You have arrived in Hanoi and have 24 hours up your sleeve? Have a read for ideas on how best to immerse yourself in this exotic and exciting city, one full of history and bustling with life.
Hanoi the best place to start is the Old Quarter. Clearly the heart of Hanoi, here you will find a mass of activity and great opportunities to cater all tastes. The web of narrow streets and alleys is bustling with traffic and the concept of navigating your way around can be daunting at first.
Travelling by foot is the best way to view the countless small shops, cafes, restaurants and street vendors. Have a quick break at a café and try the Vietnamese coffee: it’s strong and will give you a boost for the rest of the morning. As you stroll the streets you will definitely find that gift you are after be it clothes, souvenirs or a traditional artwork.
There are many art galleries in the Old Quarter with Vietnam tourism and they are definitely worth a look inside. If wandering the busy streets is not your cup of tea then you can hire a cyclo driver to peddle you around the Old Quarter. They usually offer rides for one hour and will only cost a few dollars. Don’t worry about finding them; they will find you.
Photo by Jared Kelly
After a walk around the Old Quarter the next stop on the agenda should be Hoan Kiem Lake. A stroll around the lake is a relaxing contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Old Quarter streets.
At the northern side of the lake you will find the Ngoc Son Temple, situated on an island over the little red bridge. It is a picturesque setting so have your cameras ready.
Photo by Andrew Hux
Express Old Quarter visit: Allow a minimum of 1 hour
Old Quarter, take your time and shop away: 2-3 hours
Hanoi is full of history and if your time here is short the best way to learn about its past is to explore one of the many museums/temples on offer.
Photo by danaspencer
If there is one place to visit it is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum , a grand and powerful structure displaying the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh himself. It is the main attraction in Hanoi and the lines will curl around for hundreds of metres (although the waiting time shouldn’t exceed 20 minutes).
The lines are in constant movement so you will be in and out within a minute. Security is on hand continually watching proceedings and they expect respect from those visiting. Wear long pants and cover your shoulders and don’t plan on taking any photos.
Despite the constraints it is definitely worth the visit. The mausoleum is free and will only allow people in between 8am and around 10am so arrive early. It is a perfect next stop after visiting the Old Quarter. If you are travelling between October and December you will unfortunately have to leave this one off your list as the mausoleum is closed.
Nearby you will find the Ho Chi Minh Museum, Ho Chi Minh Stilt House and Presidential Palace as well as the One Pillar Pagoda.
Allow 2 hours
If you prefer the beauty of the Vietnamese architecture and are a bit of an art lover I would strongly suggest the combination of the Temple of Literature and the Fine Arts Museum.
The temple is beautiful and the tranquil setting is a welcome change to life on the other side of the wall. As for the Fine Arts Museum you will find a mixture of sculptures, painting and ceramics from a range of periods. Usually one floor displays a collection of modern art which often impresses.
Temple of Literature: Quoc Tu Giam Street
Fine Arts Museum: 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
Allow 1-2 hours
The Army Museum has a good display of weaponry with tanks, helicopters and downed aircraft from the war. The museum follows the history of the Vietnamese army concentrating on the French and American wars. There is a huge amount of information here and would be one of the better museums for the kids.
Allow 1 hour
Army Museum: Dien Bien Pho Street
If you’re interested in the Vietnamese minorities then the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is a must. Here you will find a great collection from the numerous minority tribes that situate Vietnam. You will find the typical objects from the village and the materials used to make them.
The museum explains clearly the difference in location and culture of the many minority groups. Outside the museum you will find a number of full scale replica houses, typical of those found in tribal areas. If your next stop is to any of the villages in Vietnam then you should put this museum on your list.
Allow 1.5 hours
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology: Nguyen Van Huyen Street
If your night is free go and check out the traditional Water Puppets show held daily at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre. There are shows from late afternoon into the evening. The tickets are cheap and it will leave you with a truly authentic Vietnamese experience.
Otherwise there is ample choice for bars and nightclubs; a vast supply throughout the Old Quarter. A famous hangout is the Bia Hoi Junction in the middle of the Old Quarter. Here you can sample the local microbrew beer on small plastic seats watching the world go by. This place is popular with the tourists and at 3,000 VND a glass it is easy to know why.
Photo by richard vignola
Photo by richard vignola
Water Puppets: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street
Bia Hoi Junction: Intersection of Ta Hien Street and Luong Ngoc Quyen Street
First and foremost you must try the traditional and famous Vietnamese dish pho. Pho is a noodle soup with either beef or chicken. Pho can be bought on the street for around 20,000 VND per bowl. You don’t have to go far to find a pho and the best way to try it is at one of the street stalls. If that doesn’t appeal to you or the tiny plastic chairs are not accommodating then most restaurants will serve the dish as well.
If you want to eat with the locals I would suggest trying the BBQ on the side of the street. Again you are sitting not far off the ground on small plastic chairs but the food is great and the experience not to be missed. There are many options but Ma May Street in the Old Quarter is a winner.
If you don’t want to go to the street food then let the street food come to you. Quan An Ngan is a large restaurant offering street food in a beautiful courtyard setting. The centralised menu means you can pick your dish from all the options and the waiters will order it from the relevant stall for you. It’s a three stars way to try what the locals eat everyday. This place is always busy with locals and travellers alike. You will find Quan An Ngan at 15 Phan Boi Chau Street.
By far the best way to get around the Old Quarter and surrounds is on foot. Hitting the streets at a slow pace gives you a great view of the culture and commerce around you. If walking the streets is a little too daunting or your legs need a rest you can grab a cyclo driver who are only to willing to show you their town.
Photo by Blue Barnacle
Taxis are in abundance and it is never too hard to find one in Hanoi. No city is without its shortcomings and for Hanoi it must be said that many of the taxi drivers will try to scam tourists on the fare.
This is mainly done by rigged metres randomly jumping in price. I have had many friends tell me how they have been charged over 100,000 VND for a taxi fare that should cost around 40,000 VND.
This can be frustrating and put a damper on your short time in Hanoi. My advice is to stick to the companies you can trust and for me they are Mai Linh Taxi (green emblem on the side of the car) and Hanoi Taxi. If you are pressed for time and need a taxi right away negotiate the price first and tell the driver not to use the metre. For short to medium trips the cost should be 20,000-60,000 VND. Any more than this would probably mean that the driver is being cheeky!
If you are feeling a bit more adventurous I suggest taking a xeom (motorbike taxi). They will take you anywhere you want to go starting from 20,000 VND. It is the next best way to driving the streets after driving a motorbike yourself (if you felt up for this, ask your hotel to organise you a motorbike rental for the day for approximately 100,000 VND) and it gives you the chance to experience the Hanoi traffic from within.
The xeoms are amongst the fastest riders on the streets but I have not met anyone who hasn’t enjoyed themselves on one. As with the cyclos, the xe om are plentiful and drivers will offer their services on nearly every corner of the city.