541 and was completed in 545 under the reign of King Ly Nam De. Today it is a religious relic and is surrounded by wonderful backdrop which no one should miss.
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
The Vietnam Ethnology Museum is renowned for its researches and exhibits on varied ethnic groups of Vietnam. Having exhibited more than 50 ethnic groups, it is considered to have been one of the finest and most interestingly organized museums in Vietnam. A top-rated spot for any tourist or traveler, its modern architecture in co-existence with the ancient culture and tradition it resides is a true marvel in itself!
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
It is one of the historic places in Vietnam. Few know that Ho Chi Minh desired a simple cremation. But in honor of his dedication to the country, his body is kept here so that many Vietnamese generations can come and visit him. The museum was inaugurated on August 29, 1975. The mausoleum is built in the Ba Dinh Square, where he read the Independence Declaration on September 2nd, 1945. The Mausoleum is a three-storey structure and is made of marble and granite. In the second storey lies the famous President’s body, in a glass coffin and dim lights. In front of the mausoleum there are many cycad trees. The mausoleum is closed occasionally for restoration and preservation work of the body. Opening time: 5 days per week, except Monday and Friday Travel tip- Ensure you are fully clothed. Camera, cell phone, eating, smoking, drinking are not allowed inside. Hands must not be in pockets, nor arms crossed. It goes without saying that you try your best to not be impudent when here.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
The water puppet theater performance truly exceeded my expectations. Water puppetry originated in Northern Vietnam by villagers living in the rice fields. Hanoi’s water puppet theater has stage filled with water to replicate the tradition. While the performance is done in Vietnamese, the artistry and music is stunning and entertaining without words. The theater is quite small, so even the cheap seats are good.
We wandered up to west lake, picked up our first loaf of brown bread in weeks from a French bakery and sat eating banana sambos on a bench! Happy days! Thankfully the French did introduce patisseries while they were here!Another amazing culinary discovery in a land barren of soya products was the humble iced avocado coffee. Vietnam is one of the largest coffee producers in the world and they have their own unique style! Unlike what we’re used to back in Europe with coffee made from Arabica beans, they produce Robusta beans (i.e. the stuff used for rank instant coffee). So their signature coffee is the Saigon coffee; you get a cup with a drip filter that sits on top with the ground coffee inside. Then the water is poured on top and takes about 10 minutes to filter through. Then you get a separate glass with ice and you pour the super-strength tar-like coffee over the ice. At least this coffee was readily available, unlike the coveted civet-cat-poo coffee that we were so intrigued to sample! (FYI this coffee is made from the coffee beans that have passed through the digestive system of a civet cat, giving it some extra enzymes that supposedly make it extra yummy and the most expensive coffee in the world). Unfortunately, our little white faces only drew a load of attempts to sell us fake, over-priced, replica beans, so we missed out.After that we walked along and peeked over a wall only to find kung fu martial arts going down with samurai swords, num chucks and spears!Other dinners we had were in pretty dodgy eateries where we had other Vietnamese delicacies like bun cha (chargrilled pork and noodles) and our fav Vietnamese dish so far bun bo nam (beef, noodles, broth, crispy onions).We visited the prison, built by brutal, oppressive French colonists, which was later used to imprison US pilots that were shot down (including John McCain), who sarcastically nicknamed it the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. It was recently the 60th anniversary of Vietnam’s independence from the French so there was extra exhibitions and it was very interesting to learn a bit about their turbulent and violent history.
Phạm Ngũ Lão
The Khao San of Saigon was discovered quite serendipitously. Like match boxes stacked next to each other, were hostels, inns, hotels and restaurants. Sprinkled generously on the roadside were low tables, and stools. All set for an impromptu brunch, lunch or a drink. Whatever you are in the mood for. The quirky sight was so Saigon. Winding through alleys and back alleys, we found Ngoc Tho, the vegetarian restaurant. Originally wanting a veg Pho, we ended up ordering exotic looking Vietnam food. The pictures will tell better!
Ho Chi Minh's Residence
Ho Chi Minh chose not to live in the luxurious looking French Palace but a simple wooden house with gardens, trees overlooking a small pond. He moved into this nature-oriented house constructed in a corner of the Presidential Palace's gardens in 1958 and it has been preserved since his death in 1969. The house has two floors and also contains his personal belongings like his bed, clock, desk, typewriter and some books.
Hoa Lo Prison
Next we took a cab to Hoa Lo Prison. The prison was built in 1890s by the French colonialists to hold Vietnamese criminals. Later Vietnamese used the prison to house American prisoners of war. The prison is now a museum , with exhibits telling stories of the Vietnamese communists who were imprisoned, tortured and murdered by the French. Then there are pictures of American Prisoners of War showing how well they were treated by the Vietnamese. As per Vietnamese, due to the nice treatment meted out, the Americans POW used to refer to the prison as "Hanoi Hilton". You'll read a different version on the internet - that American POWs had to go through severe torture in Hoa Lo and they sarcastically coined the nickname "Hanoi Hilton".
