The Ultimate Guide to Hanoi

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is the beating heart of the original Vietnamese homeland. This is a city bursting with life, activity and authenticity. From the chaotic streets and alleys of Old Quarter, to the tranquil shores of West Lake, there is something in the city for every kind of traveller, and your guests sure to lose yourself in this wonderful exhibition of everything Vietnam has to offer.

Serene Hoan Kiem Lake.

At the core of the city lies the famous Old Quarter, the centre of Hanoian life and culture for over a thousand years. Here among narrow alleys lit by lanterns, street vendors hawk their wares as the chaotic traffic winds its way around pedestrians like schools of fish. Meanwhile, around the many local “Bia Hoi” places, local musicians perform shows right on the street during the weekends, as locals and tourists alike consume freshly brewed local beer.

Circling the old quarter is the old Hanoi railway. Take a seat at one of the many coffee shops lining the tracks and wait for the bi-daily train to pass, requiring you to get up and press against the side of the building, an experience sure to get your heart racing!

old Hanoi railway
The Hanoi Railway makes for an adrenaline-inducing lunch break.

If you walk south from old quarter, you’ll soon reach Hoan Kiem Lake. Translated as “Sword Lake”, local legend has it that an ancient turtle lives within its waters. Spend some time in the small island temple to enjoy the tranquil nature of the lake, before heading back to shore and crossing the street to visit the Water Puppet Theatre. Seeing a show here is a bizarre but uniquely memorable experience, sure to excite any culture-enthusiasts in your group, as professional puppeteers guide their puppets through the water, giving their renditions of traditional Vietnamese stories.

Water Puppet Theatre
Traditional Vietnamese water-puppetry.

Hanoi also has its fair share of fascinating museums. First among these is the Ho Chi Minh complex, containing both a museum dedicated to Vietnam’s wars and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the final resting place of Vietnam’s greatest national hero. Not to be missed either is the Women’s Museum, showcasing the contributions and sacrifices made by Vietnamese women throughout history, as well as the Prison Museum, located in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”, where prisoners of war form all sides of the Indochina wars were held at various times.

ho chi minh mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the final resting place of Vietnam’s greatest national hero.

Further north is the much larger lake of Tay Ho. The neighbourhood around the lake is popular with expats, and as such may occasionally give the impression that you’ve left Vietnam all together! There are some memorable attractions around the lake however. First is the spectacular botanical garden on its southern shore, the best found anywhere in Vietnam. There’s also a gorgeous Buddhist temple located on an island and nearby, the John McCain monument is a great example of how the Vietnamese people have put the horrors of war behind them.

At the end of the day, the best way to enjoy Hanoi is simply to stay for a while and allow your guests some time to explore freely. The lively streets and authentic feel of the city are sure to charm your guests and make them wish they could stay longer.

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