15 Awesome Things to See in Hanoi, Vietnam!

On our very first day in Hanoi, we realised that its more than just a city - its an inexplicable emotion fusing chaos, beauty, tradition, and variety! Need more convincing details? Read on.


The Hanoi outlook



First up, some history: 

Although Hanoi existed from as early as 3,000 BC, it was under foreign domination for most of the time. For almost a millennium up to the early 1800s, the region was under Chinese rule and thereafter the Nguyen dynasty was established. It was only in the nineteenth century, that it was colonised as French Indochina. For nearly 70 years, the citizens suffered under brutal french policies and briefly were even ruled by the Japanese (at the time of World War II). 


In 1954, North Vietnam finally broke away as an Independent Communist nation and Hanoi was named as the capital by the great leader Ho Chi Minh. Unfortunately, at the same time, the southern half of the country, christened as the "South Vietnam" was absorbed into the Western "Capitalist" block. For the next twenty years, the two countries fought bitterly (sponsored by the USA) - the North intending to annex the South and unify the country. The South was ruled from Saigon and the Ho Chi Minh government tried everything it could to bring down the pseudo rulers there. It was only in 1976, after universal discouragement of how the USA had mercilessly bombed Vietnam (and Laos and Cambodia), the USA withdrew and the Northern Vietnamese Guerrillas seized control of Saigon and renamed it as Ho Chi Minh city in honor of their leader.


Suffering in terribly poverty and lack of resources, Vietnam began to rise on account of the resilience of the people; today, it stands as one of the fastest emerging nations in South East Asia! 


The sheer amount of greenery was just perfect for our sore eyes!


Located in the north-half of the country, Hanoi enjoys some really interesting weather - it can be very hot and humid in summer and freezing cold in the winters! But the incessant rainfall is what defines the thick forest cover in the surrounding areas! 


Best time to visit: We'd say ANYTIME!

  • If you want to enjoy the tropical weather, Summer is a great time to visit (April to September) - although the humidity makes it quite uncomfortable. This time also sees immense rainfall and thunderstorms; some sightseeing around Hanoi (like Ha Long Bay cruises) may not be feasible due the weather.
  • The cooler months from October to March are far more comfortable (with a jacket) and exploring the city sans rains is easily possible.


Like we ventured into, here's a list of things to see in the city:


1. Hoan Kiem Lake:

Literally the centre of attraction in the city, it is in the Old Quarter of the city and is the best place to be in the evenings, particularly on weekends! The streets are closed of from traffic and many residents and tourists gather around the lake as they relax and hangout with friends and family! Some games, entertainment shows and the Hanoi Night Market make the evenings even more FUN. There's a huge number of Cafes (including the olive green, Vietcong themed Cong Caphe) - must visit.


The super-fun fountain centre at Hoan Kiem Lake

The other side of the fountain - the street by the yellow building, thats where the night market begins


Don't forget to check out Hang Dao street - so many places to hit up for the evening


2. Ngoc Son Temple:

The Ngoc Son shrine is dedicated to a great Confucian and Taoist philosopher, and is also called as the Temple of the Jade Mountain! It is a very fascinating monument: small but located on an islet in the Hoan Kiem Lake, with a little red bridge connecting it from the outer park. The architecture is pretty impressive - traditional Chinese style, with dragons, tigers and pagodas all around.

Expect to spend at least an hour here.


The grand entrance to the Ngoc Son Temple: you have to cross a waterbridge to get to the temple in the lake


One of the quaintest gift shops we've seen till date!


The tree-top shrine at Hoan Kiem


3. Hoa Lo Prison:

One of the darkest phases of Vietnamese history was the colonial era. The French occupation resulted in brutal torture and suppression of innocent people and freedom fighters - particularly, at this central prison in the French Quarter of Hanoi. Today, the prison is a monument, asserting the independence of the people and tells eerie tales of the struggles of the insiders - definitely worth a respectful visit! 

Expect to spend about 45 minutes inside the jail.


The Hoa Lo Central Prison (now a Museum)


The solitary confines of the Prison have a very powerful tale to tell


4. Ho Tay Lake and Tran Quoc Pagoda:

A very interesting fact about this temple, is that the tree that has grown here is an off shoot of a branch, of the original Bodhi Tree (where Buddha gained enlightenment) in Gaya, India. The Tran Quoc pagoda is revered and worshipped at, by countless devotees everyday! This temple too, like the Ngoc Son temple in the Hoan Kiem Lake, is on an islet (of the "Golden Fish") and offers some impressive views of the modern skyline - a stark contrast of the evolving times.

Expect to spend about 1 hour in the temple and about 15 minutes to commute,: it is on the northern side of town.


The islet of the Tran Quoc Pagoda in Ho Tay Lake



The charm of a Buddhist temple is very calming!


5. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology:

The grandest museum of Hanoi, besides the Military Museum near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is this one - a walled encyclopaedia of the history of the country, including many excerpts from the two dark phases of the country - the French colonial era (upto the late 1940s) and the Vietcong-American war (from the 1950s to 1980s). A must visit if you're intrigued by Vietnamese history.

Expect to spend about 1.5 hours here.


