Posted By : Threeland Travel / Hanoi
Dated back 1000 years ago, Vietnam’s capital is the place of fascinatingly rich culture and history, with the hundreds years old winding and rambling old quarter. However, what you will be able to see in Hanoi today is the intriguing past delightfully blended with the bustling modern life. While the witnesses of history, namely Long Bien Bridge, Hanoi Opera House, Hoa Lo Prison, Temple of Literature, pagodas, museums, or Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum are still there to tell you the stories of the past; the draw of new and modern Hanoi is no less inviting, with modern café, fine restaurants, and many contemporary art galleries. Whether you visit the city within a day or stay for some nights, Hanoi always has many things to satiate your thirst of cultural exploration. Below we recommend top 8 things for you to make the most of your time in this charming capital.
Pay a visit to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh is the very first president of The Socialist Republic of Vietnam who tirelessly fought for the country’s independence. Vietnamese people lovingly call him “Uncle Ho” because of his approachable personality and modest lifestyle which truly represents his people. Ho Chi Minh president passed away in 1969, and in 1973 a mausoleum was built to preserve his body so that the next generations could pay him a visit. It took 2 years until the building opened for public in 1975. Paying a visit to Ho Chi Minh president is one of must-do things for many foreign visitors due to his international reputation. If you want to dig deeper in Ho Chi Minh’s legacy, you should not miss the simple yet elegant Stilt House – once the president’s residence, overlooking a peaceful garden; and Ho Chi Minh Museum where exhibits thousands of documents, artifacts, and artworks relating to the revolutionary life and career of this exceptional leader. All those attractions are located inside the Ho Chi Minh Complex.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum opens in the morning of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday from 7.30am – 10.30am and in the morning of Saturday and Sunday from 7.30am – 11am. No entrance fee is applied. However, if you wish to visit the Stilt House or Ho Chi Minh Museum, prepare to pay a small cash of 40,000VND (around 2USD) for each attraction.
The Mausoleum is situated at No.2 Hung Vuong street, just behind the Ba Dinh Square. It is 4km away from the old quarter, which only takes 10-minute drive. Walking from the old quarter is also an exciting way to reach the mausoleum, as you will have a chance to watch the everyday life of locals on the sides of the streets, and will also pass by several other attractions along the away such as Hanoi Flag Tower or the used-to-be residence of the late General Vo Nguyen Giap.
Long queue of tourists and locals to visit Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum
Discover Temple of Literature – the first imperial college of Vietnam
Temple of Literature, locally known as Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam – is one of the most popular tourist sites as the temple dedicated to Confucius and hosted the very first imperial college in Vietnam’s history. Rooted as the noble place for education, the Temple of Literature is today also a worshipping place for Vietnamese people especially young students who visit and pray for their success in exams or study in general. Besides the historical value, Temple of Literature is also regarded as the architectural jewels of the capital city. The temple is a large complex of stone steles which recorded the names and birthplaces of exceptional scholars who were awarded doctorates, a lake, interior courtyards, and worshipping houses of the world-known Confucius, Chu Van An – the greatest teacher in Vietnam’s history, and the kings who made significant contribution to the temple establishment and development.
The complex is situated at No. 58 Quoc Tu Giam street, over 2km (8-minute drive) from the old quarter. If your hotel is at the city center, you can conveniently take a taxi with relatively cheap fare to get to the temple.
The temple opens everyday from 7.30am to 5.30pm in summer and from 8am to 5.30pm in winter. Entrance fee costs very little at 30,000VND (roughly 1.5 USD).
Temple of Literature - the pride of Vietnam's education history
Join the locals at Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem lake rests at the heart of Hanoi that embodies the soul of the city. This place always fills with locals socializing in many different ways. But the lake seems to be busiest in the early morning, with aerobic classes, runners and joggers, badminton players, or ballroom dancers. This truly represents the local life of Hanoians. You are highly recommended to try walking up early for one day to join the locals at the lake, or just simply strolling by and taking some instagrammable pictures. When the night comes, especially in the weekends when the roads around the lake are transformed into walking streets, local people enjoy gathering there as well for night markets, ballroom dancing clubs or friends and lovers taking a stroll and and sharing the stories with each other while enjoying the evening air. If you stay overnight in Hanoi over the weekend, do not forget to visit the lake after dusk.
Hoan Kiem Lake in the morning is filled with locals doing morning exercises
Explore Hanoi’s unique coffee culture
Vietnamese people love their coffee. And that huge passion can be best seen in the Vietnamese capital. There are nowadays many modern and stylist coffee shops in almost every corner of the city serving machine-made coffee like cappuchino or expresso that draws the youth. But for the older generations or anyone strongly attached with the coffee culture of the old Hanoi, nowhere can attract them more than the decades-old coffee houses, typically right on the streets! You don’t have to go anywhere beyond the sidewalk to explore the true coffee culture of Hanoi. It is by grabing a short chair from a street store and watching the locals passing by while waiting for the coffee to filter slowly that Hanoi’s coffee culture can be best understood. Unlike Western countries, we don’t drink coffee with milk, but with condensed milk or egg! Egg coffee is a Hanoi specialty in which a creamy soft, meringue-like egg white foam is perched on dense Vietnamese coffee. Or if you are not a fan of sweetness, the back dense coffee is enough for you to understand why Vietnam is the second biggest coffee exporters of the world.
