Hanoi is a rich cultural city with a history that goes back at least 1000 years although it had inhabitants long before that. In 1010 Ly Thai To King had recognized Hanoi or Thang Long (Ascending Dragon) as the capital of Vietnam, a status which has remained till today. In recent years, Hanoi has experienced the largest growth in its tourism sector compared to other cities in Vietnam and you just need to visit this beautiful place with friendly locals to know why.
Hanoi the capital of Vietnam, is a fascinating blend of East and West, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French design from its colonial past. Located on the bank of Red River, Hanoi still maintains traces of the Rivers that run through it last time in the form of famous lakes such as Ho Guom (Sword Lake), Ho Tay (West Lake), Ho Thien Quang (Halais Lake), Truc Bach Lake, Bay Mau Lake, Thu Le Lake (in the zoo) to name just a few. Hence sometimes people refer to Hanoi as the “City of Lakes”.
The legendary “Excalibur” given to King Arthur by the Lady Of The Lake, is similar to the legend of Turtle Lake, where the keeper of the sword is a Giant Turtle. It is said that when danger threatens the country the keeper will surface on the Turtle Lake bearing the sword on its shell.
Sword Lake has been the symbol of Hanoi for ages where visitors can view the legendary Thap Rua (Turtle memorial) in the middle of the lake. Ngoc Son Bridge at the other side and the tranquil atmosphere in the morning are simple moments uniquely dear to Hanoians’ heart.
Why Not Go
Hanoi is a beautiful city to explore but if you’re looking for an adventurous trip or if you’re bored with the city atmosphere then you can consider going to other parts of Northern Vietnam like Sapa for trekking or Ha Long Bay for caves exploring and stunning sight-seeing.
Hanoi is the convergence of thousand years of history through many dynasties till French colonized stage then American’s until now. Hanoi will celebrate its 1000 years of establishment in 2010 and now there is a count-down clock screen at the bank of Hoan Kiem lake in the centre of the city to count down towards that big day.
Hanoi has many temples, pagodas and other places for sight-seeing where you can view many school of different architecture like classic French style to typical Chinese and Vietnamese architecture that have been built throughout the years. Among Hanoi’s attractiveness are Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake which is the symbol of the city right at the heart of Hanoi), West Lake, Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, One Pillar Pagoda; Tran Quoc Pagoda (oldest pagoda in Vietnam from 541), Quan Thanh Temple (got a holy Tran Vu bronze black statue weight 3600 tons), Temple of Literature (Van Mieu, the oldest university in Vietnam), Old Quarter or Ancient City where visitors can spend hours or even days to explore depending on how through you want to be.
Besides being famous for its beautiful lakes, temples and pagodas, Hanoi is also where many well-known Vietnamese dishes such as Pho (Vietnamese noodle), Cha ca (Grill Fish), Springroll, banh cuon, banh xeo (fried egg paper wrapping beansprouts, beef…) or seafood can be found. Vietnamese dishes are famous for its fresh and healthiness with a lot of vegetables and herbs to make it aromatic coupled with tasty sauces(fish sauce) that are unforgettable for many visitors. A favourite dish for many tourists is the banh xeo (fried egg paper wrapping beansprouts, beef, salad…), and pho (Vietnamese noodle) as they have tasted it in Vietnamese town in Australia or in the US or elsewhere and so eagerly want to taste the original taste in Vietnam.
Best Time to Visit
Hanoi has climate characteristics typical of Northern Vietnam area – tropical monsoon, hot and humid in the summer(May to September) and little rain, cold and dry in winter(November to March). It can get very hot if you visit Hanoi during summer as the temperature sometimes soars to 38c degree with high humidity that it’s really not advisable to wander in the streets. Towards the end of December to March, in winter the temperature sometimes can go as low as below 10 degrees. Poetry, songs and literature will tell you that the best time to visit is during Fall (September to December) and Spring (March to May) as these are the two most beautiful seasons in Hanoi when the weather is cool.
In terms of festivals in Vietnam, the most celebrated festivals would be Lunar New Year (or otherwise known as Chinese New Year this festival last for 7 to 10 days in Vietnam), Mid-autumn festival (according to Lunar calendar it falls on the 15th of the eight month and a favourite festival for children to celebrate Fullest Moon of the year) or April 30 (Southern Vietnam Liberation Day) combined with Labor Day making it a big holiday in Vietnam where you could see Vietnamese flags in almost every house, vehicles and all along the streets.
Where to Stay
Sofitel Plaza, Sofitel Metropole and Melia are amongst the top hotels in Hanoi for visitors. Their 5-star services are guaranteed giving them their stable reputation over the years. For those looking a romantic stay Hanoi, these 3 places comes highly recommended.
