Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its centuries-old architecture and a rich culture with Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences. At its heart is the chaotic Old Quarter, where the narrow streets are roughly arranged by trade. There are many little temples, including Bach Ma, honoring a legendary horse, plus Đồng Xuân Market, selling household goods and street food.
The first thing you’ll notice about Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is the traffic – horns blare as the locals zip past on a seemingly endless fleet of scooters, while tour buses barrel in carrying a steady flow of tourists, ready to lap up the sights and sounds of this vibrant city.
There’s certainly plenty to enjoy, ranging from mouthwatering street food to traditional entertainment, plus the fascinating history and culture of a city that has survived colonial occupation and war with its spirit intact. Here are 10 must-do activities in Hanoi.
Explore the old quarter
The buzzing heart of Hanoi for more than 1,000 years, the Old Quarter is situated at the north end of Hoan Kiem lake and is still a hub of everyday life for locals. Its 36 streets were originally named after the goods once traded there, and a few still specialise, such as P Hang Gai, lined with shops selling silk and textiles.
This is a fascinating area to wander round, whether you’re haggling for souvenirs or people-watching over a cool Hanoi beer in one of the many open-fronted bars.
Discover Hanoi’s history
Having endured Chinese and French occupation, as well as the chaos of the American War, Hanoi has a rich historical heritage. Recent excavations at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long have uncovered artefacts dating back as far as the seventh century AD; check out the on-site museum to admire beautiful terracotta phoenixes and dragon heads.
The site also has more modern resonance as the home to the D67 Tunnel and House, the headquarters of the Vietnamese People’s Army, from which war was waged from 1955 to 1975.
Visit the Women’s Museum
All too often historical exhibitions have a distinctly male focus, which is why the Vietnam Women’s Union decided to establish this museum, exploring women’s contribution to the country’s culture and society.
Admire fantastically elaborate bridalwear, learn the toil of women’s agricultural labour and discover the female fighters who played a key role in Vietnam’s war against the US. Open daily 8am-5pm; entry costs 30,000 VND (£1).
Indulge in some relaxation
The frantic pace of Hanoi’s streets mean the chance to unwind is always welcome, and the city is awash with opportunities for pampering.
People in Hanoi
Most people in Hanoi (and the Vietnamese in general) don’t speak English or speak at a very beginner level. With the exception of workers in tourist places (i.e. hotels, restaurants, cafes) and college students, you will find the English levels lower than most countries in Asia.
Vietnamese Words to Know – Given the low English levels of the people in Hanoi, it’s in your best interest to learn a few Vietnamese words. Here are the essentials:
“Cam On” = Thank You
“Sin Chao” = Hello
“Tam Biet” = Good Bye
“Mot, Hai Ba” = One, Two, Three
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