7 years after I first visited Vietnam, I got a chance to visit Hanoi. Country’s capital city has everything you want – quaint Old Town streets, roadside drinking, small alleys crammed with food stalls and monuments honoring Vietnam’s history. With population of around 10 million, Hanoi is not as overwhelming as Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. The city is a perfect mixture of old and new, modern & traditional.
Usually Hanoi is considered as a getaway city for the Halong Bay tours or towards the Sapa Valley but it is a good place for a couple of days to enjoy the vibe and hustle bustle of the city.
Most nationalities required Visa for Vietnam. There is an -evisa for Indians for 25$ and its good to enter via air. I’d also recommend prearranging a transfer from the airport to your hotel, just to make your life easier. If your hotel doesn’t have an airport shuttle service of its own, you may want to look into arranging a private transfer with a private provider. Because its easy to get conned by Taxis here.
Most attractions, coffee places, party areas are around the Old Town or near Hoan Kiem Lake. So I recommend look for hotels in this area. From here almost everything is like walking distance. Start your city tour with the Old quarter This is the historical and commercial center of the city and dates back to when it was originally founded around 1,000 years ago. While officially the Old Quarter is only made up of 16 streets, there are number of tiny lanes and alleys. Most streets are named after the goods or services on offer there.
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built in the 11th century, it was the hub of political power in Vietnam for a long time. One can easily spend hours exploring the grounds. And despite being right in the heart of the city, this is actually a peaceful spot to wander.
A visit to Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of the city is a must when visiting Hanoi. There’s something going on here all hours of the day and a stroll around the lake makes for some good people-watching and a chance to relax. When I visited here, there was a Japanese Flower Festival taking place. One could see the Cherry Blossom setup and people roaming around in the traditional costumes.
On the northeastern edge of the lake you’ll find Ngoc Son Pagoda. The tickets to pagoda cost 20000 VND. Ngoc Son Pagoda is an ancient building set in the middle of the lake and was built to honor the military leader Tran Hung Dao. It also commemorates the legend of a Vietnamese emperor who is said to have used an enchanted sword to beat the Chinese Ming Dynasty, which he then returned to Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Returned Sword) and the Golden Turtle God.The pagoda can be reached via an ornamental, red wooden bridge with a small entrance fee. Even today there are turtles living in the lake. Nearby there is Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre that can be found in the area. Pick up tickets in advance if you want to catch a show.
Catch a taxi to the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. This huge granite complex in the middle of Ba Dinh Square represents a big part of Vietnam’s history and culture. Inside, in a glass case, lies the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh, or Uncle Ho as he is lovingly called by many Vietnamese people to this day.
There’s a very unique attraction in Hanoi that wasn’t built for tourists at all- Hanoi Train Street. The Hanoi railway snakes through the city. Train Street is a residential area that is built precariously close to the train line in the Old Quarter Hanoi. Pull up a little plastic stool, grab a drink and chat to the locals. It’s fascinating to see that when it is close to the time the train comes through everyone has to start moving their things away from the side of the tracks. There is one train at 9 am which one can catch without loads of selfie-goers.
Tired of all the roaming around? Grab some Pho near St. Joseph’s Cathedral at Pho 10 Hanoi. Famous for over 30 years, the noodle soup of Pho 10 still occupies the hearts of many Hanoians. With an abundant menu, Pho Ly Quoc Su gives customers diversity of choices from beef noodle with thinly sliced steak to one with roast beef… depending on each preference. And “quẩy” is a must – tried item in all the Pho stalls.
Head to Giang Café at 39 Nguyễn Huu Huan Street in Hoan Kiem District serves the local specialty: egg coffee. It’s more like a rich, creamy custard served with coffee – a must-try if you’re serious about your coffee. Another place for good egg coffee is Cafe Dinh.
Also in the Old Quarter you’ll find Bia Hoi Corner, a popular nightlife spot for both locals and visitors. This is where, as soon as the sun starts to go down, plastic chairs fill the sidewalk and spill out into the street, populated with people drinking cheap Vietnamese beer. The atmosphere is low-key but lively and a fun way to spend a couple of evening hours people-watching.
If you have more time, going on a short ride away from the central city of Hanoi, a whole different landscape reveals. The lush green paddy fields, mountains, ancient villages and old-time citadels intertwine in a traditional way of life. Hanoi’s outskirt is a good destination for out-of-city excursions, short treks and biking tours to Sa Pa, Halong Bay or Ninh Binh.
Wander around, get lost, and take in the endless flow of sights and sounds, beautiful colonial architecture, tiny old cafes and quaint Buddhist pagodas that makes Hanoi so unmistakable and charming.