St Joseph Cathedral
From the lake we walked towards to the St. Joseph’s cathedral which was all decked up for Christmas Eve. It is the most important Church in the city which was built in 1886 in Gothic revival style to resemble Notre Dame de Paris. We were lucky enough to hear the beautiful voice of a girl singing ‘Silent Night’ in Vietnamese.We ended the day with a sumptuous dinner at one of the eateries called New day in old quarter serving delicious local food. Post dinner, we went to the famous Giang Cafe to try out egg coffee. Now a traditional Vietnamese drink, it was made for the first time by Mr. Giang when there was a shortage of milk in the city and he used egg yolk to get the frothy texture. While now a number of cafes have egg coffee on their menu, they all come second to having it at the original cafe which is now run by Mr. Giang’s son. We found the coffee to be super delicious and I even tried the egg coffee with chocolate. There are a number of variations having rum, beer etc. Maybe next time !!
Little Hanoi Hostel
$6 for a dorm bed, $18 for a private room Little Hanoi quickly felt like home. The staff speaks excellent English and is so nice and accommodating, the rooms are as nice as a high end hotel, and they offer free coffee, tea, and fruit all day. The breakfast is satisfying with fruit, made to order omelets, bread, rice, noodles, and veggies. They also have a great location in the Old Quarter.
Hanoi Old Quarter Hotel
A maze of over 50 streets, the Old Quarter is busy, noisy and a colourful assault on your senses and reflects the true spirit of Hanoi. With hawkers selling the most inviting fare, the scent of which will reach you even from a distance, this place is a paradise for food lovers and shoppers alike. From clothes, cosmetics, perfumes, handicrafts, medicines, jewellery to religious offerings and spices - you can find practically everything here. The traffic is disorderly and there is a good chance that you will get lost if you don't follow a map, so keep your eyes open and bargain as much as you can. It is also the right place to sample local beer, coffee and traditional Vietnamese food. Getting there: Walking is a pleasant experience in Hanoi because the public transport isn't really great; however, if in case your legs are not up to it, you can always take a taxi but beware of faulty meters (the flag fall is around 20,000 VND for about 2km). Additionally, you could take the electric train for a journey around the Old Quarter. Hailing a cyclo is a good idea only if you can bargain and decide on a price before getting on because the drivers grossly overcharge.
The Hanoi Social Club
$3 to $7 This darling little café is definitely a tourist/expat spot but we all need these meccas when traveling. The menu has a selection of salads and other healthy dishes, including energy balls, and this is the only place I’ve found in Vietnam with brown rice. Check their schedule for nights when they have live music.
Hanoi Backpackers Hostel the Original
$7.50 for a dorm bed, $25 for a private room If you’re traveling solo and hoping to meet other backpackers, this is the place to stay. Nightly events, pub crawls, high quality tours, and an Australian staff make it an approachable place to begin your travels. They have a new hostel with great facilities smack dab in the old quarter with an onsite bar and restaurant. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, the original location is much more chill. The price includes a small breakfast of either eggs or fruit salad.
If you are planning to do some shopping in Dong Xuan market... you will be disappointed. This market is more of a textile market. If you are interested in buying shoes, it is located at level 1. Other than that, this market generally sells textiles and dry goods. You are better off doing your cheap shopping at the Old Quarters night market.
Nhà Hàng Hải Cảng
The streets of Hanoi are quite chaotic, full of honking motorists carrying everything from cartons of eggs to tourists, lumbering cars and trucks, bikes, and pedestrians who stroll confidently through the melee. It's quite hard to get used to walking around without feeling like you will get run over at any second, but I've learned it's all about being aware of the flow of traffic, and stepping in with composure and assurance. Motorists will avoid you, as long as you keep moving forward at a steady pace. At nights the streets grow even livelier. People gather in large groups to dine communally at large eateries, where the stools spill out onto the sidewalks. Offering no frills at all, each eating hub serves a few special dishes. Rarely is one presented with some sort of menu; for outsiders such as myself, the best strategy is to watch what the locals are eating and point. At other street corners, groups of people hunch over hot lemon tea, cheap beer, and munch sunflower seeds, holding lively conversations and watching interesting happenings on the streets.
Press Club Hanoi
I stayed overnight in the Sofitel Metropole. It’s a beautiful colonial building with three restaurants. It’s split across two wings, my preference being the Opera wing as I feel it has more of the French colonial atmosphere. If you want to venture out for food, then I’d recommend the Wild Rice Restaurant for fantastic Vietnamese cuisine, or the Press Club located just across the street from the Metropole Hotel.
t was really peaceful being away from the traffic, and the grounds within the walls were beautiful; filled with bonsai trees and gorgeous palatial buildings. Many of them were covered in mosaic made from smashed up crockery. In most places the architecture had been restored to its former glory but there were still some buildings in ruins, and big craters in some of the walls where gunfire had damaged the brickwork, which Pete obviously found fascinating. We spent the remainder of the day wandering back through the streets of Hue, crossing the bridge over the perfume river just before sunset.