– Sofitel Metropole locates at 15 Ngo Quyen street, Hanoi (+844 38266919)
– Melia Hanoi at 44 Ly Thuong Kiet street (+844 39343343)
Both are located at the city center where you can just walk to Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword lake) and visit the famous Old Quarter of the city.
– Sofitel Plaza at No.1 Thanh Nien street (+844 38238888)
Located at the other side of the city, you can walk along Thanh Nien street between the two beautiful lakes – West lake and Truc Bach lake.
If you have the time to scout and research, there are many value for money hotels due to stiff competition in Hanoi. Anis Hotel in Quan Thanh street starts with a reasonable price from USD 45 but still maintain a 3 star hotel standards. Or Elegance 1,2 or 3 Hotel located at Hang Bac street are also good hotel with price starting from USD 40.
If you are on a budget, there are plenty of hotels in the Old Quarter in strategic location at more affordable price. Hanoi Hostels for backpackers are mostly located here, especially in Luong Ngoc Quyen, Hang Bac, Ta Hien, Hang Bong and Hang Be streets. It is very easy to find a hostel with low price from USD 20-30. Old Quarter is near to Ho Guom lake and city center and just a short walk away you can start shopping for souvenir, clothes and enjoy authentic Vietnamese food.
Where & What to Eat
Hanoi has a long-standing history of traditional cuisine with many famous delicacies. Food in Hanoi gathers quintessence of all food from other regions of Vietnam. People from other parts of Vietnam bring their hometown’s specialities to Hanoi and modify the taste to suit the taste of Hanoists. Culinary style of Hanoi food is influenced by Chinese, French and Thai.
There are various types of food in Hanoi but you should taste Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup served with beef or chicken, etc). Pho in Hanoi has a special taste that cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Some traditional Pho restaurants could be found in Bat Dan, Ly Quoc Su, Bo Ho, Luong Van Can Streets. Or you can try some modern high end Pho restaurant like Pho Vuong, Pho 24.
Visitors to Hanoi usually enjoy La Vong grill fish. There are a number of grill fish restaurants, you can either go to 14 Cha Ca street or 107 Nguyen Truong To street or Duong Thanh street to have a good one.
Or you can go to Hang Buom street to enjoy some banh xeo (fried egg paper wrapping beef, beansprouts, salad…) which is a mouth-watering sight for those who had a chance to eat it.
You also should try the spring-rolls, Banh Cuon Thanh Tri (steamed rolled rice pancake, dumplings, steamed rolls made of rice-flour), West Lake shrimp cakes, “com” (green rice flakes), Bun Thang (vermicelli and chicken soup, noodles in chicken broth)
There are some buffet restaurants which serve mostly traditional dishes: Quan Ngon (Delicious Restaurant at 18 Phan Boi Chau street nearby Melia Hotel, Moven Pick Hotel) or Nha hang Sen Tay Ho (West Lake Lotus Restaurant nearby West Lake Water Park, or Sheraton Hotel). It would cost you USD 15-20 for this one stop gastronomical feast. Sometimes the selection can go up to 200 varieties of Vietnamese traditional foods so it is a good way to try many dishes if pressed for time. Having tried many of the selections you will also know what you like and can order them the nest time you eat in another place.
Some restaurants which are unique in culinary style:
– Pho Ngoi at 9A Dao Tan street nearby Daewoo Hotel and Thu Le Zoo, specializing in natural mushroom steamboat, and other Vietnamese cuisine. Here you can have a good view of Thu Le Lake while enjoy the food.
– Pho Bien at 14 Tràng Thi street is a long standing restaurant specializing in seafood.
– Pho Nuong Hawaii at 126 Nguyen Khoai – Dam Trau, specializing in grilling foods.
– Ga Doi at 6B Thi Sach street is good at chicken dishes.
– De Nui at 126 Pham Hong Thai street is specialized in goat meat.
– Son Dong at 42 Kim Lien Moi street is good at trionychid turtle.
– Song Nui at 70 Le Van Huu street is specialized in mountainous dishes.
Also you can enjoy the local beer at an affordable price like Hanoi Beer which is brewed in a factory built by the French a century ago. It is a favorite drink of most Hanoians as it’s quite light and have a delightful taste – splendid choice for escaping the summer heat and especially after a long day of exploring the city and shopping.
Nightlife in Hanoi is divided into two categories. One is for those who likes to explore the night market and the delicious Vietnamese food that are abundant at these places. Another is for those who prefer to chill out a local bar or club for some local nightlife experience.
