Hanoi is Vietnam’s eclectic capital, located right up in the North of Vietnam. Different from Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi is a curious mixture of eastern and western influences. The city still bears the traces of the French invasion distinguishing it from most other Asian cities. The streets here buzz with the sound of millions of mopeds and vendors hawking their wares and there is a certain charm about the ambiance this creates.
From the striking architecture to the culinary haunts that hide away in crevices around the city, there’s plenty to see, do and eat in Hanoi. The trouble is finding the time to do it all. Hanoi is a perfect stop and resting point before or after your Mekong River cruise. To get you started, here are some things you shouldn’t miss during your time in Hanoi.
If you aren’t familiar with Vietnamese cuisine then you are in for a real treat. Vietnamese food is among the best in the world and in Vietnam you can order delicious home-cooked food for just a couple of dollars. Unfortunately, when you get home, you won’t have this same luxury. So, why not learn how to make it yourself? There are dozens of cooking schools all over Hanoi that will teach you how to make some of Vietnam’s tastiest dishes. Best of all, you get to eat everything you cook at the end of the class!
After being inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010, the citadel was opened up to the public in 2012. The complex dates back to 1010 and originally contained a royal palace among other structures. Unfortunately, many of the original structures were torn down during the French conquest of Vietnam and in the unrest during the 20th century. Nowadays, the site has been wonderfully repaired and is great to wander around for a few hours.
Hoa Lo was a prison for American prisoners of war (POWs) during the Vietnam War. The conditions were pretty miserable, causing those detained there to give it the ironic nickname “the Hanoi Hilton”. Today, the site is no longer a prison but has been turned into a museum that depicts Vietnam’s fight for independence. There are some gruesome relics within the museum along with interesting details of Vietnam’s history. The museum is one of the most important stops on the route of the Vietnam War sites.
Most people who travel to Vietnam will have Halong Bay Cruise on their to-do list. Just outside the city of Hanoi, this UNESCO World Heritage site is truly the gem in Vietnam’s crown. Craggy, limestone cliffs covered with lush vegetation sit on their own little islands, peppering the turquoise water of the bay. Visitors can choose between kayaking tours and multi-day junk boat tours to explore the area.
The Old Quarter gives travelers a taste of what Vietnam would have been like back in the day. Whether on an organized Hanoi tour or exploring on your own, you will definitely spend some time in the area. Here, colorful buildings line the streets, interrupted by sprawling markets and street food vendors. This is the perfect place to wander around aimlessly for a few hours. Soak up the sights and sounds, try some street food and stop in one of the bars for the incredibly cheap and surprisingly delicious local beer Bia Hoi. You might even want to try a cup of coffee while you’re here, but beware, they go hard on the condensed milk here so the coffee is very sweet.
There is nothing humble about the huge, magnificent mausoleum dedicated to the military leader Ho Chi Minh. The marble edifice houses the glass sarcophagus in which Ho Chi Minh’s body can be found. It is quite a sight to behold and worth visiting while you are in Hanoi. Be sure to dress modestly when you are there and, if you can, time your visit to coincide with the changing of the guards. This ceremony is even more extravagant than that of Buckingham Palace in London and is not to be missed.
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