Graceful Flame Trees fringe the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake and its famous terrapins nudge the vermillion paintwork of the Rising Sun Bridge. The serenity of this scene in the heart of Hanoi, Vietnam, is a thrilling contrast to the bustling streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
Hanoi was founded over a thousand years ago and has seen many rulers and imperial administrators come and go. Discovering their legacy and immersing yourself in Vietnam’s historic capital is a richly rewarding travel experience.
Discover Hanoi Old Quarter
The serenity of its lakes and tree-lined boulevards partners with the cramped streets of the old quarter, which is full of traditional shops and workrooms.
Explore the “36 Streets” of the Hanoi Old Quarter, wandering through Silk Street, Medicine Street and more. Step back in time amongst this maze of ancient lanes, where quirky shops sell everything from exquisite handicrafts to daily necessities. Rub shoulders with the locals in bustling Dong Xuan Market, a foodie’s paradise bursting with sizzling street vendor stalls.
Each street has its own ‘theme’, for example musical instrument street, herbal medicine street, and we mustn’t forget crazy temple decorations street where you can buy piles of pretend paper money to burn as an offering to the gods!
You could wander here for days and see something bizarre or wonderful every few minutes.
French colonial Hanoi
Hanoi was once the centre of the French Indochina administration and has an elegant collection of well-preserved French colonial buildings, such as the beaux-arts Opera House and many government offices and embassies.
Other things to do in Hanoi
Visiting the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh is one of the most popular things to do in Hanoi so expect good natured queues. You’ll get to see ‘Uncle Ho’s’ humble wooden stilt house in its tranquil garden before shuffling past the tiny waxy figure. There is even a statue of Vladimir Illich Lenin nearby to keep him company.
For another unique cultural experience spend an evening at Hanoi’s Water Puppet Theatre for enchanting performances with live traditional music.
Street food in Hanoi
Take a food tour through the hidden corners and local markets of Hanoi’s vibrant street food scene. Plunge into the street food markets and discover bizarre and unusual local treats including live crickets and fetus eggs deep in the backstreets of Hanoi, learning how these dishes entered Vietnam’s mainstream cuisine.
Bun chả is a combination of grilled small patties of seasoned pork and slices of marinated pork belly cooked over a charcoal fire until charred and crispy. These are served with a large bowl of fish sauce-heavy broth, a basket of herbs and a helping of rice noodles. Bún chả is a top choice at lunchtime and Hanoi’s most famous Bun cha outlet is Bun Cha Dac Kim at 1 Hang Manh St in Hoan Kiem District.
Thoughts on travel in Vietnam
Vietnam is an amazing country to visit and I was sorry to leave. I think that it is changing very fast and will be a very different country in 10 years time, when the throngs of bicycles and motor scooters will be superseded by cars.
Vietnam is a very complex country, so full of unexpected beauty amidst the inheritance of destruction, so aware of the value of the tourist dollar. In fact so aware of the importance of the growing economy – beyond any political ideology. My memories of visiting Hanoi will always be fond ones.
Once you’ve seen Hanoi plan the rest of your two-week Vietnam itinerary with the help of this post.
By Natasha von Geldern