Hanoi is rich in history, culture, and character. I have yet to see another city like it. I was weary to spend my 4-day weekend in yet another big city, but I was pleasantly surprised. Although it’s the capital of Vietnam and a large city, it has an amazing vibe. There’s plenty of greenery covering the streets and buildings. You can also easily drive about 20 minutes outside of the city and be surrounded by tranquil countryside. The architecture in Hanoi has a French influence, making the Vietnamese/French style buildings aesthetically pleasing. Here are some of the things I did during my weekend trip to the ancient city of Hanoi, Vietnam:
Halong Bay isn’t in Hanoi, but seeing as it’s only a few hours drive outside of the city, I don’t think anyone should take a trip to Hanoi without visiting Halong Bay. It’s emerald waters is comprised of thousands of limestone islands topped with beautiful rainforests. I’ve heard hit or miss reviews on Halong Bay, but my personal experience was very good. Halong Bay was named one of the world’s natural wonders, and for good reason – it is breath-taking. Four hours and a couple bus, boat, and ferry rides later, we finally made it on our cruise. It was very peaceful sitting on our boat while we floated through Halong Bay. We also got to experience the bay and limestone islands closer up by going kayaking. On the way to get to our accommodation for the night, we were able to watch the sunrise on a private boat. We stayed on Cat Ong island, which is a small private island just a 20-minute boat ride from Cat Ba Island. The next day was more relaxing, as we got to enjoy our morning on the beach and took a short hike to see a panoramic view of Halong Bay. The other option we were given was to go on a hike through Cat Ba National Park, which I aim to do my next time around. I will say, certain parts of Halong Bay are very touristy, but we were lucky enough to go with a company that strays away from the busier parts (we went through Camillia Cruise). My friend and I also ventured off while kayaking to an area most people don’t go, where we found a lot of trash floating in the water. It was definitely eye-opening to see how far Vietnam still has to go in becoming more environmentally conscious (and made me more aware of my waste production as well). All-in-all, it was an amazing visit to Halong Bay.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is located in the Ba Dinh Square of Hanoi. It holds the embalmed remains of Ho Chi Minh, attracting crowds of people every day. It’s only open for a few hours each day, typically in the morning. Something also to note is that for about two months out of the year Ho Chi Minh’s body is shipped to Russia to be touched up. I would suggest getting there early, as the line gets extremely long. Typically the wait is supposed to be around 1-2 hours, but I tried to go on a holiday weekend where the line stretched to be about 3-4 hours. It’s safe to say that I decided to just view the Mausoleum from the outside this time around.
Temple of Literature and National University
The Temple of Literature and National University was constructed in the year 1070 and was the first university in Vietnam. It honors Vietnam’s finest scholars and signifies the beginning of a uniform educational system in Vietnam. Students used to be able to come and rub one of the turtle statues’ heads in order to gain good luck on an upcoming exam, but in order to preserve the statues, touching them is now prohibitted. Many people also come here to take graduation photos, as it makes for a picturesque background (there were 3 different groups taking photos when I went). It is a very big tourist attraction, so you should come early in the morning.
Long Bien Bridge
Long Bien Bridge was one of the four greatest bridges in the world at the time it was built. It was bombed many times by air attacks by the American army, which destroyed many spans of the bridge. The spans still remaining today remind us of an unforgettable past. The bridge has become a living historical relic. You can walk along the bridge where there are street vendors, views of banana fields, and the Red River. Tourists will also hop onto the train tracks for a picture, but you have to be careful as a train still runs through.
This is by far one of my favorite things I did during my trip to Hanoi. You can simply type ‘train street’ into Grab and your driver will more than likely know where to go. At first glance, it’s just a small residential area with train tracks where the street should be. As you keep walking, there are various cafés that offer tables around the tracks to watch the train pass through. The shop owners set tables and chairs on the tracks for people to sit, eat, and enjoy the atmosphere. Like clockwork, when it’s time for the train to come people pick everything off the tracks and move to the side to watch it go by. Afterwards, everyone goes back to what they were doing: putting the tables back on the tracks, eating, and taking photos. It really is amazing to watch. There are a few times the train passes through the area each day. We decided to go to the 1:15 PM time, but came an hour early to take photos and find a café to settle in at. We enjoyed the experience so much that we stayed for the next train at 2:30 PM! It’s definitely a can’t miss when visiting Hanoi and less touristy than the other places we visited.
Hoan Kiem Lake
The legend behind Hoan Kiem Lake is that in 1428, Emperor Le Loi obtained a magical sword from the Dragon King to fight against the Chinese oppressors. After the successful battle against the Chinese invaders, Emperor Le Loi visited the lake again. He was boating through the water when a giant golden turtle appeared. The turtle explained that he was sent by his master, the Dragon King, to retrieve the sword from Le Loi. The Emperor returned the sword to the turtle, who swam back beneath the green waters.
Hoan Kiem Lake is the symbol of this elegant and charming ancient city. Being at the center of Hanoi’s historic district, Hoan Kiem has become a huge gathering spot. Amidst the lake is Turtle Tower, The Huc Bridge, and Ngoc Son Temple. Early in the morning the streets are blocked off from automobiles and the locals come to run and do Tai Chi. It is very peaceful as there aren’t many tourists about yet, so it is nice to grab some coffee and take a walk around the lake. Hoan Kiem Lake is located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, where later in the day there will be street performers, vendors, and markets all around. A perfect place to enjoy the lake and some performances is at The Note Coffee (located at the northwest corner of Hoan Kiem Lake). This coffee shop is covered in little notes from people who have come from all over the world.
Located in Tay Ho District, West Lake is a nice place to go in order to get out of the hustle and bustle of Old Quarter. You can walk around the lake while stopping to get some bò bía, which consists of coconut and honeycomb wrapped into a roll by flat pancakes. Here you can also visit the Trấn Quốc Pagoda or rent a cute swan paddle boat. There are also various places to grab a drink or bite to eat around the lake.
Cafe Giảng was founded in 1946 and most famous for its cà phê trứng (egg coffee). If you haven’t had egg coffee yet (or even if you have) this is the perfect place to try it. Its chief ingredients are egg yolk, Vietnamese coffee powder, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese. The founder of Cafe Giảng developed the recipe in days when milk was scarce in Vietnam, so he used egg yolks to replace it. The sweet egg yolk taste and bold coffee flavors balance each other out perfectly. It gets packed with locals and tourists, so coming early will not only be a great start to your day but save you the headache of waiting for a table.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
St. Joseph’s Cathedral was constructed and completed in 1886. Its beautiful architecture is magnificent to look at. Located directly outside of it is a statue of Mother Maria. A good place to eat with an incredible view of the Cathedral is La Place.
Places to eat:
- The Hanoi Social Club
- La Place
- Nhà Hàng Ngon
- Home Hanoi Restaurant
Places to stay:
- Annie’s Little HaNoi
- 9 Ngõ Hài Tượng, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
- 85 Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
If you have any questions about my trip to Hanoi or life abroad, please don’t hesitate to contact me!
Until next time,