Hanoi was our first stop in Vietnam and it both surprised us and won us over quickly! We stayed here a few separate times – as our first city in Vietnam and then again between trips to Halong Bay and Sapa. We stayed in the Old Quarter each time and really loved the vibe. Making the most of each visit, we tried new restaurants and tours each time and fit in as much of the city as we could!
Hoan Kiem Lake
We spent the mornings going for runs around the lake. The people watching was amazing. There were many times we wandered this area and just took it all in. On weekends they close the roads around the lake and it becomes a sort of festival area. One Saturday we explored it at night and were in awe of how beautiful it was. We saw bands playing, kids jumping rope, older couples dancing and more.
Hanoi Street Food Tour
On one night we spent 3 hours follow our guide, Lotus, through the Old Quarter and trying different street foods. She introduced us to many wonderful restaurants, taught us about local foods and how to eat them, gave us tips for crossing the crazy streets of Hanoi, introduced us to the beers of Vietnam (and beer street), let us try our hand at some Vietnamese food basics and we also made some new friends. After 8 courses of food we called it quits and agreed to go back to several of the restaurants.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum
One full day in Hanoi was spent doing what we deemed “Tourist Olympics” and visiting several main attractions and museums within the city. The first stop of the day was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where we queued up to see Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body. While we weren’t inside for long, it was worth the wait and a very intriguing thing to see. Unfortunately, there are no pictures allowed inside, so you’ll have to take our word for it.
After the mausoleum we went into the Ho Chi Minh Museum and got our history on. Learning more about the Vietnam/American War from the Vietnam perspective, Ho Chi Minh and many of the people involved was interesting and insightful. The museum included a lot of Ho Chi Minh’s personal belongings and a lot of detail on his life.
One Pillar Pagoda
This pagoda was built almost 1000 years ago and sits on stilts over a lake near the mausoleum. It is said that prayers at this little pagoda are meant to bring good health, which we could always use!
Quan Su Pagoda
If you’re going to visit any of Vietnam’s pagodas, this is the one to see. It serves as headquarters for the Vietnam Central Buddhist Congregation and is one of the most important temples in the country. It is absolutely stunning inside!
Hoa Lo Prison Museum
This was one of the most interesting (and upsetting) parts of our time in Hanoi. We explored this famous prison, also known as “Hanoi Hilton”, that was used for U.S. prisoners during the Vietnam War. The prison has a very dark past and learning about some of the living conditions was shocking. The museum itself was very well put together and full of information.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum
There’s a chance this was when our “Tourist Olympics” took a detour and we started to crash. Many people had told us this was a great museum to visit, so we went to check it out. The part about how women were involved in the Vietnam War was particularly interesting since many women has important roles in the war. After wandering the museum for over an hour, we were quite over it and simply ready for a beer and to sit down.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Our day of culture in Hanoi ended with at water puppet show. Water puppet shows are pretty much exactly how it sounds – there is live music involving instruments we never knew existed and people singing, and then puppets coming in and out of the water that put on an amusing performance. It was definitely unique!
One thing that we had to learn quickly here was how to cross the street in the insane traffic here. We had read a few blurbs about how you literally just start walking, because there is never a break in the traffic, and the cars and motorbikes will just swerve around you. Quite nervous on our first attempt, we didn’t get hit and it was just as we read. Vietnamese traffic is wild and kind of a thrill to see and participate in! As our street food tour guide Lotus said, you can cross the roads 2 ways: either you just trust the drivers and start walking or else you still start walking and just close your eyes!!
~Kerry & Jenny