The LEDs mark every single city/country that Ho Chi Minh visited, while Vietnam diplomatically
persuaded the global community to help stop American aggression


6. Bach Ma Temple:

The Bach Ma shrine ("Temple of the White Horse") was rebuilt unsuccessfully many times, because its walls kept coming down; it was only when a White Horse walked on a particular path in the construction site, that they were finally able to lay the walls on that trail - and finally, the temple was successfully built. 

It is situated within the Old Quarter of the City and is a good way to spend 30 minutes while wandering through the backstreets of the city.


The sanctum of the Bachma Temple


7. One Pillar Pagoda:

A childless Emperor in the early 1000 (AD) apparently once dreamt of God Avalokiteshwara (Buddhism) descend and handed him a son, whilst sitting on a Lotus flower. The emperor, soon bore a son in reality after marrying a peasant girl from the village. In honour of this, the emperor built this wooden pagoda on a single stone pillar, in the middle of a Lotus pond. 

Today, this monument is considered one of the most iconic temples in the whole country! The surreal beauty of the lotus pond and its surroundings make for a wonderful experience - expect to spend about 20 minutes here.


The One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi


8. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum:

Regarded as the most important man of the fight for independence and freedom from foreign aggression, "Uncle Ho", as Ho Chi Minh was fondly called, remains embalmed in a Mausoleum in central Hanoi. Everyday, marching rounds are undertaken by the young soldiers of the country. With the strictest security measures, visitors are allowed into the mausoleum to pay their respects to Ho Chi Minh and see how the Vietnamese value their liberator!

Expect to spend 1.5 hours in the mausoleum park.


The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in the backdrop


9. Ho Chi Minh Heritage House:

Another monument in the vicinity is the Stilt House of Ho Chi Minh, where he spent his last few years. The house is an open museum and visitors can walk about and learn about Uncle Ho's simple lifestyle! There is also an interesting car collection near the house, which once belonged to him.


The Stilt House overlooking the pond around the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum


10. Hanoi Opera House: 

Modelled on the Palais Garnier in Paris, the city Opera House in Hanoi is one of the few remains of French Heritage in the country. The Opera House still hosts many incredible shows of Vietnamese culture and also Swan Lake, amongst western shows.

Or if you just want to admire the architecture, just take a walk in the neighbourhood of the French Quarter.

The Hanoi Opera House


11. Temple of Literature:

Undeniably, one of the most amazing pieces of architectural beauty we got to see in the city - the ancient Temple of Literature. Dating back to the 11th century, the temple was used as an imperial academy. In the name of Confucius, the greatest Chinese Teacher in the Far East, the students learnt literature and poetry. With regular tests and term end examinations, much like how it is today, the students spent three to seven years in the Temple.

Expect to spend at least an hour here.


The wonderfully mysterious entrance to the Temple of Literature


12. Thang Long Puppet Show:

On nearly every evening, the classical Water Puppet Theatre in the Old Quarter of Hanoi (at the Hoan Kiem Lake) put on an amazing show of puppetry, but nothing like what we all probably saw whilst growing up. The water puppets are very well decorated and even the stage (err, pond?) is so well designed. The accompanying Vietnamese folk music is an added bonus - perfect way to spend an hour while around the Lake.


13. Lotte Tower:

The Lotte Tower, one of the highest towers in the city (about 60 floors) offers a wonderful view of the entire city from its sky-deck floor. Although the tickets are quite pricey, its a good way to see the city from a different perspective - so many houses, lakes and trees all around!

The city of Hanoi


Do you also think that Shishira is trying really hard to mask her fear?


14. Women Folklore Museum:

The Folklore Museum in the French Quarter of the city is the best way to reconfirm something that is very evidently noticeable in the country - empowered women. Historically, women outnumbered the men for centuries, and Vietnam is also known for its matriarchal society where the woman is a dominant member of the family. It's an interesting perspective to visitors from countries where it may be the exact opposite! Also, the museum has on display, many traditional dresses and styles from centuries gone by.

An optional visit - expect to spend an hour here.


The Women's Folklore Museum


15. Explore the Old Quarter:

The most impressive part of the city is the Old Quarter. Packed with incredibly narrow and tall buildings, this part of Hanoi is almost the lifeline of the city. In fact, find a BnB right there to make the experience of exploring Hanoi even more authentic. Grab a seat at one of the innumerable street-side 'stool Cafes' and down a bowl of Pho (non-veg) or snack on some righteous Spring Rolls (ask for vegetarian)! Walk up to the Train Street, where you can watch in amazement, a train passing through the narrowest parts of the old town area. 

The coolest part about the Old Quarter is how incredibly cheap shopping can be - there are so many stores selling clothes, food, gadgets, equipment, etc., and of course, the Night Market comes alive every Friday evening onwards.


Most of the streets of the Old Quarter are like this!


Indo-Chinese architecture, just about everywhere - thats Hanoi for you!


Such an impressive city, with so much to do and a whole new experience to feel - thats how magnetic Vietnamese culture is, it grows on you so strongly, that leaving Hanoi might even be tearful. Nearly all of the Vietnamese are gentle people, and are fond of foreign visitors. As Indians, we enjoyed their warm hospitality even more (deep routed friendship)!



Looking to stay here for a few days? Check this out for the best Hanoi plan: COMING SOON.

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