As the capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi offers abundant history and culture that you will experience through its food, museums, sights to see and people to meet. With so much to see in this beautiful city, you’ll want to make sure you fit as many adventures into your visit as possible. Use this guide to make sure you hit all of the exciting stops!
What to Do
Visit the Old Quarter
The Old Quarter is one of the most popular destinations in Hanoi. As a colonial city dating back as far as the 13th century, it is a bustling bundle of streets that was once the city’s largest hub for trading and selling. When the Old Quarter first came about, it was accessed through a handful of waterways that connected to other areas of the country, allowing for the abundant trade to occur. Today, it still offers a variety of shops, hotels, and restaurants to wander through. Each time you visit the old quarter, there will be something new to leave you with unique memories.
Ma May Ancient House
This 19th-century house is a testament to the architectural style that once classified the buildings in the Old Quarter. Built when the French occupied Vietnam, it functioned as a shop to sell goods as well as a home. It was built with the same design as many traditional structures in Vietnam; a long, narrow building with the shop located in the front and the living quarters situated towards the back, and sometimes upstairs. Many families have lived in this centuries-old structure and it has been remodeled many times. When you visit Ma May Ancient house, you will find that the shop area still sells unique goods, and the rest of the living areas are decorated as they would have been centuries ago. It is a truly immersive experience that will give you a true feel of the history in the Old Quarter.
Ma May Ancient House is located at 87 Ma May Street, which is located in the Hoan Kiem district of the Old Quarter. You can easily walk there from Hoan Kiem Lake in about ten minutes. You can visit this wonderful attraction from 8.00am – 12.00pm and 1.00pm – 5.00pm daily, with the exception of during the Lunar New Year Festival.
The Ma May Ancient house is the perfect place to visit in order to take a break from the chaotic Old Quarter. The aged furniture and the setup of the housing area make you feel as if you were transported back in time. This place is a must-see if you are interested in the daily life conditions of someone who lived in ancient Vietnam.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Water puppetry is a unique style of art that dates back to the 12th century. When the rice fields were flooded, farmers would perform puppet shows on top of the water for entertainment. The tradition was in danger of disappearing until the 1960s when the Thang Long Puppet Theatre was built. Professional puppeteers that undergo years of training have mastered the elaborate art-form and successfully brought the tradition back to life. Not only are countless shows performed at the theatre in Hanoi, but the puppet shows also go on tour around the world, bringing winds of Vietnamese culture and tradition to places like Australia, America, and Europe.
The water puppet shows recount Vietnamese folktales, legends and even important events in Vietnamese history. Puppeteers stand behind a screen, in water that is up to their chest, all while maneuvering puppets on top of the water. The puppets are set upon rods and wires that enable the puppeteers to move the puppets and recount the ancient stories. Traditional Vietnamese music plays along, adding a dramatic and inspiring factor to the show with instruments like drums, bamboo flutes, and cymbals. The Thang Long Puppet Theatre allows for the prosperity of an important part of Vietnamese culture.
When to Go
The Thang Long Puppet Theatre is located at 57b Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. Shows are performed daily. Shows in the summer are performed at 4:10 pm, 5:20 pm, 6:30 pm and 8 pm. In the winter, you can watch shows at 3 pm, 4:10 pm, 5:20 pm, 6:30 pm, 8 pm and 9:15 pm. Sunday morning shows are performed at 9:30 am. Ticket prices are 100,000 VND per ticket, and children under 12 cost 60,000 VND per ticket.
Hoan Kiem Lake
A peaceful place to rest from the chaos of the city, Hoan Kiem Lake has plenty of history to offer. In the center of the lake rests a tower, which commemorates a famous emperor who was involved in the legend revolving around the lake and its name. Legend says that the Dragon King gave Le Loi a sword, in which he used to defeat the Chinese invaders. In 1428, Le Loi visited the lake and was boating around when a giant golden turtle came to the surface. The turtle told Le Loi that he was sent by the Dragon King to retrieve the sword Le Loi was given. Le Loi then named the lake “Hoan Kiem Lake” meaning, “Lake of the Returned Sword.” Since the legend was told, turtles in this lake have been considered precious and are well-respected by visitors.
Hoan Kiem Lake provides visitors with lots of opportunities to people watch. Also, if you stop by in the morning time, you can see locals performing their usual session of Tai Chi. Beautiful, sprawling gardens frame the lake, which provides loads of photo opportunities for visitors. Hoan Kiem Lake is also home to the Rising Sun Bridge, a bright-red bridge hung over the water that leads to the Ngoc Son Pagoda. This pagoda sits on an island and pays homage to the 13th-century military leader, Tran Hung Dao. Tickets to the pagoda can be purchased right after you cross the bridge.
Vietnam Women’s Museum
The Women’s Museum offers a glimpse into the history of women in Vietnam. The museum exhibits the many contributions that woman have made to the development of the culture and society. It explores the lives and roles of women in history, family as well as in fashion. The roles of women during wars against the French and Americans are a large part of the history section of the museum. Sacrifices and contributions made by Vietnamese women are highlighted, providing empowering stories to the visitors. The family section focuses on women’s traditional roles as mothers, brides and child bearers. Another display educates the public on how women prepared meals, as well as creating crafts to sell and support their families.
