You know what’s great about living outside of the U.S.? Leisure time and vacation days. I’ve had the past two weeks off for the lunar new year. I took this time off to travel, spend time with friends, and most importantly, to relax.
I traveled to Hanoi, Vung Tau, and back to Tra Vinh where I rang in the near year with friends.
I love Hanoi. I’ve been there three times now and wouldn’t mind revisiting again and again.I spent 5 days in Hanoi which includes travel days on both ends so I really only had about 3 days this time around. Hanoi is a big city, being the capital of Vietnam, but it’s got a small town vibe to it. It’s filled with old french architecture, alleyways with cute boutiques, and a lot of history. It’s a very artsy city filled with a lot of culture. If I had to compare Hanoi to a city in the U.S. it would be like Boston and Saigon would be like Los Angeles.
Getting to Hanoi
I hear you can get pretty inexpensive flights from Saigon or Can Tho to Hanoi but since I was traveling during Tet (Vietnamese for Lunar New Year), flights were a bit pricey. I ended up bussing to Can Tho from Tra Vinh (60 VND or $2.80 USD) and then flying from Can Tho to Hanoi which ended up being 4,384,000 VND or about $205 USD (price includes one checked bag) for a roundtrip ticket. I ended up staying at a family friend’s house so I didn’t have to worry about accommodations. There are affordable hostels in the Old Quarter of Hanoi though.
As for things to do and see, here are some recommendations. Keep in mind, the following recommendations are from my past 3 visits to Hanoi. It would be impossible for me to have done all of the following in my 5 day visit.
- Wander around Old Quarter. The Old Quarter is located near Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s filled with colonial architecture as well as cute shops and cafes. While in Old Quarter you should:
- Drink Vietnamese coffee. Cafe culture is huge in Vietnam so when you’re tired of wandering around, relax and people watch at a cafe. It’s tough to go very far without running into a cafe. The north is known for it’s egg coffee which can be found in cafes throughout Hanoi.
- Try delicious Vietnamese food. Bun cha is the dish of Hanoi. The most popular place to get bun cha is at 1 Hang Manh Street, but there are other shops that serve this famous dish.
- Go shopping. There are a ton of cute boutiques and shops in old quarter.
- Go to bia hoi. I wrote a bit about bia hoi in a past post but bia hoi is basically freshly brewed beer. In Hanoi, bia hoi are everywhere. Partake in some cheap delicious fresh beer like a local would and go to bia hoi.
- Go sightseeing:
- Temple of Literature. The first university in Vietnam was established here in 1076 and displays traditional Vietnamese architecture.
- Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. If you go at the right time, you might be able to catch the changing of the guards. If you desire to catch a glimpse of Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body, show up early. Remember to be respectful. Don’t fold your arms or put your hands in your pockets and dress modestly. Last entry is at 10:15 a.m. The mausoleum is closed Mondays and Fridays as well as October and November where Ho Chi Minh’s body is transported to Russia for maintenance. You can also walk around the complex and visit Ho Chi Minh Museum as well as Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house and the Presidential Palace.
- Hoan Kiem Lake. Walk around the lake and while you’re doing that….
- Visit Ngoc Son Temple which was built in classic Vietnamese style and is the most visited temple in Hanoi.
- Hoa Lo Prison Museum. I’ve only looked at the prison from the outside but I hear the museum is interesting. The prison housed US POW’s during the Vietnamese-American War but the exhibits are focused on Vietnam’s struggle for independence from France.
- Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. This museum is a little out of the way but it provides really great collections of tribal art, artifacts, everyday objects, and exhibits of Vietnam’s minorities. The grounds have examples of traditional village houses. There are also water puppet performances that you can see at the museum.
- One Pillar Pagoda. This is a Buddhist temple and is regarded as one of the most iconic temples in Hanoi.
- Tran Quoc Pagoda. It’s one of the oldest pagodas in Hanoi.
- St. Joseph Cathedral. The cathedral is situated in Old Quarter. It’s open during mass. You can also visit at other times of the day but must enter through a different entrance about a block from the front of the cathedral.
- Dong Xuan market. Check out what a traditional market is like in Vietnam
- Night market. The night market is open every evening in the Old Quarter. I feel like it’s less about buying and more of a social event. Be weary of pick-pocketers.
- During this visit to Hanoi, I also went to Bat Trang Ceramic Village. Bat Trang is situated just outside of Hanoi. It’s a seven century old pottery village. You can browse the shops and find beautiful ceramics and pottery for purchase. Or you can make your own pottery. If I had a more permanent living situation, I would’ve gone crazy and would’ve bought a ton of stuff. Instead, I walked away with only one piece. A mug that I painted.
- If you’re looking for a low-key place to dine, drink, and listen to live music, definitely check out The Hanoi Social Club. If my friend (who works here) hadn’t invited me to check out their Tiny Music Club for live music on Tuesday evenings, I would’ve never stumbled upon this place. I was pleasantly surprised though. The Hanoi Social Club is housed in a century-old house. The decor is beautiful and the food is delicious. If you have a hankering for dessert, I highly recommend the chocolate orange cake. The second floor has a little shop that sells art and jewelry. Most of the staff come from hospitality training schools for disadvantaged youth. The Hanoi Social Club regularly holds events, so if you’re in Hanoi, you can see what’s going on here.
If I were to go back to Hanoi, I have no doubt there would be much more to discover and see. I hear the Vietnamese Women’s Museum is great. So I guess I’ll leave that for next time!