Hanoi has been around for over a thousand years and is more alive than it has ever been, so let’s have a brief look through some of the highlights of the ancient city and capital of Vietnam, located in the country’s northern region and packed with archaeological wonders and history you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Hanoi’s ancient quarter dates back over a thousand years and is a treasure trove of hidden gems. We recommend doing what the locals do and riding bicycles around the old area to take in all the sites. There are over 30 different streets to discover, each named after the industry that once thrived there.
In the meanwhile, jewelry stores and currency exchanges can still be found on Silver Street and make sure to visit hoan kiem lake, which is located right in the middle of the city; legend has it that in the 15th century heaven sent the emerald dragon to protect the city from a flood.
If you’re an early riser, you can see people doing tai chi on the shore; if you’re a night owl, you can see traffic stopped for the party atmosphere that erupts every night around the lake; either way, it’s a memorable experience.
Naksong Temple, Hanoi’s most popular temple, is located nearby and is also worth a visit. While in the area, you should also take a stroll down Train Street (yes, there is a real railway line running through the street; it’s totally instagramable and very interesting to see how locals manage life between the tracks) and eat some of the best local food at one of the many restaurants on Hoan Kiem Street.
Next up is the central sector of the imperial citadel of thang long which is actually so beautiful it has been given the coveted label of being an unesco world heritage site. Built in the 11th century it was constructed from the ruins of an old 7th century chinese fortress and has many architectural marbles inside to discover.
In 1886 the palace was actually destroyed by the french and rebuilt for their army but their original foundation still stand today as do the incredible stone carved dragons outside the main steps.
The hanoi flag tower was probably one of the only structures inside the citadel that the french didn’t destroy and has an incredible height of 60 meters and we think the most impressive of all is the archaeological site filled with diverse relics still being found today including porcelain from west asia china and even japan.
The citadel is open to visitors on weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm and an entry ticket is 30 000 vietnamese dong per person and right across the street, is awe-inspiring temple of literature which is known for being the first university in the country and built in 1070.
If you want the best photos, be sure to stop by the then clang well and of course the 82 doctoral stone tablets recording the royal examinations held under the lamack dyn. The entire complex is divided into five sections, so you can spend the entire day strolling through the complexes, each as different as the last entry is 20,000 Vietnamese dong and it is entirely worth it in my opinion.
Visit the cenwest lake restaurant for a buffet that will leave you wanting more and while you’re there, take a stroll around the lake to work off some of your calories and take a look at the taeho pagoda and tranquil pagoda, two of the oldest temples in Vietnam that are still in use today.
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First up is the former ho lo prison, dubbed the hanoi hilton by American prisoners of war, which now serves as a museum focusing on the vietnamese struggle for independence from the french. The museum houses a guillotine, which was used to behead the vietnamese revolutionaries; it’s gruesome to think about, but it’s a part of history.
Next, we visit the fascinating Vietnam Military History Museum, which houses both propaganda photos and original documents from the wars against France, China, and the United States. Outside, visitors can see actual planes, tanks, and helicopters from the Vietnam War, also known as the American War.
The museum’s goal is to preserve, display, and educate visitors about the locals’ enduring artistic heritage; the collection numbers over 20,000 objects, though only 2,000 are on display at any given time, spanning from antiquity to the present.
Alternatively, the national museum of Vietnamese history houses intriguing pieces that date back as far as 10,000 b.c., so if you’re interested in learning more about the life of Ho Chi Minh—not the city, but the nation’s former leader—you should check the monument to Ho Chi Minh which stands in the middle of Hanoi’s Bardin Square and apparently inspired by Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow.
The story behind it is amusing, though, as Ho Chi Minh had requested that his ashes be scattered across Vietnam but instead, the Vietnamese government embalmed him and put him on display in a glass coffin only three meters in size, that sits on an artificial lake and is revered as one of the symbols of hanoi and is certainly the most unusual of the hundreds of pagodas in the city.
It was designed to resemble a lotus blossom which is of course the buddhist symbol of enlightenment in this part of South East Asia.
For an easy going night, have a trip to the thang long water puppet theater to catch a show which is a great way to discover the beauty of this unique vietnamese traditional art that has been brought to over 40 countries around the world to this day and is surely something that you cannot miss.
For those looking for a few drinks and to chill out with friends we would recommend the fat cat bar in the old quarter for the perfect music level and fun atmosphere and for those that want to let off some steam and stay late, the opera nightclub is for you, with cheap drinks and deals most nights, it stays open until 2am.
For those interested in history, culture, shows and local food, Hanoi is a must-visit location and highly recommended as somewhere to add to your itinerary especially if you are travelling in the region of South East Asia.
Hanoi is also a short flight from Bangkok, Thailand so even if you’re travelling around Thailand, why not hop on a plane and spend a few days in Hanoi, i guarantee, you won’t regret it.