The first thing that hits you when you arrive in Hanoi is the motorbikes. Well not literally, (hopefully) anyway. It is a city that has the sound-track of a thousand whizzing motorbikes and you will be amazed at just how many bikes can be squeezed into a single lane. The sound is deafening and road-crossing is an interesting task to say the least, although the good news they travel very slowly – so much so, that nobody really bats as much us an eyelid when a family of five slowly topple to the ground as they reach red lights. That’s what makes you a real Hanoian, I reckon.
It is a city that has the sound-track of a thousand whizzing motorbikes and you will be amazed at just how many bikes can be squeezed into a single lane.
Motorbikes aside, the city has some of my favourite architecture in all of Vietnam (along with Hoi An that is), the Old Quarter is full of charismatic buildings – don’t be surprised if you spy a lovely, faded colonial home with a tin metal extension. That’s normal. Just as normal as toppling over on a motorbike.
So, I am already giving the game away here. Without further ado, I would like to present to you the top 10 things to do in Hanoi – these are the activities I always try to plan for my customers who book luxury holidays in Vietnam with me. Drum roll please.
1) Rise early (like 6am-early – yikes) to see the locals practising Tai Chi at Sunrise at Hoan Kiem Lake.
Nothing will prepare you for this sight. You may be thinking, “I’ve seen Tai Chi before,” what’s the big deal but I promise you have never seen anything like this. Literally hundreds of people are seen prancing around the lake, swinging their arms, bending their legs, rocking their heads – doing all sorts of moves you never even knew existed. It’s worth the early start, which takes me nicely onto number two… (big thank you to fellow blogger RooneyB who blogs at RooneyB’s Place and took this wonderful picture of the Tai Chi Queens.)
2) Drink a Vietnamese Egg Coffee
These coffees are mainly found in Hanoi and once you have had one you are extremely likely to spend the rest of your days trying to recreate that sweet, rich and strong moment. It is more reminiscent of a Cadbury’s Creme Egg than anything that comes from a chicken, it is deliciously sweet – a heady mixture of condensed milk, a whisked and frothy egg yolk and of course the highly-addictive Vietnamese coffee. The urban Hanoi walking tours I plan, which aim to get you off the beaten track in this city, will take you right into one of the city’s best cafe’s for Egg Coffee. Mmmmmm.
3. Take an excellent walking tour around Hanoi
I can’t stress how excellent Hanoi is for walking. It really is the best way to see the city – and there is just so much to see. If you are on a luxury holiday of Vietnam, like the kind I organise, then you will have a private tour with an expert guide who will take you right into the heart of the Old Quarter – you will go into the unique ‘tube houses’ of Hanoi (so called because they are long and thin), get lost down side streets and enter markets you never even knew existed. This is really something worth organising no matter what kind of trip you are on. Feel free to contact me for more information.
4) Visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mauseleum
This is where the much-loved former leader of Vietnam has been embalmed. Depsite his wishes to be cremated, he was preserved and put on show after he died, for all the world to see. It is a place of pilgrimage for the Vietnamese and it is a fascinating experience. It has an interesting little museum and lovely gardens – be sure to dress appropriately and cover your shoulders and knees. Also, bear in mind that it is only open Tuesday to Thursday, and on weekends and the last entrance is at 10.15am – oops, sorry another early start for you there.
5. Sleep, drink and eat at the Sofitel Legend Metrople, in the French Quarter
This is more than just a hotel folks. I know what you’re thinking… what’s the big deal about another Sofitel hotel… Well, this is not just another Sofitel hotel – this is the oldest and most luxurious hotel in Hanoi. It is etched in history and it quite literally oozes charm and grandeur by the bucket loads. What’s more if you are staying here you can take an exclusive private history tour of the hotel’s underground tunnels and bomb shelters – which is only available to guests. A stay here starts from about £250 per night and you can read more about the hotel here.
6. Look Up!
I was wrong when I told you that the soundtrack of Hanoi was that of the motorbikes. If you listen carefully, behind the sound of the revving, you will hear the songs of the birds. In fact once you notice it, you won’t stop hearing the happy, chirping tunes of the little birds which flutter around in little birdcages everywhere – almost every street in the Old Quarter has birdcages hanging from the canopies of the shops and stalls. It’s magical. So look up and listen.
7. Take a Private Food Walking Tour of Hanoi
Hanoi has some of the best street food in Vietnam – I know, I know – you thought I was done with the walking tours, but no – I’m afraid not. It’s time to hit the pavements again. Once more I would (of course!) recommend the private tours that we offer on luxury tours of Vietnam – they start in the covered market, Dong Xuan, with a local guide, where you will hear stories about the ingredients and history of Hanoi’s food culture and northern Vietnamese specialties. After sampling fruit and street snacks at the market, you will visit a local restaurant to watch the chefs at work, then dine on a famous local dish of pork crepes, called banh cuon. And that’s just for starters. The evening will turn to delicious chargrilled meats, the local specialty of fresh fruit served in a cup with crushed ice and condensed milk… and much, much more. Actually I’d do this walking tour first – you’ll need the next walk to burn off all the food.
8. Visit Hao Lo Prison and the Temple of Literature
Ok, I’ll be honest… these are two very different attractions but I thought I’d lump them together as ’11 Things to do in Hanoi’ didn’t sound quite so catchy. The picture above is of the Temple of Literature – built in 1070, this is one of several Confucian temples in Vietnam, and, in 1076 became Vietnam’s first university. Today, it is a popular place for locals to get their selfies taken and for you to marvel at the pretty grounds and lovely architecture. Meanwhile Hoa Lao prison is where John Mccain spent over five years during the war. It has some pretty biased exhibitions but is a ‘must’ for any history buff.
9. Book a cruise of Halong Bay
Ok, I’ve kind of cheated here because Halong Bay isn’t in Hanoi – but it is near Hanoi (four hour drive away) and a ‘must go’ to destination while you’re here. In fact, I am going to be as bold as to say, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world Thousands of islets rise from calm, emerald waters and what better way to see it all then from the sun deck of a luxury junk. Obviously I have tons of recommendations for luxury cruises in Halong Bay – feel free to hop, skip and a jump over to my travel agency site to take a look.
10) Give those feet a rest and jump on board a cyclo!
If you can’t beat the bikes, join ‘em! The ultimate way to enjoy the craziness of the streets of Hanoi is from the safety of a cyclo. Try not to feel too guilty (and give a nice tip) as you are cycled around the city, weaving in and out of the back streets and observing it all at the perfect gentle pace, that does not involve crossing any streets, or climbing over motorbikes that are sometimes parked on the pavements. The perfect and luxurious ending for this wonderful and vibrant city.
PS If you would like me to help organise your stay in Vietnam please contact me via my contact page (in the ‘about’ menu) or take a look at my travel agency site Fleewinter – which sells luxury holidays to Vietnam.