Bảo tàng Dân tộc học
We took a cab to Museum of Ethnology, my favorite part of the tour. The museum gives insights into different ethnic groups of Vietnam . There are full scale replicas of various type of Vietnamese homes. Some of the tribes were matriarchal with fascinating traditions. Inside Vietnamese homes, there is usually an altar, to pray to the ancestors, located in a prominent place. Outside most of the houses, there is a spirits house to guard against the evil.
Hanoi Backpackers' Hostel on Ma May
This is one for gap-year students and party fanatics. I walked-in to painted faces and loud Beer-pong contests. You know you are going to have a hungover morning when you are hanging at the bar and your backpack is at the reception within five minutes of checking in. There is a Doner Kebab stall right next to the hostel for curing drunk, late-night munchies.
Ngoc Son Temple
On as island at the northern part of the lake stands Ngoc Son or Jade Mountain temple, one of the most beautiful and religious sites in the capital. It is one of the most visited temples in Hanoi. The temple was established by a mandarin named Nguyen Van Sieu and is dedicated to the spirits of the soil, medicine, literature, and also to Tran Hung Dao, the general who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century. A beautiful symbol of Vietnamese architecture, the well lit scarlet bridge joins the island to the shore. This temple was worshipped by the people to gain victory over the Yuan. There is also a martyrs' monument nearby built as an ode to the people who died fighting in the Vietnam War.
Vietnamese Women's Museum
Best way to know more about the history of a country is to hear the stories from a war veteran, but if you do not get a chance to speak to one don’t be disheartened. Vietnam is dotted with Museums and sites of historic importance and a quick visit to them will take you back in time. The Cu Chi Tunnels in Saigon showcases the Viet Cong method of warfare and is very interesting to know how they survived during the American War, The War Museum offer could be your one stop solution to know the facts of the war it has neat display of weaponry used during that time. Another interesting Museum is the Women’s Museum in Hanoi which features excerpt of influential women in history and also how the role of a women has changed over time.The big cities of Vietnam offers a high octane living, even the utterly chaotic traffic starts growing on you after a couple of days. There are a number of scams brimming in here but that should not hinder your desire to explore this varied country. The locals are warm and friendly, largely in the countryside, eager to know more about you or to just say hi. The diverse culture will be a shock to you at first but before you know it this wonderful country will welcome you in its rhythm and you will be swaying in the power packed life of Vietnam.
With basic rooms and a central location in the Old Quarter, Hotel Bodega is a solid choice. The staff is unerringly pleasant and went out of their way to help us with everything we could have needed. They also book tours from their desk, but if you step out on your own and scout around a little, you are more likely to get a sightly better deal. Overall, if you are looking for a little quiet at hostel prices, this is definitely the place for you.
Hotel de l'Opera Hanoi - MGallery Collection
A part of the Accor group of hotels, Hanoi's newest luxury boutique hotel is possibly one of the nicest places to stay in. With a sophisticated modern design that has elements of Hanoi's French colonial past, the interiors are theatrical more than anything else. With large, comfortable, tastefully decorated rooms and equally fancy bathrooms, this stylish place comes at a price but is worth every penny. The location is perfect too - it is nestled between the Opera House and the Hoan Kiem Lake. The excellent service is the icing on the cake. The rates begin from about 150 USD for a night and WiFi is complimentary (and fast). Visit www.mgallery.com for more information and bookings.
$1 admission An excellent museum for any city in the world, the Women’s Museum houses a large collection of traditional costumes, jewelry, and housewares to demonstrate life and customs for women in Vietnam. They currently have an exhibition dedicated to the Mother Goddess religion in Vietnam.
Museum of Ethnology
This museum showcases a collection of tribal art, artifacts and everyday objects gathered from across Vietnam. This is the best place to get to know the Vietnamese minorities better. The museum was opened to the public in 1997 and can be visited between 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, Tuesday to Sunday. A craft show sells an assortment of books, gorgeous postcards, and arts and crafts from these communities.
Văn phòng Chủ tịch nước
Moving a few steps ahead, right next to the mausoleum is the Presidential Palace (Văn phòng Chủ tịch nước). It was built by the French colonialists as a palace of the General Indochina Governor. You will be able to see the beautiful French architecture that it has. Since 1954, the Vietnamese Government has taken over this Palace to house the President. But because of the painful past that this place has witnessed, Ho Chi Minh refused to live here. So, it was used as the Presidential Palace for high-ranking level diplomatic meetings.
Sapa Vietnam ( Sapa Vietnam Daily Trekking Tours
We trekked from Sapa into the surrounding hills and stayed with a family in a remote hill tribe village. We drove into the mountains and on to the picturesque minority hill tribe town of Sapa, set amidst mountain scenery and in the shadow of Vietnam's tallest peak, Mt. FansipanTh next day we set out on an adventurous two-day trek up the Muong Hoa River Valley, with its lush vegetation and rice terraces. We spent the night in the cosy longhouse belonging to one of the local families. After indulging in a hearty hill tribe breakfast, we got picked up by jeeps and driven back to Sapa.We headed back to Lao Cai where we boarded the overnight train to Hanoi