Hanoi is a great city and will feature in every traveller's trip to Vietnam. There's plenty to do during your stay, but simply wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere is perhaps the best way to get a feel for the city. Here's a quick city guide to help you on your way.
Hanoi lies on the banks of the Red River. It's a beautiful city with French influences. Some people even refer to Hanoi as the Paris of the Orient, with its elegant embassies, lakes, wide boulevards and the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. The city definitely has a European feel to it in the spring when the trees along the boulevards are all covered in blossom. It's also an inviting city with all the little shops, markets, the many lakes and local eateries and stalls. Despite all the cars, mopeds and bikes it still doesn't feel like a huge metropolis.
Crossing the road... There are so many mopeds on the streets in Hanoi that crossing the road is something akin to “playing chicken” – it certainly raises your blood pressure. In principle crossing the road is not dangerous, the traffic drives around you as long as you walk calmly across. Don't move quickly.
The Old Quarter The Old Quarter of Hanoi is one of the liveliest neighbourhoods in the city. Located on the bank of the river this is where the trading centre began. In the 13th century, the 36 streets were divided up among the craft guilds, giving each guild its own street. You’ll find that ‘Shoe Street’ has only shoe shops. All street names begin with “Hang” which means trade followed by whatever goods were sold on that street. So you find silver on Hang Bac and on Hang Dong copper. On Hang Gai you’ll find silk and hand-made souvenirs. You can finish off the day by visiting the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre. Every evening, except Mondays, a performance is given at 8pm.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum A mausoleum was built for Ho Chi Minh after his death, just like Lenin in Moscow, so that everyone can view him lying in a glass sarcophagus. Surrounded by guards, everyone can go in, one by one, to take a look at ‘Uncle Ho’ who looks a little bit orange. They have used orange/red lighting so that the light won’t damage (discolour) the body. For the Vietnamese it is a great honour to be permitted to visit this embalmed body. It is therefore extremely important that you fit in with their customs during such a visit. Incorrect behaviour includes talking or taking photos inside the mausoleum, wearing revealing or offensive clothing. Don’t forget to take your hands out of your pockets.
Ho Chi Minh’s House and Museum Ho Chi Minh’s house lies behind the mausoleum, built on stilts. There is a garden around the house with a large pond. The Ho Chi Minh museum stands on the other side of the mausoleum. It is divided into two sections, one devoted to the past and the other the future.
What can you do from Hanoi? Well - there are plenty of options. Travel to UNESCO protected Halong Bay, where you can sleep aboard a traditional Huong Hai junk boat as you sail amongst the amazing karst islands. It takes about 4hrs to reach Halong Bay from Hanoi by road.
Alternatively, you can take the overnight train north to Sapa to trek to the hilltribes of the Black H'mong among others. This mountainous area is beautiful, with green valleys and terraced rice paddies as far as the eye can see.
Anchors away in Halong Bay. Meet the hilltribes of Sapa and drift along the Mekong to tropical Phu Quoc Island. We'll help you build your very own Vietnam adventure with our bite-sized Vietnam tours. Travel your own way with Vietnam Travel Plan.