The first time I visited Vietnam, I stayed in the north and took in the sights and sounds of Hanoi, as well as making the trip to Halong Bay. A couple of years later, I find myself back in Hanoi and this time I have a much better idea of what I want to see and where I want to go, so I have made a small list of the very best attractions in Hanoi. You must add them to your itinerary!
10. One of the newest and most ‘swaggerific’ developments in Hanoi recently has been the erection of Landmark 72 – a multi-use skyscraper than dominates the skyline. On the 72nd floor, you will find the aptly-named Sky 72 Observatory, which for just 180,000 Dong (£6) provides a fantastic overview of Hanoi.
9. Nothing prepares you for how creepy the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi can be. A visit to the “Hanoi Hilton” can inspire sorrow, disgust, or outrage, but the prison focuses on the sufferings of Vietnamese revolutionaries who were confined (and sometimes executed) here, when the French were the masters of Vietnam in the early part of the 20th century.
8. The beautiful Chua Tran Quoc Pagoda is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, yet unlike many other religious sites in the city, it has a picturesque location and seems to be well-tended to. It is located on a small island near to the West Lake region of the city. There are usually plenty of Buddhist worshippers using the pagoda and this can create a very peaceful ambience.
7. A visit to the Huu Tiep Lake to see the infamous downed American B-52 Bomber is a memory of Vietnamese ‘victory’ in the Vietnam War. It is a small lake, seemingly located in the middle of nowhere, but if urban Hanoi your thing then you will enjoy its location as it gives you the chance to mingle with the locals.
6. Thanh Chuong Viet Palace may be located around 30km outside of the city centre, but there are few places near to Hanoi that better represent Vietnamese folklore and culture. This quaint complex of buildings was once home to Thanh Chuong, a masterful Vietnamese painter, and it is easy to see how the thatched cottages and lily ponds inspired him to produce such high quality works of art. It is now a popular tourist attraction, and even if you not interested in art, you must visit to experience the beauty of the Vietnamese way of life.
5. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a very large memorial located in Ba Dinh Square. It is dedicated to the Chairman of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Ho Chi Minh (he also has a city named after too, in the south), so you can get the idea that this is a very patriotic place, and one of Hanoi’s top tourist attractions.
4. Le Mat Snake Village is a well-known region of Hanoi where you can find ‘snake catchers’ of every generation. They bring home their prizes and display them for all to see. If you have an interest in Vietnamese culture and cuisine, you won’t be too surprised to learn that these snakes somehow end up either on the dinner plate or in your wine glass. If you are so inclined (and you’ll be surprised to learn that most people are!) you can even order a snake to eat yourself! Only in Vietnam, eh?!
3. Regularly labelled as the “centre of Hanoi”, Hoan Kiem Lake is certainly the most peaceful spot in the city. Away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, you can enjoy a leisurely walk around the lake’s perimeter, all the while admiring its unique colouring (the water is usually light green) and perhaps seeing some of its famous turtles!
2. The Temple of Literature is a Confucian temple deep in the city. It has a remarkably scenic garden surrounding it, and it is a great place to see monks at work and at play. It is called the Temple of Literature as it was an important college in Hanoi where privileged scholars were educated.
1. The Old Quarter is where the true hustle and bustle of Hanoi occurs. Some people may not like its frenetic pace, but during a trip to Vietnam experiencing the fast-paced and at time unsafe way of life in the country is one of the coming-of-age stories all backpackers should be able to tell! Besides, some of the best food in Hanoi is served in the Old Quarter, not to mention the many markets that surround the area. It is a great place for souvenirs, but make sure you are ready to haggle to get the best deals!
Have you been to Hanoi? What did you think of the city – and what was your favourite memory?!