Vietnam's capital city, Hanoi, has a long and turbulent history of more than one thousand years. It is a bustling city whose inhabitants embrace the future without letting go of the past, and it is these stark differences that make Hanoi such an interesting and exciting place to visit.
Time to visit
Summer in Hanoi runs from May to September and brings heat and humidity, with average temperatures reaching 32°C (90°F) accompanied by refreshingly short bouts of heavy rain. These tropical downpours generally arrive in the afternoons, and despite being wet, summer months have the highest number of hours of sunshine. Winter is cooler and can bring fog and clouds but little rain, and the average temperature is 17°C (62°F). The best time to visit Hanoi (Vietnam) is October and November, as days are not too hot with averages around 21°C (70°F) with less rain and plenty of sunshine.
Noi Bai International Airport is 35km from the center of Hanoi. A taxi from the airport to the city costs 10-15 USD. For an airport minibus into the city, wait outside the terminal building, it costs about 2 USD Per Pax. Air-conditional city bus (No 86, 07) leave from outside Noi Bai terminal every 15-20 minutes between 5AM – 9PM daily and costs 30,000 VND Per Pax. Private 4-seat car costs 30 USD.
Places to visit
The ancient name Hanoi, Thang Long, means “ascending dragon”. In fact cultural and historical remains of the city bear the mark of a rich past and many heroic legends. Exploring the city, the visitor will be able to get a better understanding of the country and its inhabitants.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is an intriguing relic of Vietnam’s history and, signifying its historical and cultural importance, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Standing 40 metres high, the central flag tower is the most recognizable feature of the Imperial Citadel and is often used as a symbol of Hanoi. This was the centre of ancient Hanoi and served as the political centre for eight centuries. Located in Ba Dinh, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is close to many other tourist attractions.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh has left an indelible mark on Vietnamese history and he is revered in Hanoi as the country’s greatest leader. Nicknamed ‘Uncle Ho’ by locals, his preserved body is now laid to rest in a glass case in the Ba Dinh area of Hanoi. This is more than a tourist attraction, it is a part of living history and a visit here stays long in the memory. The sombre building was modeled after Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow.
Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple
Hoan Kiem Lake (Turtle Lake) is a central feature of Hanoi and is a popular hangout spot throughout the day with locals and tourists. Ngoc Son Temple sits on a small island in the centre of the lake and linked by a bridge, makes a beautiful background for a few photos. Around sunset this area becomes especially busy with joggers and couples enjoying the relaxing views across the lake
Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan Market is the largest of its kind in Hanoi. This sprawling complex has several floors of fashion, apparel and souvenirs at some of the best prices in the city. Even if you’re not interested in printed T-shirts or cheap sunglasses, it is still fascinating to see the comings and goings of the local traders, and there is a wet market on the ground floor where the sights and smells of exotic produce assault the senses.
Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi Old Quarter is a fascinating area of the city where visitors can enjoy many fine examples of colonial architecture packed along narrow streets. Endless packs of scooters, motorbikes, bicycles and cars weave around traders selling fruit and souvenirs and narrow shop houses sell delicious Vietnamese food for pennies. The Old Quarter brings to life what many people imagine Hanoi to be, and exploring this area on foot is highly recommended for all visitors to Vietnam’s capital city.
Hanoi Opera House
One of the most elegant buildings in all of Hanoi is undoubtedly the Hanoi Opera House in the heart of the French Quarter. Built in 1911, is exudes Parisian charm from its ivory-toned columns, ornate balustrades and Gothic domes. Inside, performances range from opera, to dance, drama and international artists from every corner of the world. Large events are well publicized so keep an eye out and you might get lucky and get to see one of the world’s leading performers in one of the most beautiful buildings in Asia
Temple of Literature:
The Temple of Literature is a charming temple complex in the centre of Hanoi that was originally built to be a centre of learning dedicated to the Chinese sage and scholar Confucius. Over the preceding 1000 years many more buildings have been added and beautified o that now this large area is filled with ornate pavilions, shrines, and a rich garden. It has become a rite of passage for graduating doctors to visit The Temple of Literature and the whole place is steeped in Vietnamese history.
