HANOI — The sights, the sounds, and the smells are mesmerizing. Anthony Bourdain says Hanoi is the fragrance of “motorbike exhaust, fish sauce, incense, the faraway smell of something — is that pork grilling over charcoal?… It could be no place else.” He calls Vietnam his “first love; a place [he remains] besotted with, fascinated by” and liked Hanoi so much he met President Obama here. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Hanoi the first time around, but I was pleasantly surprised and wished I had more than a couple of days to explore and appreciate the sights and sounds (and tastes). If you’re going (and you should!), you surely need some ideas of where to start. So what to do in Hanoi?
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
This is where you get to see the former President’s embalmed body. We went in November and did not get a chance to see the famed remains as Mr. Minh usually gets sent away to Russia around September to December for maintenance of sorts. The Mausoleum is only open from 8am -11pm but we hear that you must enter the grounds by 10 am as you may be refused entry. Note, do come early and beat the tour groups as the wait in line will be long and hot. We recommend that you bring a small umbrella and use that as a cover while you wait in the hot weather. While you are here, you should see the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the changing of the guards. We did these instead as we missed the Mausoleum.
Try the egg coffee at Cafe Giang at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan
You don’t really see this in the Southern Vietnam. Although it takes them a while to make the egg coffee, it was definitely worth it for 35,000 dong. We tried the egg coffee at Café Phố Cổ and it was not good at all. If I hadn’t tried it at Cafe Giang, I would have not liked egg coffee at all.
Try Sua Chua Cafe at DuyTri Coffee
This is my favourite coffee of all time. Rob and I love this. Nothing more to say than you must try this. You will not regret it. That’s all.
Go to the Temple of Literature
Pretty place to take pictures and buy some souvenirs, and it’ll give you the feeling of being in the soul of Hanoi. Get here early as there are tour buses that go here and it can be crowded. We saw lots of students drawing the scenery and students taking pictures for their graduation. If not too crowded, just a nice and relaxing place to be.
Ha Long Bay Tour
Although a tourist favorite and #1 of everyone’s list, and although a journey from Hanoi itself, Ha Long Bay was one of our favorite parts of the short trip to Vietnam. We did a tour with Vega Travel for 1 night and 2 days. The food was plentiful and tasty. I can not rave enough about this tour. The guide took us kayaking, to a cave at Hang Sung Sot, swimming in the ocean at night, an evening cooking class, playing games, and going to Titop Island to get a nice view of Ha Long Bay from above. Touring the Bay is definitely a must do when in the Hanoi area.
Walk around Hoàn Kiếm Lake at night
This place is always so busy at night time. All the young people hang around this area and so it is very lively. There are shops around the river and people everywhere. One of my favourite things to do is eating ice cream and just watching people go about their lives. This place is a beautiful sight at night.
Go Directly to Jail: Visit Hỏa Lò Prison
This absolute must-see will give you a taste of history.
Hanoi Weekend Market
Tons of things for sale, and cheap, too. Be down to bargain, you might find some deals. We found mediocre-quality shirts and interesting statues (good gifts for people back home) for low prices (just remember, buy 2 sizes up as these cheap shirts are tiny!).
Bia Hoi (Beer Hoi)
One of the coolest most refreshing things in Hanoi is the ever-popular “bia hoi” joints, located all over the city. Make sure you make it before the beer sells out. The beer is super-cheap, fresh, and you’ll be sitting amongst locals. The beer is cheap, about $0.50/glass. It is weak, however, but to this, Anthony Bourdain says, “Ah, so we need to drink a lot.” Indeed. Definitely try a bia hoi spot and get your drink on. Even better if the weather is hot.
Walk around the city and just experience it
I sometime hate doing the normal tour things and just like to wander around and explore the city as that is the best way to discover things you would never have. Whenever we see people eating something interesting, we would just order it and try it. We ate so much new food that we would never have if we didn’t do this.