Travel to Vietnam: What to Do in Hanoi
Hanoi was my first stop on my honeymoon and even though we had a rocky start, it ended up being one of my favorite cities on my 7-City Tour around Southeast Asia. Hanoi is located in Northern Vietnam and used to be the capital. Hanoi is anything but a quaint town, it’s a bustling city, FILLED to the brim with people, most of whom zoom around on Vespas obeying the only traffic rule that exists, don’t hit anyone. Crossing streets here may seem like an impossible feat but once you work up the courage to challenge the bikers, your journey will be well worth it.
Here are my favorite Must-See things to do in Hanoi!
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
How many places can you go and see an embalmed body of a nation’s former leader? Or an embalmed body in general? It’s kind of freaky but the lavishly built marble tribute to “Uncle Ho” is worth a short wait. Be sure to check out the old Presidential Palace, located just north of here.
Hoa Lo Prison
This prison was used originally by French colonists in Vietnam to house political prisoners. Later of course, it was used during the Vietnam War to hold prisoners of war. It was then that it was ironically nicknamed, the Hanoi Hilton. The gatehouse houses a museum, which contains information about the prison’s varied history. It also contains Senator John McCain’s war uniform from his stay there. There are several accounts and terrible allegations as to what went on at Hoa Lo Prison. A visit here is a must for any history buff.
Hoan Kiem Lake
This means, the “Lake of the Restored Sword.” It is located in the city center and is a great place to walk around. Our tour guide told us that “Lovers like to come here and have talks.” Ooh la la. It’s a very scenic lake and provides a little escape from the hustle and bustle . I loved the red bridge that leads to Jade Mountain Temple at its center.
Water Puppet Theater
I know this sounds kind of lame, but I really enjoyed this. Water Puppet Shows date back to the 11th century. Puppeteers stand in waist-deep pools and manipulate lacquer-covered wooden puppets. They are accompanied by a live orchestra, which plays traditional Vietnamese music. The shows are pretty inexpensive and are pretty short. I highly recommend checking out this traditional Vietnamese art-form.
Temple of Literature
This temple is home to the “Imperial Academy,” Vietnam’s first national university. Originally built as a Confucian temple, it contains a variety of artifacts, statues, and more. It is considered one of the nation’s most famous attractions.
If you’re looking for cheap knockoffs, walk down almost any street and you’ll be able to find Converse, Nike, Adidas, Prada, Coach, etc. Of all the cities I visited, Hanoi seemed to have the best selection of these items…if that’s your thing.
Possible Overnight Trip from Hanoi:
Ha Long Bay. This picturesque journey will take you on a boat cruise through 1,600 islands and islets. You will witness a stunning landscape of limestone pillars. Choose your travel time carefully though, if you pick an off day your trip will be a waste of time because you won’t be able to see anything. To get here you can take a 3-4 hour bus, shuttle, train or private car up to this stunning destination. Expect delays though and cancellations without notice on public transport so plan accordingly.
Last Minute Thoughts
The One Pillar Pagoda is regarded as one of Hanoi’s most important sites, it’s a Buddhist temple constructed out of timber and it is perched upon a single pillar of stone. I thought this was cool but you don’t need more than 10 minutes here.
One thing NOT to do, Anh Tuyet cooking school. Our guide convinced us we would have a blast and paid nearly $70 to cook with a pro. This pro never even came downstairs, other than to yell at her teen daughter who was “teaching” us how to cook. I think I knew more than she did. Awful!
Check out one of my favorite hotels in the world that we stayed at in Hanoi. Absolutely stunning: Sofitel Metropole.
Too bad that cooking course was so terrible! When I was in Hanoi I didn’t have time to go to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, but would love to visit next time. Glad to hear you enjoyed Hanoi!- December 1, 2012
Yeah, it’s definitely worth a visit! And that cooking class was terrible with a capital T. I was so bummed too. I thought I was going to walk out of it a master chef! Next trip I’ll have to find a better one.- December 2, 2012
Great article! Thanks for sharing. What other areas of Vietnam did you visit, and will there be posts on them?- December 2, 2012
I visited Hoi An as well and will definitely be posting a list of my favorite things to do there. Do you have a trip planned?- December 2, 2012
Those mannequins in the prison are quite moving, being locked in a sit down position via the ankles can’t be good for circulation, but in war those things don’t matter so much I suppose.- December 3, 2012
Yes, I thought the same thing, but once you see the photos of the other things they did, you’re right that seems like nothing in comparison. So awful.- December 3, 2012
Hi, we are spending 3 nights in Pai then 2 nights in Chiang a Mai then planning on flying to Hanoi, we will gave 7 nights in Vietnam, so you think these timescales are ok. Obviously would love longer but was wondering if you could advise on what else we could do in Vietnam, stick to North or do we have enough time to see more of Vietnam. Loved reading about your experiences. Thanks- February 6, 2014
Hi I think that 7 days in Vietnam should be good. I spent 2 nights in Hanoi and thought that we good. We also visited Hoi An, which was cool. I didn’t make it to Southern Vietnam on this trip though so I’m not the best person to ask about that. I hear it’s pretty cool though. And you should definitely go to Ha Long Bay in the north.- February 11, 2014
Great post! Reading it reminds us of our time travelling round SE Asia which was actually the time we fell in love with travel and it led to us quitting our jobs to travel the world. Hanoi was Anthony’s favourite place in our whole month long tour of SE Asia but Halong Bay will always have a special place in my heart as that is where Anthony proposed to me! (Full story on our blog)- June 30, 2015
The places you have identified in Hanoi are definitely not to be missed – the only additional thing we did that we would recommend was a street food tour that was absolutely amazing & so tasty! We went with Urban Adventures and it was worth every penny.
Sounds wonderful!- July 22, 2015