For those who like to taste Vietnamese food at night there’re a number of restaurants that specializes in night business. Cam Chi street is known for its night life eating and has received the title “Cuisine Street”. Or you can have a taste of Pho at Ly Quoc Su street or try Nom Bo Kho (beef sweet and sour grated salad) at Ho Guom Lake. During winter it is extremely nice to indulge in street food such grilled corn, grilled cuttlefish or grilled pork… The selection is just as abundant as the stall that sells them on the Old Quarter street.
The night market at Hang Dao street is opened every Saturday and Sunday night only. Located at Hang Dao street right at the heart of the Old Quarter nearby Ho Guom (Sword Lake). Here you can buy do some late night shopping and buy some more souvenirs.
In Vietnam, the industry of bars and pubs need to adhere to a strict law which prohibits all kinds of drug and other stimulants usage, no sex show and no prostitution are allowed. Quite a number of famous bars like New Century, Apocalypse have been closed down due to violation of law.
For backpackers, bars like Seventeen Saloon at 98B Tran Hung Dao street comes highly recommended. It is a music club for foreigners and white -collared. It opens at 8pm everyday and from 9.15pm to 10.45pm there’s in-house music and a Filipino band towards the end.
Another popular hangout is the Dragon Fly bar at Hang Buom street. It’s always packed with teens and backpackers because of its cheap price. Here dancing is at 1st floor and some girl shows at 2nd floor. For a one of a kind night out, try Solace bar – a bar in a boat in the Red river (need to board in Bach Dang or Chuong Duong Do street) with music playing all night long. Around Ho Guom (Sword lake) you can also go to Ho Guom Xanh (Blue Sword Lake) bar. This is more of a music club with nice stage view.
For a high-end bar, Funkey Monkey at Hang Thung street is a long-established bar. The soothing music complements the settings for a comfortable environment to talk and chill out. Nutz bar at Sheraton hotel is also famous for its high end service and is highly rated by many people as the music and the facilities are top notch. Other well known bars are The Wave Bar at Sofitel Plaza hotel near West Lake or Q Bar (sometimes refered to as Club Q) at Daewoo Hotel at 360 Kim Ma street.
My to do List
• Take a walk around Ho Guom (Sword Lake) to experience the tranquil atmosphere and appreciate why locals enjoy their activities around the lake.
• Old Quarter near Ho Guom is also a must visit place when in Hanoi. There are many small interesting streets which were named according to the trade that they’re specialized in sometimes referred to as “36 Hanoi streets”. Here you can find Hang Bac street (specialized in silver) or Hang Thiec street (specialized in steel). Although now you can hardly find a street selling the original commodities that the names come from, it still brings back the nostalgia of Old Hanoi long time ago.
• Go to Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Dinh Tien Hoang street along Ho Guom lake to view the funny and unique puppet art that can only find here.
• Go to visit Hochiminh Mausoleum and Hochiminh Museum nearby, remember to wear appropriate clothing (no short skirts or short pant).
• Hoa Lo Prison is also a nice place to visit as you will be able to see how the old prison looks like.
• Museum of Ethnology should be also on the list as it offers a vivid experience whereby people can understand all 54 ethnics in Vietnam, how they live, their rituals and practices. Sometimes the museum has indigenous ethnic people showing their traditional clothings with their musical instruments making it an unforgettable experience.
• A trip to Hanoi would not be complete if one does not come to visit Temple of Literature located at Quoc Tu Giam street. This is the oldest university (1070) in Vietnam where you can see many stone turtles carved with “doctorate” degree holders’ name and their hometown.
• Tran Vu Pagoda in West Lake is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi (from 12nd century) which houses a big black copper statue made in 1667 weighing around 4 tons.
• From Hanoi, you can also take a one-day visit to some traditional handicraft villages like Ceramic Bat Trang Village, Van Phuc Silk village, or Ba Vi National Park or Huong Pagoda. They were Ha Tay famous tourist destinations before Ha Tay has been merged to Hanoi by end of 2008.
There were around 1,160 trading villages in Hanoi 300-400 years ago. Those trading villages supplied all types of goods for the old imperial city called Thang Long, now Hanoi. Under industrialization and urbanization of nineteenth and twentieth centuries many trading village closed down and there remained only some villages which produce handicraft products. Except Hang Trong Drawing village, all trading villages are located in the suburban of Hanoi. You need to take a bus to go there.
– Hang Trong Drawing Village in Hang Trong, Hang Non Street, now at the center of the Old Quarter of Hanoi. There are two types of drawings, drawings for worshiping purpose and drawings for Tet (Lunar New Year festival). Many researchers believe that the art of Hang Trong drawings has appeared 400 years ago. This art has been influenced by various school of ideas, religions, cultures and regions. It is also a mix of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. You can go to Hang Trong and Hang Non Streets to purchase such drawings or just to see how craftsmen make them using the traditional methods.
