- Ha Long Bay
While Ha Long Bay is not technically a part of Hanoi (its actually more than a three hour drive or 20 minute seaplane ride) it is one of the most fascinating collection of natural sea formations. I really enjoyed admiring the different features from the boat and taking pictures of all the formations. The Bay reminded of scenes from the James Bond Movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ (even though that was shot in Thailand.) The Bay was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and has been a protected area ever since. A trip to Ha Long by a tour company includes a guided tour with transport from Hanoi, journey breaks at a cultivated pearl farm and at a local handicraft cooperative, a visit to the Thien Cung caves and a private boat ride of the entire bay with a freshly made delicious seafood and fish lunch onboard. While we went in December when the weather was a bit chilly and it was low season but the Bay remains popular with local and foreign tourists throughout the year.
- Old Quarter
The Old Quarter of Hanoi definitely remains its most defining feature giving the city the quaint, old-world charm it is so famous for. The area is steaming with roadside street vendors, art galleries, souvenir shops and since the tourist boom it is also now full of hotels and hostels. I loved seeing the variety of Hanoi’s famous street food eaten roadside from miniature stools. While I didn’t get to go on a proper food adventure in Hanoi there are plenty of food tours and walks available.In the evening, you can spot the city’s young couples strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake eating snacks and buying street food and enjoying the calming atmosphere of this serene water body in the middle of a bustling city. Near the Lake is also the famous Water Puppets Theatre and many open-air eateries to enjoy while taking in the atmosphere. Another highlight of the Old Quarter is the Temple of Literature, a centre of learning dedicated to the teaching of Confucius and his disciples still revered by students in Vietnam. In fact when I went to visit the temple it was overpopulated with university students come to get some blessings for their final exams and graduation.
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
No trip to Hanoi is complete without seeing Uncle Ho. The Mausoleum remains one of the most popular tourist destinations. Although restricted entry times makes it difficult to find the best time to go so definitely look up the timings before heading there. In addition, don’t miss the museum attached to the Mausoleum which has wonderful artefacts on the formation of the Communist party and Ho Chi Minh’s own personal belongings. The whole complex is wonderfully landscaped and a joy to walk around. Nearby the Mausoleum is also a lovely coffee shop which is like the local Starbucks only much better!
- French Quarter
The French Quarter is a charming old neighbourhood, it transports you to the grandeur of the colonial era in Vietnam. The wide roads and grand architecture reminded of similar post-colonial French cities like Cairo and Alexandria but unlike these cities the buildings are impeccably restored. The most famous sites in this area Opera House, History Museum and the Sofitel Metropole Hotel are all well worth a visit but it is also worth your time wondering around the area looking at the boutiques, galleries and cafes scattered around the neighbourhood. I loved learning about the history of the Sofitel Hotel and its incredible guestbook in the hotel lobby. If you don’t get the chance to stay at this hotel, its a great stop for a drink or meal away from the hustle and bustle.
- Vietnam Military History Museum and the “Hanoi Hilton”
The history of Vietnam’s military prowess is something that continues to fascinate people and on our recent trip I was completely mesmerised by it. First when learning about how the Vietnamese drove out their French colonists and then when they defeated the USA the world’s strongest military power just by extremely well planned attacks using very basic weaponry. The military history museum‘s extensive display of Vietnam’s military history dating back almost 100 years was very useful in understanding the history of invasions and attacks in this fertile area and how the people fought back each time. Also, the impressive display of planes and tanks outside are definitely worth a visit as is view from the museum tower. The Hoa La Prison or “Hanoi Hilton” as it was famously referred to by US prisoners of war, the most notable of them being Senator John McCain, is a fascinating site. The descriptions of the experiences of Vietnamese political prisoners under the French is absolutely hard-wrenching but the displays and museum shop have some interesting bits and pieces.