Many people do not have a definitive image of Hanoi before visiting, their perceptions have probably only been formed from watching some of he many Vietnam War movies. Hanoi is a city that blends an exotic feeling with modern life in its grace, history and architecture. The city has shed its past image and has been economically reformed. It's also getting noticed more and more on the global tourism circuit and in fact has just been announced as one of the cheapest cities in Asia!
Now, the boulevards are filled with mansions and the area has an abundance of parks and lakes. I recently got a chance to visit Hanoi and was astounded by how much the city has to offer. Here is a look into the things that I got to do and see along with a few tips and pieces of advice for others who are considering the journey as well as a few things not to do in Vietnam!
5 Must See Historical Attractions in Hanoi
Hanoi offers a great amount of attractions to tourists within both the metropolitan areas and the natural countryside. Here are just a few of the top attractions that should not be missed;
The Temple Of Literature
One of the most amazing places to explore, The Temple Of Literature (pictured above), is actually not a temple, but is a large compound of gates, lakes, a courtyard and museum. Back in 1070, it was the first University of Vietnam and dedicated to the famous Chinese Philosopher Confucius. I loved the serenity this attraction offered. Make sure to leave plenty of time to roam around, take pictures, and soak up the ambiance.
One Pillar Pagoda
One of the most iconic attractions, the One Pillar Pagoda, or Chua Mot Cot, is a Buddhist Temple that stands in a lotus dam on one stone pillar and is pictured at the very top of this post. Inside this structure, there is a statue of a goddess with one hundred arms, it is believed that she can help couples who want children, but are suffering with infertility issues.
Hoan Kiem Lake
In my opinion, the Hoan Kiem Lake district is the best part of the city. The Turtle Tower is the center point and is pictured below. It is a nice place to take a walk, chill out for a moment or grab some of the best photos of Hanoi, provided its not too misty!
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
A visit to Uncle Ho’s mausoleum is a truly eerie and surreal experience (pictured below). Many fellow travellers had their fruit confiscated on entry (what are they going to do with it?) and many were also turned away for wearing shorts and vests. No talking, no photos and single file only but what a view! To see Ho Chi Minh himself laying there embalmed Lenin-style is an awesome experience.
Hoa Lo Prison aka The Hanoi Hilton
The Hoa Lo Prison museum was dubbed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ during the Vietnam War and the captured American POWs were held here. The museum was just down the road from my hotel and a real must-see; the museum exhibits the struggles of the Vietnamese people against the cruel French colonial rule. Many pieces show propaganda in full force and it’s a real eye-opener.
Shopping And Nightlife
The streets of Hanoi are filled with shopping opportunities where tourists can look and touch all of the goods. The Old Quarter market is filled with beautiful silk and embroidery. Crafts like ceramics, paintings and furniture can be found as well.
One of the most popular night time experiences is the water puppet theatre. I got a front row seat to the show and had a wonderful time. The show includes short stories and orchestra music. It is a wonderful glimpse into the cultural background of Vietnam.
Tips And Advice While In Hanoi
Even though Hanoi appears modern, the people remain traditional, especially in the way that they dress. It is best to dress conservatively when visiting popular attractions. Tipping is not required, but is appreciated since many workers are on a low wage.
You'll reap the benefits if you can fly direct, their are now direct flights from the UK straight into Vietnam and new airports are schedules to open both this year and 2013.
The dong is the currency of Vietnam, but I found many places that accept the dollar. Getting around the city is mostly done by taxi. This can get expensive, so I used the local cyclos for shorter trips.
It may be wise to pack a comfortable pair of shoes, a sweater since it gets cold in the evening, and insect repellent if visiting during the humid season.
Hanoi has become one of the most interesting places to visit in Asia. It is rich in culture and beautiful natural surroundings. It remains a modest area filled with excitement and wonderful experiences. I cannot wait to go back.
Best Time To Visit Hanoi
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is preferred over the more crowded locations such as Ho Chi Minh City in the south, because of its charm and original culture and historical influence. The climate is best in early spring or throughout autumn, since most travelers wish to escape the hot and humid weather and summer rainy periods. As the year ends, the city becomes most crowded and hotel prices soar.
I had the opportunity to visit Hanoi during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year celebration; the biggest holiday of the entire year. Tradition states that the days prior to the holiday, people are to bring special gifts to the individuals they wish to impress. Since there is a high demand for specialties, shops pop up all over town. City streets are filled with vendors selling hoa doa; peach trees that equal the sentiment of an American Christmas tree. It is a truly exciting time and one I'll not forget in a long time!