Giang Cafe is among the oldest coffee houses in Hanoi with family secret that makes its coffee quality second to none. Located at 39 Nguyen Huu Huan street inside an alley on the bustling street for decades, Giang Cafe is both well-known by local people and foreign travelers. There they serve different kinds of Vietnamese coffee such as black coffee, brown coffee (black coffee with condensed milk), egg coffee – the must-try, and many other caffein drinks. Giang Cafe prides itself to be the honorable coffee server at the press conference during the 2019 North Korea – United States Summit in Hanoi.
Vietnamese "ca phe" - the quintessence of Vietnamese culture
Stroll through the old quarter
Besides coffee, taking a leisurely walk through the winding and rambling old quarter is the best way to understand Vietnam’s capital. Dating back to 14th century, the Old Quarter referred to the civic urban core situated outside of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long with a maze of 36 connecting streets. This quarter used to be the residential, manufacturing and commercial center, where each street was specialized in one specific type of manufacturing or product. Today, many streets do not remain their original manufacturing any more, but open way for new types of services such as street food stalls, convenience stores and clothes outlets. To fully emerge yourself while saving precious time, grab a map or jump on a cyclo tour to trace the steps back the past.
The old quarter is also known as the main hub for Vietnamese street food. There you can browse through numerous street food stalls with different Vietnamese specialities such as pho (noodle soup), bun cha (dried noodle with grilled pork), banh cuon (rice rolling cake), che (sweet soup), hoa qua dam (fruit salad), banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) and so on. Don’t forget to sample some of the best examples of Vietnamese cusines in our suggested address below, all are just walking distance from each other.
Pho: 49 Bat Dan street; 10 Ly Quoc Su street; 25 Hang Giay street.
Bun cha: The alley 74 Hang Quat street; 34 Hang Than street; 01 Hang Manh street.
Banh cuon: 26B Tho Xuong street; 68 Hang Cot street; 14 Cua Bac street.
Che: “Che Ba Thin” at 01 Bat Dan street, “Che 4 mua” at 04 Hang Can street.
Hoa qua dam: Any stores on To Tinh street.
Banh mi: "Banh Mi Lan Ong" at 08 Cha Ca street.
A small part of the rambling Hanoi Old Quarter
Watch the traditional Water Puppet Show
Water Puppetry is a tradition that dates back to 11th century when it was popularized in the villages in Red River Delta – north Vietnam. People created the puppetry for entertainment and to foster the sense of the community, as it is supposed to play the farming activities of their daily life. Vietnamese Puppetry is a unique variation of Asian puppet tradition. When it comes to performance, there are two versions: land puppetry and water puppetry. But the later one seems to be more popular and more attractive to foreign tourists. The puppets are made of wood and then lacquered. Water Puppet Show is performed in a waist-deep pool with the skillful puppetry artists literally behind the scene controlling and making the puppets moved over the water. The content of the performance varies from everyday life activities of north Vietnamese people to the legacies of national heroes. On two sides of the stage are Vietnamese traditional opera team playing “tuong”, “cheo” as the musical theme for the show.
You can visit Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (57B Dinh Tien Hoang street, Hoan Kiem) or Bong Sen Water Puppet Theatre (16 Le Thai To, Hoan Kiem) to watch an entertaining live performance of this unique northern Vietnamese art form.
The fascinating Water Puppet Show representing northern Vietnamese culture
Have “bia hoi” on Ta Hien street
Joining locals or other fellow travelers for bia hoi (local beer), again, in the old quarter, especially on Ta Hien street, is among popular night time activities in Hanoi. You have a wide range of selections of sophisticated rooftop bars to buzzing bia hoi right on the streets. It’s an interesting and fun way to end a day with your local friends sharing your day stories while enjoying some made-in-Vietnam beers. If Vietnamese people love to have coffee in the morning, a cup of bia hoi is one of our favorite ways to end a day. If you don’t like being in noisy places and fancy a more chilling ambiance, there are plenty of pubs with live jazz or American-styled brewing houses just around the corners.
The bustling Ta Hien street in the old quarter with locals and foreigners
Check out multiple free art galleries.
Hanoi has its reputation as Vietnam’s art capital, with the Fine Art Museum housing the country’s foremost collection of art pieces. Looking for something more contemporary? You may head to Trang Tien streets with many art rooms open free for public across the road, showcasing some of the best works of young yet talented local artists. Manzi is another great example representing new decade of arts in Vietnam, with the concept of art cafe that is very much loved by the youth.
Many visitors fail to notice a heap of captivating yet free art spaces in Hanoi
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