My friend and I started the trip with Hanoi, Vietnam's Capital. It's a busy city that wakes up early. Life begins at 7 am here. You'll find the city buzzing with horns of cars and motorbikes (common mode of transport). Every shop/business establishment has a Vietnamese flag. The driving (left-side) and traffic are similar to that in India, where no traffic rules are followed and you can cross the road whenever you wish to. However, the population density per sq.km is very low. One of the most noticeable things about Vietnam is the number of women driving bikes.
Best Time To Visit
Best time to visit Hanoi is from December to February
How To Reach
Book a Package Tour
Hoan Kiem Lake
'Lake Of The Restored Sword' or the Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the most scenic spots in Vietnam. Closely knit with its mythology, with a nice story about how the lake got its name (in the 15th century during the Ming Chinese invasion, general Le Loi was presented with a holy sword. With the help of this sword he expelled the Chinese from Thang Long, present-day of Hanoi and proclaimed himself as King Le Thai To.), this place is also a spot for most public celebrations in Vietnam. Situated in the Old Quarter this lake is a great place to stop by and gain a foothold in Hanoi. Much of the city's culture, fashion and food surrounds this lake.
One Pillar Pagoda
The One Pillar Pagoda is one of the most iconic Buddhist temples in Vietnam. It was built out of gratitude on the birth of his son by Emperor Ly Thai Tong (He dreamed of a Goddess blessing him with a son) and was the center for celebrations each year on the birthday of Gautam Budhha. Carved delicately in wood on top of a single stone, this temple marks the beauty of Vietnamese architecture. In 1954, the pagoda was destroyed by the French before their withdrawal. After taking over the city on October 10th, 1954, Vietnam Ministry of Culture restored the pagoda. The pagoda of today has remained since this restoration.
Temple of Literature & National University
Tapping into Vietnam's scholarly past, many travelers find this place both culturally relevant and a peaceful retreat from the main city. Surrounded by lush green gardens, this temple is dedicated to Confucius and other scholars of the 11th century. Built in 1070, this is where the first National Vietnamese University - 'Imperial Academy' is set up. There is a large pond on the premises called the Well of Heavenly Clarity. Many local students come here to pay respects and get some blessing and luck before giving any important exams. This temple gives a peek into around a century of Vietnam's history and culture. It is one of the top recommended spots to visit in Hanoi.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Vietnamese: Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh) is a large memorial in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is located in the centre of Ba Dinh Square, which is the place where Vietminh leader Ho Chi Minh, Chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam from 1951 until his death in 1969, read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
The Ethnology Museum in Hanoi researches and exhibits various ethnic groups of Vietnam. It includes around 54 ethnic groups and is considered to be one of the finest museums in Vietnam. It is rated as a top spot by various experts and travelers in Vietnam. A reflection of modern architecture this museum was opened in 1995. The museum includes elaborate and colorful hill-tribe costumes, weaving designs, musical instruments, fishing implements, work tools and other functional objects. The display continues on to the garden outside with fascinating examples of minority housing from the King’s to the ones of the ethnic groups in Central Highlands.
Phạm Ngũ Lão
Pham Ngu Lao is the heart of backpackers area in Ho Chi Minh city, overrun with foreign people in cafes and bars. Instead, the real busy Vietnam life of Ho Chi Minh city lies in areas outside Pham Ngu Lao and District 1. Nha Trang and Mui Ne are great beach side cities with a number of both luxurious resorts and backpacker hostels established along the 20 Km costal line.
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.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
Popped by the famous Thang Long Water puppet show located at 57B Dinh Tien Hoang, an enchanting puppet show showcasing historical legends and tales from the past. Many traditional old Vietnamese speak French, and I see french scattered all around. Marionnettes sur eau du Vietnam can be translated to mean 'Water puppetry of Vietnam'. It's a fascinating cultural experience if you want to get to know more about traditional Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
The communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh is much revered by the Vietnamese. His mausoleum is as grand as his image demands. Established in the place where Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence, the mausoleum is built of marble, much in the style of those of Stalin and Lenin. The embalmed body of the leader was laid to rest here and the whole structure was erected keeping in mind the traditional Vietnamese motifs. There are guards all over the place, which signifies the respect this place demands from the locals as well as the tourists. Along with the Mausoleum, we also visit his (Ho Chi Minh's) house on stilt, the botanical garden and the Presidential palace, which used to be the residence of the Governor of Indochina. After 1954, it was named the Presidential Palace and became the place where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked until he passed away in 1969.
Hoa Lo Prison
Hoa Lo Prison has an interesting history. The French used the prison to detain Vietnamese political prisoners during their era of rule, and then Hoa Lo was used for captured American POWs during the Vietnam War. Only part of the building is still intact, and preserved as a historical site; sadly, much of the space has been taken over to build new high-rise buildings. The prison tour was quite an interesting experience, seeing how the government presents its historical perspectives. For one, it focuses mostly on the French brutal treatment of Vietnamese prisoners, and only dedicates the last part of the tour to the American experience. Additionally, it tries to claim that the Americans experienced benevolent treatment in the prison, showing videos of POWs laughing, playing games, eating good meals, and even celebrating Christmas. You would think from their claims that the Americans were honored guests rather than enemy soldiers. Indeed, there is a bit of irony in the nickname "Hanoi Hilton," created by the Americans. They chose this nickname ironically, yet the description in the prison uses this American nickname as literal proof of the fine experience that the Americans received. Yet I'm sure there must be some grain of truth to their claims. There always exist multiple histories amongst all the sides of any conflict, and I'm aware that I've only grown up with the American one.
Around 5pm we took a cab toWest lake, the largest freshwater lake in Hanoi. There are many historic places of interest around the lake including the oldest Vietnamwese Pagoda and one of their sacred temples. Some of the biggest hotels in the city are also located near the lake. We walked a bit around the lake and then settled at a small cafe to enjoy the sunset. After the sunset we walked a bit more and went into a small pub called 'Red River' . It had a unique concept of serving only drinks while one can order food from other nearby restaurants. They provided menus of different restaurants to us. After dinner we headed back to the hotel for an early night as we had a early start the next day.Day 4: Ha Long Bay
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.
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.
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.
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 !!
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.
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.
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.
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.
$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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.