– Bat Trang Ceramics is at Bat Trang Village, 15km Eastward from Ha Noi city center. You can go to Bat Trang village by road or boat along the Red River. The village was formed since the thirteenth centuries, specializing in ceramics products and pottery. Bat Trang products have been very famous and widely traded with China, India, Europe from 15-19th centuries up to now. When you reach Bat Trang you can book a tour visiting the village by buffalo cart. If you want to stop at a shop the cart will wait for you. You can also try your hands at pottery by kneading, drawing and coloring your customized product. It costs the same to buy an item off the rack.
• Tailor a suit or clothing at a local tailor. You’ll be surprised at the reasonable price and good quality. It has become a must do activity for many of the frequent business travelers to Vietnam. These tailor shops normally have its own fabrics for you to choose so there is no need to buy them beforehand although they will allow that also. One famous shop for suit tailoring is Cao Minh
• Enjoy local coffee the way locals do. Coffee is served in a filter cup and once the filtering process finishes, you presented with a freshly brewed aromatic coffee. It’s such a unique experience that many visitors list it as one of their favourite memories of Vitenam. Maybe it’s because of the taste, the flavor or the style combined together to make it such a pleasurable experience. You can find good coffee houses everywhere depending on the area that you stay. Or you can ask the hotel’s staff for recommendation for a good coffee house experience.
• Taste Pho (Vietnamese noodle), either Pho Ga (chicken noodle) or Pho Bo (Beef Noodle). Pho is a must-taste dish when you come to Vietnam. Although you can find Pho in almost all over Vietnam and even in other countries but it will not measure up to the Pho cooked in Hanoi by the Hanoian. This has been admitted by many visitors to Hanoi and you should try to decide for yourself. There are many Pho shop around, from the high end one like Pho Vuong, Pho 24 to the ones sitting on the sidewalk depending on your preferences.
• Taste other well-known Hanoi food like Cha ca La Vong (grill fish), banh xeo (fried egg paper wrapping beef, beansprouts, salad…), spring-rolls, Banh Cuon Thanh Tri (steamed rolled rice pancake, ravioli, steamed rolls made of rice-flour), West Lake shrimp cakes, “com” (green rice flakes), Bun Thang (vermicelli and chicken soup, noodles in chicken broth) etc…These are famous Vietnamese dishes that have left a lasting impression on the visitors to Vietnam.
Stay Away From
• It’s not advisable to drink tap water.
• Dress appropriately when visiting places of interest/worship like the Ho chi minh Mausoleum, temples, pagodas… (no short skirt, Bermudas, sleeveless top… )
• Do not carry your valuables with you, beware of pickpockets especially in crowded areas.
• When crossing the street, pay attention to traffic on both sides, walk slowly to allow the vehicle to avoid you. Do not run.
• Always check the price first before buying anything or using any service. You are expected to bargain.
• Hanoi can get very hot in summer with temperature sometimes soaring to 38 degrees, thus wear light clothes for comfort. Vice versa, Hanoi in winter is cold with temperature going below 10degrees hence it’s advisable to bring some warm clothes.
• Streets in Old Quarter is small and elusive, do bring a map to help in your navigation.
• Locals usually don’t go out after 2300 and the streets look deserted after 2400 with all shops closed. As a tourist, it’s not advisable to walk on the street at this hour.
Hanoi is the transit hub for all the tours in Northern Vietnam. As such, visitors often make Hanoi their first stop before taking another tour to other destinations. In order to reach Hanoi, visitors normally drop at Noi Bai Airport then take a taxi or a bus to go to Hanoi. There are quite a number of taxi companies available at the airport but if you’re not familiar try the Noi Bai Airport taxi. It takes around 45 minutes to get to city centre and cost around VND300.000 (18USD)
Public buses is cheap costing only VND 5000 (30 cents) for a ride from Noi Bai airport to the city. You can take bus No.7 or No.17. Bear in mind that buses need to make many stops during the journey thus making the trip much longer (more than 1 hour) to go to the city. Also, bus won’t accept big baggage and more than one baggage, unless you bribe the driver. Generally, it’s not advisable to take the public bus to go to the city.
Another option would be the airport shuttle bus. This bus service only departs according to the airport schedule thus you should check the timing beforehand to avoid long waiting time or delays. The fare is around USD 2 one way.
If you are traveling by train or bus from other cities to Hanoi, they’ll drop you at the train station quite near to the city centre or other bus stops in Hanoi. In such cases, you can then take a taxi to go to your hotel. Trustworthy Taxi Companies are Mai Linh taxi (+8443 8222666) or Hanoi taxi (+84 43 8535353).