Fine Arts Museum
Tuesday to Sun from 9:15am to 5pm. Only party-approved Socialist art is shown here and most of the rooms have an small board explaining the history, aesthetics, and techniques of the paintings in that exhibit in Vietnamese, French, and English. It is an interesting museum at any rate, with pieces such as the wonderful pictures of soldiers on boats depicted on prehistoric bronze drums, Buddhist art, and revolutionary art of the 20th century wars. Also some interesting silk paintings.
Water Puppet Show
The ancient art form of water puppetry has a long association with Hanoi and there are several theatres where guests can enjoy this uniquely Vietnamese take on Asia’s puppet tradition. The original – and widely regarded as the best – theatre in town is the Thang Long Puppet Theatre. Puppets dance and slide elegantly over the liquid stage, controlled by a whole troupe of puppet masters hiding behind a screen.
Ha Noi Cathedral
Ha Noi Cathedral was built on the site of the former Bao Thien Tower, which was famous in the ancient capital of Thang Long under the Ly Dynasty (the 11th and 12th centuries). Ha Noi Cathedral, also known as Saint Joseph's Cathedral, was inaugurated on Christmas Day 1886, two years after its construction. Its design is similar to the architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
This is the most recent yet probably the largest and undoubtedly the most interesting Museums in Hanoi and Vietnam. The Museum comes out of the recognition that Vietnam is a multi-ethnic country and that more attention should be paid to promote socio-cultural diversity. Despite being out of the way compared with other museums in Hanoi, Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is worth a thorough visit, for those who are keen to learn about the multiculturality of Vietnam and for those who would appreciate some green space.
What to eat
Crab noodle soup - “Bun Rieu”
“Bun Rieu” is a northern crab and tomato noodle soup made with thin round rice noodles (instead of wide & flat like pho). There are no real crab meat pieces in there, but rather small clusters of crab egg. The soup has a light, tangy tomato flavor with a hint of the sea.
Spring rolls – “Bun Nem”
Spring rolls in Hanoi are made with thin rice paper wrapping, which crisps up really flakey and crunchy. You can find vendors selling them almost anywhere on the streets. A popular specialty is the crab rolls.
Steamed pork wraps – “Banh Cuon”
“Banh Cuon” is made with a pork and mushroom filling wrapped in freshly steamed rice paper, then topped with crunchy fried shallots. Fish sauce, chilis, and fresh herbs are served alongside. Eat it all in one bite for maximum deliciousness! Often, cinnamon pork will be offered as an accompaniment too.
Vietnamese sandwich – “Banh My”
The Vietnamese sandwich is one of the most ingenious France-meets-Asia creations ever! A fluffy baguette is stuffed with pate, cold cuts, cucumber, and pickled carrots & daikon. In Hanoi, this sandwich will be finished off with hot sauce and mayo drizzled on top.
Grilled pork & vermicelli – “Bun Cha”
“Bun Cha” just means “grilled pork”, but as you can see, you get so much more! First, you get two different kinds of pork: strips of meat and minced pork patties. These are soaked in a light fish sauce soup. Then, I like to dress up the soup by dumping in a lot of red chilis and minced garlic. You also get a plate of vermicelli noodles and a mountain of fresh herbs. Everything is dipped into the soup before delivering to mouth.
Egg coffee is a Hanoi specialty! A raw egg yolk is whipped with the famous drip coffee and sweetened condensed milk. This creates a concoction that is so thick and creamy, almost like a custard. And the most amazing thing: it tastes like creme brulee! Somehow, the egg takes away almost all the coffee flavor. So delicious! It’s like a dessert and caffeine fix in one. This is a must try when visiting Hanoi!
Vietnamese Noodle Soup – “Pho”
This soup is Vietnam’s de facto national dish, and Hanoi lays claim to its origin. It consists of a steaming bowl of rice noodles served in a delicate beef- or chicken-based broth that has simmered for hours in the pot, and comes with sprinkles of fresh herbs.