Hanoi, the charming capital of Vietnam, is best known for its palatable street foods, historic monuments and wealth in natural attractions. As a former French colony, Hanoi also boasts a unique ambiance that blends Sino-Vietnamese motifs with a few French characteristics.
There are a lot of exciting things to do and enjoy in this lovely Vietnamese tourist haven. Here are some of the highlights of my trip to the city of Hanoi.
Ha Long Bay cruise
Ha Long Bay is one of the most visited places in all of Vietnam and it’s not hard to see why. The beautiful islands scattered through the bay make this a really unique place. It was one of the areas I had looked forward to the most. Ha Long Bay is one of those places where everyone just books a cruise from Hanoi as it’s the easiest way to discover this gem.
From the hotel Morgan where I stayed in Hanoi, I booked my two-day tour to Ha Long Bay with Galaxy Cruise for about $150.
The first morning my fellow travellers and I were picked up from our hotels and, after a three hour drive, we were brought to the ferry terminal where our boat would depart. From a smaller boat, we then boarded our ‘home’ for the next two days.
At first I was a bit disappointed as the boat looked a bit rundown but as we looked around the bay, almost every other boat looked the same. Only the really expensive cruises seemed to have a modern boat. Once on the boat, everything was perfectly fine. I had a cabin to myself that was really clean and had everything I needed for one night.
Don’t get turned off by the homely exteriors of the boats. Most of the cruise boats on Ha Long Bay are of a certain age
Immediately upon arrival, we got a little welcome drink and lunch. All food and all excursions were included in the price, but for drinks one had to pay. And of course those were rather expensive. Even our guide advised us against ordering anything and to just drink some water of our own in the cabin.
After lunch, it was time for our first excursion of the day; Ti Top Island. This island is situated in the heart of Ha Long Bay and is the perfect destination for swimming and climbing. Since the weather wasn’t that good, swimming wasn’t an option for us, but the climb to the top of the island was definitely worth it. The view over Ha Long Bay is unparalleled.
Half an hour later, we were already on the smaller boat again and sailed for our next stop; Sung Sot Cave also known as the ‘Surprise Grotto’. This is one of the two main caves in Ha Long Bay and supposedly the most beautiful one. On the way up to the entrance of the cave, you also have a really beautiful view over the bay. And then once you’re inside, get ready to be surprised. The cave starts out rather narrow but then continues to really large chambers. The lighting in the cave makes it that entire extra special. It’s definitely worth a visit.
For the rest of the day we cruised through the beautiful scenery of the famous Ha long Bay.
With weather so beautiful, it was an absolute shame that we had to head back to Hanoi. I would have loved to spend a few more hours – if not days – cruising through this beautiful piece of nature. But all good things come to an end.
Walking tour of celebrated temples
I had two entire days to discover the city and of course ended up doing the classic city sights: Temple of Literature, Ngoc-Son Pagoda, Dong Xuan Market, Bach Ma Temple, Hang Bac Street Nr 102, Presidential Palace, House of Ho Chi Minh, Quan-Thanh Temple, Tran Quoc Pagoda and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Quite a bit of sightseeing as you can see. If you’re an architecture buff, this tour is not to be missed, and you’ll be surprised at how much history is packed into a single walk.
Hoan Kiem Lake
What I will remember most of this city is the absolutely amazing atmosphere around the Hoan Kiem Lake on weekend evenings. The entire area around the lake is traffic free during this time. As with every major city in Vietnam, the traffic is absolutely hectic in Hanoi, so by making the area pedestrian-friendly only during the weekend, the Vietnamese – and tourists – can enjoy some time away from all that hustle and bustle and just relax. There are street musicians, food stalls and street games. It feels like one big party. I feel like you haven’t really experienced Hanoi if you didn’t at least spend a Saturday or Sunday evening around the Hoan Kiem Lake.
At the Hoan Kiem Lake, you can also find the Water Puppet Theatre. There you can go watch one of the famous Vietnamese water puppet shows. It may sound dull but it’s quite delightful. The shows last about 45 minutes and while I couldn’t understand a thing that was said, I still enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s also quite entertaining trying to figure out how they make those puppets move.
Be sure to reserve your tickets in advance though. The theatre is quite small so there is a limited amount of tickets. Entrance price is 100.000 dong. It’s quite expensive for Vietnam, but it’s a unique experience you can’t miss out on.
Tranquility at Tam Coc Ninh Binh
Tam Coc is an area with beautiful limestone mountains but here you’re also sailing through the typical Vietnamese rice paddies. In the season this makes for a beautiful green, lush view. I made my way to the boat for one hour trip through the Limestone Mountains and rice paddies.
In Tam Coc, the people have a special way of rowing their boats; they row with their feet. And once again for one hour long my rower just kept going and going. I don’t think you can ever grow tired of looking at these beautiful Limestone Mountains.
In Hanoi, there are a lot of markets where you can enjoy discounted deals for all kinds of merchandise, from clothing to DVDs. Besides its night market, you can also make your way to the other popular markets in the city, including Dong Xuan, Cho Hom and Hang Da. Before leavening Hanoi, you must make it a point to drop by the Chula Fashion Showroom. Often touted as the premier fashion boutique in Hanoi, the Chula Fashion showroom is an exquisite specialty shop that sells high quality handmade dresses at very reasonable and affordable rates. Not only are the dresses creative and original, but their craftsmanship and fabrics are superior as well.
Hanoi is indeed a beautiful and scenic Asian city worth visiting. A trip to this destination allows me to replenish my energy, enjoy good food, and discover a myriad of natural wonders and historic monuments. So pack your bag and take pleasure in everything that it has to offer.
I picked up these interesting facts about Hanoi along the way.
In Hanoi, motorbikes are everywhere! According to the Ministry of Transport figures from 2013, of the 90+ million population, 37 million were registered with a motorbike and only two million with a car. So on your first arrival in Hanoi or Saigon, the first interesting fact you’ll most likely notice is that literally everything is done/carried on the motorbike.
Coffee in Hanoi is incredibly tasty, cheap, and the iced version is a refreshing drink to cool you down during the warm, humid months.
Kings of the cashew nut
Vietnam is the world’s largest exporter of cashew nuts, producing 37% of the global number.
The currency is called dong
Activities to try at Ha Long Bay
– Try your hand at making some Vietnamese spring rolls.
– Experience the life of a local with some fishing.
– What better way to take charge of your own views?
– Visit the traditional pearl farms and may be buy some pretty baubles.
Airfares in Vietnam can be very cheap if you do your research and book in advance. I recommend using Skyscanner to find the best prices for any given month.
Use Booking.com to find the best deals and book your accommodation online.