When visiting, you will see exhibits of historical objects and information, as well as modern examples and insight into women in Vietnamese culture.
The Vietnam Women’s museum is located at 36 Ly Thuong Kiet St, Hanoi. It is near Hoan Kiem Lake and is easily accessible from the Old Quarter. Tickets cost 30,000 VND.
Duong Lam Ancient Village
Standing near the rapidly growing city, Duong Lam ancient village stands as a symbol of Vietnam’s fascinating history. This ancient village is still home to some residents, who reside in houses that have been passed down through countless generations. Eye-catching architecture along with bright plants and brick walls make Duong Lam a unique attraction. As the village that was the birthplace of two kings, Ngô Quyền and Phùng Hưng, Duong Lam is a praised destination that you should not miss while you are in Hanoi.
Getting to the Village
The cheapest way to arrive in Duong Lam is by bus. You can take bus no.71 at Mỹ Đình and ride all the way to Sơn Tây station, and from there taking a taxi or motorbike into the village.
Touring Duong Lam
It is possible to explore Duong Lam in one day, however, there are over ten destinations within the village that you should visit. It is best to hire a tour guide to take you through Duong Lam to ensure that you visit all of the unique structures. Also, you must try the unique dish called “sugarcane chicken.” It was once a meal that was served only during special village celebrations but is now a very popular dish in Duong Lam.
There are many interesting places for you to visit in Duong Lam, such as the Mong Phu communal house. Mong Phu was built about 380 years ago, and legend says that it was built on top of a dragon’s head, with the two wells being the dragon’s eyes. This communal house boasts incredible architecture that represents beautiful and artistic design with every pillar and bamboo wall.
Duong Lam provides an incredible look into the lives of people in Vietnam. When you are walking through the village, witnessing the residents drying peanuts and other foods they have harvested is a testament to how self-sufficient the village really is. It is surrounded by nature and provides a peaceful day for anybody that visits.
Where to Eat
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in Vietnamese culture is to taste the exquisite dishes that Hanoi has to offer. From delicious soups to mouth-watering mixes of herbs and spices, there is something new to try for every meal!
Try a Bowl of Pho at Pho Bat Dan
Pho is one of the most popular dishes in Hanoi. Made with rice noodles and meat (usually beef) submerged in a delicious broth, this soup is a true delicacy that you have to try at least once. It may seem simple at first glance, but making pho is an art that chefs everywhere work for years to master. Pho Bat Dan is located in the Hoan Kiem District of Hanoi at 49 Bat Dan Street.
Taste Cha Ca at its Birthplace
Cha Ca is a meal that was invented to impress guests with a high status. Born at building number 14 on Cha Ca street in Hanoi, this dish of grilled fish with turmeric was always cooked to impress the scholars that gathered there. Cha Ca is topped with handfuls of fresh herbs, vegetables, roasted peanuts and shrimp paste, providing a unique dining experience for anybody lucky enough to taste it.
Experience Bun Cha at Bun cha Phat Loc
A dish that will surprise you, Bun Cha is served as a street food in Hanoi. Don’t be misled by the words “street food,” because Bun Cha is nothing but an aromatic dish that stops pedestrians in their tracks. Bun Cha consists of grilled pork served over a heap of white rice noodles. To add to the allure, it is served with vibrant herbs and a spicy dipping sauce.
Where to Stay
With so much adventure and entertainment to offer, you’ll definitely need a comfortable place to rest at the end of the day.
Le Hong Thai Homestay
A Hanoi local artist, Le Hong Thai, put together this exciting and interesting place to stay behind his workshop. There is a large living room, a kitchen, and an open area that is centered around a fireplace. His art hangs on every wall, as well as other interesting vintage items for guests to explore. A stay here would be quite fun and intimate as Mr. Thai is usually present and can even help you plan your travels.
Hanoi Backpackers’ Hostel
Backpackers’ Hostel is an eventful place to stay. Offering many amenities from free walking tours, computer rooms, pool tables and rooms to stay in, it is a cost-effective choice to rest your head after your long day in Hanoi.
Golden Silk Hotel
Located near one of the most bustling shopping streets, Hang Gai, this hotel is at the perfect location. It is set far enough off of the busy streets to provide a luxurious and relaxing stay for its guests, but it is also close enough to the action to make sure that you never miss a beat. Velvet armchairs and shiny wallpaper create a fancy atmosphere for you to enjoy during your time in Hanoi.
St Joseph’s Hang Da
St. Joseph’s Hang Da provides its guests with a room at a great price, along with complimentary breakfast with a wide variety of options. It is a simple, modest hotel that allows you to meet fellow travelers. Another plus is that it is located across the street from one of the most popular restaurants in Hanoi. Cha Ca Thang Long serves the famous turmeric-grilled fish, which is called Cha Ca.
Hanoi boasts many opportunities to immerse yourself in its culture. From museums, restaurants and historical sights to see, Hanoi will leave you with unique memories that will