Top Places to Visit in Hanoi, Vietnam
NOTE: Everywhere you go, there is a local visitor's fee and a foreign visitor's fee. And some places really charge a hefty extra for foreigners. Maybe you want to practice a bit of Malay to go around Malaysia.
Hoan Kiem Lake
This is one of the famous spots to go to in Hanoi. It is a small lake right in the middle of Central Hanoi. It's also very historical and culturally significant to the people of Vietnam, especially the people of Hanoi. This is a very legendary part of Hanoi and across a brightly painted red bridge, we went on our way to an island with a beautiful temple called the Temple of the Jade Mountain. In the center of the lake is an old stone Pagoda called the Turtle Tower. It's very simple but also alluring since it's a lone structure right in the middle of the lake.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
Okay, I was mesmerized! I have no other words to describe it. It's like entering the movie theatre for the first time and find yourself awe-struck with moving pictures. The Puppet Theater was really amazing and we are thrilled to watch the show. Filled with music in the air, I loved watching life-sized puppets streaming over the water and dancing and gliding under the nice dim light. I loved every minute of it, and I am at a loss for words. You will enjoy an ancient Vietnamese art where you can see thrilling works of art in all forms: great traditional music, wonderful theatrics, and most of all, great artwork. Given the chance, I would love to come back here again.
Hanoi Old Quarter
As the name suggests, it is a part of Hanoi that brings you back to the past. You will love the old shops and the western inspired buildings that were built there centuries ago. The streets are filled with life, full of bicycles and motorcycles. You will also love going around the area to EAT! The street food is amazing. Vietnamese food is all about fresh greens, almost everything you eat is topped with coriander, mint, and other fresh greens. I love the setting here. There are vendors selling flowers behind their bikes and hawkers selling goods right in the middle of the street. I just love taking a walk and window shop around.
Contrary to its name, Hanoi Hilton is actually a prison. It was a sarcastic way of American Prisoners of War calling the place. It is also known as Hoa Lo Prison—or at least was. Now, it's a prison museum of how prisoners of war in the Vietnam War were put. I can't imagine John McCain being there in his youth. I was told that it was bigger but they took down most of the area for urban expansion and left this small museum as a standing memory for the past that Vietnam had to go through to achieve its independence.
Temple of Literature
Hanoi's antiquity is seen in certain places like the Temple of Literature. This is the home of Hanoi's oldest University which was built in 1070. Surviving the war and the turmoil of Vietnam's past, this place is almost about to celebrate its millenia in the coming years. This is truly historical and it’s a tradition for most people of Vietnam to come and write wishes in Han on New Year.
It's pretty big and it has five courtyards with a lot of Confucian Temples around. There are also dozens of stone turtles with carved names of scholars who passed the royal exams. I bet that some of the people of Hanoi are direct descendants of some of the names carved in these stone turtle tablets. It's beautifully maintained and I can see why it survived a war about half a century ago. Its beauty is really incomparable to most of the temples I have come across.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
You'd actually think you'll find this in Ho Chi Minh City but on the contrary, Ho Chi Minh was buried in Hanoi. It is a wide ground with a huge memorial that also signifies a great importance to Vietnam's history. This was where Ho Chi Minh announced or read Vietnam's Independence. It is historically significant and I can see how important it is because it sure is clean and very well-maintained. The body of Ho Chi Minh is mummified and displayed in a glass case. It is also carefully guarded, so you better know the rules and regulations before you go in there.
Vietnam is full of beautiful surprises. From wonderful trekking sights, majestic boating experience, and a totally awesome historical city. You will love going around Vietnam enjoying the really unique culture and also the wonderful works of mother nature. I would love to come again and visit other places in Vietnam. That’s for sure.
Looking for a place to stay in Hanoi? Check out our review of B&B Hanoi Hotel.