Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam was recently ranked the 2nd in “top 25 destinations in Asia” by Tripadvisor. My lovely hometown packs in its tiny size thousands of years of histories and traditions. It’s an ambitious and energetic city that is always on the move. More than ever it resemble its old name “Ascending Dragon”, as what it used to be called a thousand years ago. One cannot help but feel overwhelmed by Hanoi’s constantly fast-paced streams of activities. You will see flocks of motorbikes and pedestrians flowing from all directions, businesses being carried out, people greeting and chatting in every small corner of the street. It is such a welcoming and personal atmosphere that it makes every visitor want to be part of it. Modernization intertwined with traditionalism, Hanoi is a charming epitome of coexistence between the East and the West. This mini guide will take you through various locations and activities worth checking out in Hanoi.
What to See
Lake of the Restored Sword/Ngoc Son Temple/Tortoise Tower
This is a must see trio for every tourist to Hanoi. Located in the center of the city and surrounded by local restaurants and shopping centers, Hoan Kiem Lake (or Lake of the Restored Sword) should be your first stop in your touring agenda. It’s not only well-known for its ancient and symbolizing story but also for it’s the center of tourism and economics of Hanoi. Hoan Kiem Lake presents the dynamic everyday activities of Hanoians. This area provides endless people watching opportunities
Temple of Literature & National University
Vietnam’s first national university since 1070. This is where exams, study sessions of Confucianism took place a thousand years ago. This place is dedicated to the Confucius and his religion as well as other scholars and sages throughout the history of the country. At the present time, thousands of students still visit every day to pray before their exams.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
This theater performs a unique and ancient form of art in Vietnam that you don’t see anywhere else, water puppet. The puppets are very well handled and the performances themselves are charming and full of traditions and history.
One Pillar Pagoda
This historic Buddhist temple is known for its architectural structure resembling a lotus over the water. One the oldest temples in Vietnam, it features a beautiful garden and was built on a single stone pillar above the water.
A small corner of Hanoi packed with 40 old busy streets presenting the everyday life of this robust city. Each street is named by its main specialty goods or services. There are thousands of shops selling all kinds of goods in the world. Just think of it as a very big outdoor mall. Everyone gathers here for the best of food, drinks and shopping. Walking through these tiny little streets is the finest way to explore Hanoi.
Backstreets: things that every Hanoian does and you should too
Sidewalk Coffee: Vietnam is known for its coffee export. There is plenty of coffee shops in every corner of Hanoi’s streets. This is everyone’s most common hobby. Everywhere you go, you would see people sitting on little plastic chairs on the sidewalk enjoying their favorite coffee and chatting as well as people watching.
Night Market at Springfield Market: This market is crowded during the day, but it’s even more at night. It resembles street fairs in America with plenty of makeshift kiosks on a main road. The night market is open from 7pm every Friday and Saturday
Trang Tien: once the center of commerce in Hanoi, this area features an array of art galleries.
Fun for free
Don’t miss out on watching the sunrise on Long Bien Bridge, a historic bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel, who built the Eiffel Tower.
Watching sunset at the West Lake: a fun and free activity at the biggest lake in Hanoi. Walking alongside the lake you can see a lot of graffitis on walls (also on the streets). This is a popular gathering spot for young Hanoians.
What to eat
Street food is everywhere! The most interesting thing you must try is eating food from a street hawkers, mobile food stands whose owners get customers pretty much by shouting out their food. This is the most fun way to have a bite at Vietnamese cuisine. Explore some of the most popular street food here. Restaurants that serve international food, especially Japanese and Korean food, are ubiquitous. For someone who craves fast food, there are fast food chains like Pizza Hut, KFC and Starbucks, whose menus have been adjusted to fit Vietnamese’ flavor palette.
Hanoi is not known for its night life, stores are usually closed at night. But the street food scene is still very much alive and thriving. For a drink, visit the local pubs in the Old Quarter for a rustic quiet feel and/or an opportunity to people watch depending on the location. Dragonfly Bar Lounge is for younger people who just want a drink and are not much into dancing. Visit Minh’s Jazz Club for live music performances. It’s all there if you look for it.
The most common means of transportation for tourists are taxis. They are relatively cheap and easy to catch. Also try scooter taxis, people who offer rides on motorbikes instead of cars. There are buses that offer services until midnight and are very cheap per ticket (5.000 dong aka 50 cent). Electric shuttles and cyclo rides are offered strictly in the Old Quarter. Be aware of scams and pocket thieves when you travel in crowded areas.