Part 1/3: Popular Sights...
Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi is a litany of colours, tastes, sights, and experiences just waiting to be explored and discovered. The challenge for any traveller visiting this chaotically beautiful city is that they can quite easily feel overwhelmed by the sheer energy of the place. On any of her countless streets and alleyways you’ll find hundreds of scooters zigzagging their way to their destinations; a plethora of small restaurants whose fragrant dishes fill the streets with mouth-watering aromas; and just as many hawkers and small shops, selling everything from souvenirs to a new pair of flip flops. Needless to say, travellers very seldom know where to start when it comes to exploring Hanoi. Luckily for you, that’s what we are here for.
In the next couple of blog posts, we’ll be looking at some of the best sights that Hanoi has to offer. In part one we’ll look at some of the most popular sights, while in part two we’ll look at the temples and places of worship. Lastly, we’ll look to stimulate the grey matter by having a look at all the Hanoi’s museums in part 3. If you want to make sure that you do not miss any of our blogs be sure to sign-up to our mailing list!
Take a Stroll Around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem lake is known as the lake of the returned sword. The legend states that when Vietnam was facing a time of great peril, a magical sword descended from the heavens. Emperor Ly Thai To wielded this sword and vanquished Vietnam’s foes. After establishing a new peaceful period the emperor decided that he’ll spend some time relaxing around the lake. A huge golden turtle appeared, asked for the sword back, and promised that it shall be returned during Vietnam’s times of trouble. So Emperor Ly Thai To gave the sword back, after all, one does not argue with a giant golden turtle, especially when it’s capable of talking.
Today you can walk around the tranquil heart of Hanoi, enjoying the tree lined lanes, small cafe’s, and various monuments on your stroll. Ngoc Son Temple is also situated here, as well as one of the most popular water puppet theatres in Hanoi. For a complete change of pace, try visiting Hoan Kiem at night over weekends, when the entire lake area is a designated walking area with no cars or motorbikes allowed. One lap around the lake is 1,6km, so make sure you plan your walk during the morning or the late evening – the lush shadows of the trees can only give that much protection against the Vietnamese midday sun.
Enjoy the Sunset Over West Lake
Tay Ho or West Lake is Hanoi’s biggest lake, and as a residential area filled with bohemian coffee joints and bars it offers something completely different to Hoan Kiem lake or Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Here life is a bit more laid back with a mixture of locals and ex-pats going about their daily lives in their own Tay-Ho-way. The best way to experience this welcome change of pace is by taking a walk around Tay Ho in the early morning, or settling down for some coffee or sundowners and watching the amazing sunset that the lake has to offer. This area also features some of Hanoi’s most important religious sites and monuments.
Take in the View from the Lotte Skyscraper
The Lotte Centre dominates Hanoi’s skyline and has become an icon of the cities economic growth and progressive outlook. Although it’s not the tallest building in Hanoi, it is the tallest building in Hanoi’s inner city, reaching an impressive 270 metres. The top of the Lotte Tower is open to tourists, complete with a glass-floored observation deck. This is the perfect spot to get an eagle-eyed view of Hanoi, but be warned, the sensation of standing on thin air is one that will make even the most robust knees quake.
Address: 54 Lieu Giai, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Business Hours: 9AM – 10PM
Visit Uncle Ho’s Stilt House
Ho Chi Minh, or Uncle Ho as Hanoians fondly refer to him, is very much the father of modern Vietnam. A celebrated statesman who fought for independence against the Japanese, French, and Americans, you’ll see his face everywhere throughout Vietnam, from banknotes to murals and huge portraits outside of schools and government buildings. When visiting his stilt house you get an idea of the type of man that Ho Chi Minh was. He forsook the opulent residence of governor of Indochina for a humble traditional stilt house where he lived while leading his country. Although the residence itself is not open to the public, the garden and surrounding area is still worth visiting.
Address: So 1 Ngo Bach Thao, Ngoc Ho, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Business Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 8AM – 4PM; Monday: 8AM – 11AM
Enjoy a Show at Hanoi's Famous Opera House
Remnants of Vietnam’s colonial past are visible all over the country, from the influence in the cuisine to the different styles of architecture on display. In the Hanoi Opera House, you’ll find maybe the most impressive example of French architecture in all of Hanoi. This beautiful neoclassical building is a landmark in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Today it hosts various Vietnamese productions that are well worth the effort of booking ahead and taking in a show! A ticket to a performance is roundabout $30.00 per person, but the shows are highly recommended, especially the traditional Vietnamese Bamboo shows!
Address: So 01 Trang Tien, Phan Chu Trinh, Hoan Kiem
Business Hours: Dependent on shows.
Watch the Flag ceremony at Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is one of the most imposing sights in all of Vietnam. The massive marble Monuments stands in front of a huge and well-kept lawn, with a jumbo size Vietnamese flag waving in the wind. The ceremony of hoisting and lowering of the flag is truly one to be experienced, with hundreds of locals stopping their motorbikes next to the road to witness the military precision with which this task is completed. The ceremony takes place at 6 am and 9 pm every day.
Please Note: It is possible to visit the Mausoleum itself, but visitors should keep in mind that they are visiting the burial site of a National Hero, so proper reverence is needed. Dress modestly, with no open shoes, bare shoulders or bare knees on display. Also, do not attempt to take any photographs, wear a hat, or stand with your hands in your pockets. These are all signs of disrespect.
Address: 2 Hung Vuong, Dien Ban, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Business Hours: These hours indicate the accessibility of the mausoleum itself: Monday – Closed. Thursday, Wednesday, & Thursday – 7:30 – 10:30. Friday – Closed. Saturday & Sunday – 7:30AM – 11AM.
Rediscover history at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long was the official seat of Vietnamese governance until 1810 when the emperors of the Nguyen dynasty chose to move their capital to the city of Hue. With the citadel in disuse, it fell into quick disrepair, being used by the French and the Japanese as barracks and prisoner camps. In recent times, more and more interest in the history of Hanoi has caused organised excavations to take place, and the renewed interest caused the Citadel to be named a UNESCO world heritage site on 31 July 2010 – coinciding nicely with the 1000 year celebration of Hanoi as the capital of Vietnam.
The Citadel is still well worth a visit, with various ancient relics being discovered there and some of the best examples of medieval Vietnamese architecture being on display. Some of the sights that are worth exploring are the Doan Mon Gate, the Flag Tower, The Dragon Steps of Hinh Thien Palace and the Hau Lau, or The Princess’ Palace.
Address: 19C Hoang Dieu, Dien Ban, Ba Dinh.
Business Hours: Monday – Closed. The rest of the week: 8AM – 5PM.
Visit Quan Chuong City Gate - a portal to another time.
Just around the corner from our offices at 62 Hang Buom Street, you’ll stumble upon a curious sight. At the end of Hang Chieu street stands a monument to an age long forgotten, the imposing figure of the old east gate. This moment stands as a reminder of Hanoi’s imperial past, an age where carts being pulled by buffalo was the norm, instead of thousands of zigzagging motorbikes. The juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern Hanoi meeting at this ancient gate is so striking that it almost verges on the surreal. The Old east gate is a perfect opportunity for both the expert and amateur photographer to hone their skills, or even just to snap that perfect Instagram post, if that’s what you’re into.
Address: O Quang Chuong, Dong Xuan, Joan Kiem
Business Hours: Not any, but it is advisable that you should visit at night when the gate is lit.
So that wraps up part one of this three-part blog post! Remember to look out for part two, in which we’ll be having a look at Hanoi’s temples and places of worship. If you want to make sure you don’t miss out, sign up to our mailing list!
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