Hanoi; while it wasn’t love at first sight I definitely grew to love the city at second sight. Hanoi is lively, with beautiful chaos, home of the best street foods of the world and home of a couple of beautiful places that you need to discover. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that.
At first I thought that one day was enough to see all the highlights of the city – as there aren’t many museums or as the city isn’t that big. In the end I am glad that I booked more than one day and after three days I still felt like I only saw a small part of the city. Which is probably true.
The highlights of Hanoi include more than just a couple of monuments. The actual highlight of Hanoi exist out of discovering the chaos and the ambiance of the city. Hanoi is a place where you need to wander, follow your nose, the people and the colors. However, as in all cities, we do want to learn about the history and about the culture. While the streets of Hanoi are a perfect place to learn about the culture, I am going to give you 10 things to start your trip with: 10 things you must absolutely do while you are in town!
Visit the Hao Lo Prison – I’ve learned a lot about the Vietnamese War while I was still in high school. I’ve learned about the things that took place, I saw the photos and I read the statistics. However only once you see the scars of the war up close and for yourself, you start to understand the damage and the impact. You start to understand the hurt and you start to ask the questions ‘Why?’. The Hao Lo Prison was used during the Vietnamese War to lock the political ‘criminals’ away, and now tells you all about the cruelty that took place here. The Hao Lo Prison is an impressive must visit of Hanoi and while it definitely isn’t ‘fun’ to see, it is a valuable lesson you can’t skip while in Hanoi.
Walk through the Mausoleum – Always thought about seeing the body of Ho Chi Minh? Well guess what: you can. The Mausoleum is Ho Chi Minh’s last resting place and is open to see for visitors of Hanoi. Seeing the body of Ho Chi Minh definitely was not my favorite thing to do in Hanoi. It feels weird how people can make an attraction out of a dead body. However, it did help me learn to understand the importance of Ho Chi Minh and everything he did for the freedom of Vietnam. Close to the Mausoleum you’ll also find the former house and gardens of Ho Chi Minh and the museum about his life and achievements. Definitely a piece of history you can’t miss!
Learn in the Women’s Museum – When everyone recommended me to go to the Women’s Museum I decided that that would be the first thing on my itinerary. The Women’s Museum is literally a museum about the women of Vietnam. It teaches you all about the traditions, about marriage, children, work and historical women who made a difference in Vietnam. The Women’s Museum is one of the top rated museums of Vietnam and believe me: it won’t disappoint.
Discover the old quarter – Oh how I love the old quarter of Hanoi. While at first sight it is hectic, with loads of scooters, people and narrow streets it is beautiful. I only saw how beautiful it was at second sight, but yep: it is definitely beautiful. You probably won’t have enough time, eyes and ears to see the old quarter completely. But you’ll come a long way in a couple of days. Explore the streets, explore the shops, explore the markets, explore the bars and explore the street food and you’ll fall in love with the old quarter.
Enjoy one of the Water puppet theaters – Uhm, yes. In a couple of theaters in Vietnam you can watch a water puppet show. A show where you’ll see puppets in the water perform Vietnamese traditions complete with Vietnamese talks and music. While this 45 minutes is more comical than anything else, I think you should see a water puppet theatre show. This ancient old art and form of entertainment is a ‘only in Vietnam’ thing and therefor something you don’t want to miss. It isn’t that expensive and time consuming so easy to fit into your busy schedule as well!
Explore the night market – I loved strolling over the night market. Purely because Hanoi is a completely different city at night as it is during day time. The scooters disappear, backpackers and locals go into the old quarter to dine and to enjoy their nights and more shops and bars open their doors than they do during daytime. While the streets are more crowded with people it feels calmer because the scooters aren’t allowed in this part of town anymore.
The night market is more than just seeing a market and you definitely shouldn’t miss a quick stroll through the center at night!
Chill at the Hoan Kiem Lake – The center of Hanoi, a chill out spot for many locals and tourists and one of the greenest and relaxed places you will be able to find in Hanoi. Oh, as well as it is the home of Ngoc Son Temple. I met people who visited Hoan Kiem Lake early in the morning (during sunrise) and late in the evening (after sunset). I was one of those people who just visited it during the day. What it comes down to? The Hoan Kiem Lake is always beautiful to visit. However: when I saw the photos of the Hoan Kiem Lake at night I was a bit sad that I had missed that!
Visit the Temple of Literature – Now, I wasn’t lucky enough to visit the Temple of Literature because it was already closed at the moment I found out about the existence of it. However, I am still putting it on this list because I would have loved to visit it for myself. The Temple of Literature is the homebase of Hanoi’s first University, and it just looks absolutely beautiful. The temples are a lovely part of busy Hanoi and one of the most visited monuments of the city!
Explore the street foods – Hanoi, just as Bangkok and other big Asian cities, is filled with small little street food places where you just need to taste one or another recipe. Next to the fact that it is enormously cheap, it is probably the most delicious Asian food you’ll taste in a while. As there are so many street food places I would recommend you to follow your nose and ask your hotel/hostel which places they adore!
Take a cooking class – Just as you will find them a lot in Hoi Ann, Hanoi offers a lot of cooking classes so you can learn how to make the most delicious Vietnamese recipes. A lot of fun and rewarding as you can go home with a little bit of Asia for your kitchen! Again: as there are so many cooking classes you can follow, ask your hotel/hostel which ones they recommend!