15 Apr Guide to Hanoi
Many people have the impression that the capital of Vietnam is Ho Chi Min City or Saigon; perhaps it is also due to HCMC being Vietnam’s economy hub and also the largest city in the country. However, in actual fact, Hanoi, the political hub, is the capital city of Vietnam. From 1954 to 1976, Hanoi was the capital of the communist regime in North Vietnam and after the Vietnam War ended in 1976, it continued as the capital of a unified Vietnam. Hanoi is the only city in tropical Southeast Asia to experience the four distinct seasons. It is hot and humid in Summer, yet dry and cold in Winter. There is a fascinating mix of old and new Vietnam, with Chinese and French influences, ancient culture, colonial architecture and beautiful lakes. There are several landmarks in Hanoi, including the Old Quarter, lakes, museums and most notably the ever-popular Halong Bay.
Taxis are the cheapest and the best way to travel around Hanoi. There are several taxi companies operating in Hanoi itself and each charges a different fare. Sometimes, drivers will take a bigger route to reach your destination so that he can earn a few extra dongs. The most reliable company in the city is the Hanoi Group Taxi. These taxis are the only white ones around. They are only slightly more expensive but you can be assured of a safe and sound journey.
There are some brave souls who may opt to ride on a motorbike with the disorganized traffic of Vietnam. Motorbike rental is charged at US$5-6 a day. It is a very convenient mode of transport in Hanoi during the peak hours when traffic is not the smoothest. Riders can park their motorbikes anywhere on the sidewalk but be sure to lock the front wheel. If you are visiting a restaurant, you can just get the parking attendee to park the bike for you. The parking fees are charged between 10000 to 20000 dong for an entire day.
=What to See=
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Opening Hours: 8-11am, Closed on Monday & Friday
Ho Chi Minh was the man who unified Vietnam and ended the war, however he died before he can witness the unification of the country. To commemorate his efforts for his country, Saigon City was named after him. But his body is kept at this Mausoleum in Hanoi, the city he grew up in. It is a very solemn and strict affair to be in this mausoleum. You have to be properly attired, meaning no revealing clothes and you cannot take any photographs in the tomb. It is a must to visit this place and see how Ho Chi Minh is held in high regard even till this day.
Admission fee is free.
Ho Chi Minh’s Vestige In The Presidential Palace Area
Address: No. 1 Bach Thao, Ba Dinh
Opening Hours: 730-11am, 2-4pm (Summer); 8-11am, 130-4pm (Winter)
Right across the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the entrance to Ho Chi Minh’s Vestige In The Presidential Palace Area. This is where you get to visit where Ho Chi Minh lived from 1954 till 1969 when he died. You can visit the two houses he lived in and also a car garage with two of the cars used by the Vietnamese leader. One of the luxury cars was a gift from Russia.
Admission fee is 40 000 dong.
Address: Dien Bien Phu St
Opening hours: 8-1130am, 1-430pm, Closed on Monday & Friday
The museum caters to three different languages, Vietnamese, French and English. It features many of the weapons, war machines and history of the Vietnam War such as a MiG-21 jet fighter, T-54 tank and many other items captured.
Admission fee is 30 000 dong.
Hoa Lo Prison
Address: 1 Hoa Lo, Hoan Kiem
Opening Hours: 830-1130am, 1330-1630pm
Known as the Hanoi Hilton, this is the exact place where Americans POWs are held. The French first built the prison and many Vietnamese revolutionaries were imprisoned and executed here. The history of this prison gives it the cold and eeriness. Just as many other museums in Vietnam, they are mostly propaganda and political. Most of the information is trying to give visitors the impression of POWs being treated humanely. Whether or not this is true it up to one to discern.
Admission fee is 20 000 dong.
Temples of Literature
Address: Van Mieu, Dong Da
Opening Hours: 830am-430pm
Also known as the Temple of Confucius, it is Vietnam’s first ever university built in 1070. On New Year’s Day, you will see many graduating students taking photos here. This is a gesture of good luck for their future endeavours as many sages and scholars are also honoured in the temple.
=What to Do=
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Address: 57 Dinh Tien Hoang St
Live musicians with very skillful puppeteers showcasing folk legends form Vietnamese history. It is sung in Vietnamese but the actions are vivid enough for anyone to understand. To add excitement to this cultural show, you will get to witness fire breathing dragon from the puppets too.
Admission fee is 100 000 dong.
St Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi
Address: Nha Tho Street, Hoan Kiem District
Built in the last 19th century, the church is constructed during the Gothic Revival era catering to more than 4 million Catholics in the country. It looks a little worn out and due to heavy pollution but the interiors are none like any other structures in Vietnam. The stained glass windows and pointed features of the walls resemble that of cathedrals in Europe. During Christmas season, the church is decorated with lights and Christmas ornaments, making it a very pretty sight at night. You can attend mass at 6pm on Sunday.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay, which means Bay of Descending Dragons, is a very famous destination for visitors to Hanoi. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its emerald water and thousands of towering limestone islands. The easiest way to get to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi is to book a tour from your hotel. An English-speaking guide will pick you up on a minibus from your hotel in the morning, so you do not have to worry about the transport to the cruise. There are many cruise companies that you book to have a 2 days 1 night stay on a junk. Visiting Ha Long Bay during summer may be hot but your view will not be blocked by fog. The prices range from US$50 to US$130 per person depending on the quality of the cruise you want to be in. Activities are generally similar in every company where you get to kayak, snorkel, fish, learn how to prepare Vietnamese spring rolls and visit massive caves. Food is provided on board for all meals but drinks are not included. Below are some reliable cruise companies:
- Halong Bay Cruises
- Halong Sapa Packages
- Eco Cruise Halong Bay
- Amazing Halong Bay Cruises
=What to Eat=
When one thinks of Vietnam, the first foods that come to mind will be Pho and fresh spring rolls. Undoubtedly the most famous, Pho Ga, chicken noodle soup or Pho Bo, beef noodle soup is a simple dish that is cooked with chicken broth and fish sauce to taste. It is a simple, light and refreshing dish that you can have any time of the day. Each bowl will not cost you more than 50 000 dong. Some roadside stalls even sell them at 15 000 or less per bowl.
The most popular place to have clean and delicious bowls of pho is at chain restaurant Pho 24. They can be found all over Hanoi, so you can just ask your hotel concierge where nearest branch is located from the place you lodge.
Besides the famous Pho, below are some of the most popular places to have a meal if you are seeking to eat where the locals eat:
Xuan Xuan BBQ
Address: 47 Ma May, Hang Buom
In the streets of Ma May, there is this little gem that serves stir fry/bbq beef, pork and chicken. You must order their French baguette to go with the food and never forget a little container of margarine. The difference is massive.
Bahn Mi 25
Address: 25 Hang Ca Street, Hoan Kiem District
The French may have left Vietnam but one thing the Vietnamese picked up is definitely the skills to make very good baguette. Bahn Mi is as good a national dish as Pho Bo. It is a sandwich with minced meat, ham, lots of vegetables, mayonnaise and eggs. Once again, the simplicity of this sandwich brings forth the taste of Vietnam to the fullest.
Dac Kim Bun Cha Restaurant
Address: 2nd Alley, Hang Khoai Street, Hoan Kiem District
Perfectly grilled on charcoal, these tender looking pork, which is marinated right to every fibre of the meat, is perhaps the one dish you are going to regret not having when in Hanoi. Coupled with rice noodles to be dipped in a sauce that is made of chilli, garlic, black pepper, basil, green papaya fruit and fish sauce, get ready to get the party started in your mouth.
Joma Bakery Café
Address: 22 Ly Quoc Su
The pace of Hanoi is very slow. It is perfect to sit in a coffee place, kick back and just let the day pass you by. What better way to do it in a café that serves delicious cakes and pastry. It may be a little pricy but the quality (and hygiene) is guaranteed. Each cake costs around 70 000 dong and a cup of coffee is about 40 000 dong.
Address: 101 Hoang Cau Street, Dong Da Street
Munching on sunflower seeds and beef jerky, while drinking egg coffee and coconut coffee with a group of friends on small stools and small tables is the most Vietnamese way to laze a day away. Head to Cong Caphe as they serve up some of the best coffee. To add on to their appeal, the interior design is in every way Instagram worthy.
=Where to Drink=
Bia Hoi is the local beer brewed in Hanoi. It can be found all over the streets of Old Quarter, and each glass costs only at 5 000 dong. Head to Ta Hien Street where the heart of the party district in Hanoi is. Adjacent to Ta Hien Street is Ma May Street where you can also find many pubs and bars to continue your all night long drinking and partying without ever feeling the burn in your pockets!
=Where to Stay=
Hanoi Legacy Hotel – Hang Bac
Address: 108 Hang Bac, Hoan Kiem
Hanoi Backpackers’ Hostel
Address: 48 Ngo Huyen St, Hoan Kiem
Address: 36 Nguyễn Khuyến, Văn Miếu Đống Đa Hanoi
Address: 136 Hang Trong, Hanoi
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
Address: 15 Ngo Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem