Discover Hanoi’s history at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
While you’ll be hit in the face with Vietnam’s modern achievements (dating back to the Vietnam War), the history of this country runs deep. There’s no better way to discover it than to visit the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. Built during the Ly Dynasty in 1010, the Citadel remained the centre of the Vietnamese Court for eight centuries, until it Nguyen Dynasty moved the capital to Hue in 1810. While many of the royal palaces in the complex were destroyed in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Hau Lau (Princess’ Palace) and the steps of Kinh Thien Palace remain. Here, you’ll also get to see the original Doan Mon gate, marking the southern entrance to the royal palace, as well as the flag tower of Hanoi.
Pay respects to Uncle Ho
Vietnam’s favourite leader, Ho Chi Minh was affectionately given the title ‘Uncle Ho’ by the Vietnamese people. The father of the Vietnamese Revolution, Ho Chi Minh remains the most important figure in the country’s history. Loved and revered (almost like a god), you can pay your respects to Uncle Ho at his final resting place; his personal mausoleum at Ba Dinh Square. This giant mausoleum is almost 22 metres high and 42 metres wide and the only building in the square. Inside, you’ll find the embalmed body of the great leader, but be warned: this place is heavily guarded and rules of behaviour strictly enforced. Dress modestly, don’t take photos and keep your hands by your side at all times.
Lap up the coffee culture
Coffee may have been introduced by the French, but the Vietnamese have certainly made it their own. And as the coffee capital of Vietnam, Hanoi knows a thing or two about a good brew. Known as ca phe to the locals, Vietnamese coffee is dripped through a metal filter directly into a glass, where it’s usually served black, on ice or with condensed milk. Sometimes mixed into breakfast foods, you can also add ca phe into a thick yoghurt or fruit smoothies. Another variety coming back into vogue is egg coffee, where egg yolks are mixed into coffee to give a delicious, tiramisu-like flavour and texture. With so many varieties to try, you’ll probably want to make a stroll down Trieu Viet Vuong – Hanoi’s Coffee Street – a part of your daily routine.
Stroll around Hoan Kiem lake
One of the most beautiful parts of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem lake is located in the Hanoi Old Quarter. With its name meaning “Lake of the Restored Sword”, this lake is also the setting of an old legend. In the mid-15th century, Emperor Ly Thai To was given a magical sword by the Dragon King, which he used to drive the Chinese from Vietnam. After the war, a giant golden turtle appeared on the lake and asked for the sword to be turned to its rightful owner, a request that the Emperor obliged. While you might not catch a turtle sighting, you can cross the lake via the red Huc Bridge to get to the Temple of the Jade Mountain, located on an island on the lake. If you’ve had enough exploring, grab a coffee and enjoy a book on a bench by the lakeside.
Be enchanted by Halong Bay
While it’s not exactly in the city, Hanoi is only a bus ride away from the renowned Halong Bay. Book a bus ticket, hit the highway in about 3.5 hours you’ll find yourself boarding a boat to take you out onto the emerald waters. Hạlong Bay in the northeast Vietnam is a huge bay known for its thousands of limestone islands covered in rainforests. The best way to see this natural beauty? By junk boat, the ancient Chinese boats that look like something out of a steam punk movie. Junk boat tours and sea kayak expeditions will take you to various islands, off which you can hike, scuba diver or rock climb.
Things to do in Hanoi
Tet Vietnamese New Year
Tet is the most important celebration in Vietnam. This Vietnamese New Year Festival celebrates the beginning of spring and the start of a new year. Usually occurring in late January or early February, this three-day event is full of parades, food and fireworks.
Co Loa Festival
Honouring the contribution of King An Duong Vuong to the country, Co Loa Festival is part liturgical ceremony, part sports and street festivities. Following a temple ceremony, the streets of Hanoi are filled with parades and activities. Locals gather to participate in physical competitions, including crossbow shooting and wrestling matches.
Held on the fifth lunar day of the Tet Holiday, the Dong festival celebrates the Vietnamese victory over Qing invaders in the 19th century. A procession full of flag bearers, drummers and dancers with parasols begins at Khuong Thuong and ends at Dong Da Hill, the place of the victory. Keep an eye open for the Fire Dragon dance and water puppet shows that recreate the story of this great battle.
Le Mat Festival
Honouring the life of a young man who saved a princess from the clutches of a water snake in the 11th century, Le Mat Festival is one of the most unique festivals in the country. Featuring a water offering ceremony and the snake killing dance, this festival occurs in Le Mat village in late March each year.
Chem Temple Festival
The temple of Chem in Haoi is dedicated to Ly Ong Trong, a legendary hero who successfully helped the Chinese Emperor drive Hung invaders out of China. During the Chem Temple festival, Ly Ong Trong’s statue is taken to the Red River and given large paper costumes as offerings. Occuring every May, this festival has many events, including traditional wrestling matches, human chess games and bird-releasing competitions.
Top 5 Festivals in Hanoi
Hanoi brings its history to life through its many annual festivals. Remembering various heroes and their legendary feats, get amongst the energy and colour of these cultural festivals. Here are five that you should definitely check out.
Created in honour of the women of Vietnam, this museum showcases the contribution women have made on Vietnamese society and culture. The Women’s Museum displays traditional costumes, fabrics, utensils and artefacts of Vietnamese women through time. It also tells the stories of heroic efforts from women during the Vietnam war.
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
In an effort to preserve the unique socio-cultural diversity within the country, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology gives an insight to the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam. Featuring interactive displays on the homes, clothing and ways of living of these groups, discover the vibrant cultures and stories of different Vietnamese peoples.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
This museum is a celebration of the life and achievements of Vietnam’s favourite leader, Ho Chi Minh. Broken up into eight sections, the museum tells the story of Ho Chi Minh from his early childhood, how he came to learn about communism and his contribution to the war leading up to his death. Definitely a must-see for lovers of history.
Vietnam Military History Museum
Proud of their military history, the Vietmam Military History Museum in Hanoi tells the story of the country’s historic victory against the US forces in the Vietnam war. The museum displays Soviet and Chinese equipment, as well as French and US weapons captured during the war. The Vietnam Military History Museum is located opposite Lenin park and close to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Vietnam Fine Arts Museum
The Vietnam Fine Arts Museum is the premier art museum in Vietnam. Focusing largely on 20th century art depicting the glory of war, it also has earlier works touching on earlier Vietnamese life and Buddhist traditions. The museum’s collection is housed in two buildings of European style, which were once formerly the French Ministry of Information.
Top 5 Museums in Hanoi
Stroll the streets of Hanoi and you’ll get a taste of the proud military history of this country. Learn about how Vietnam was shaken up during the 20th century and how they managed to defeat the superpower that was the US Army. Here are five Hanoi museums that bring Vietnamese history to life.
Don’t know goi cuon? That’s probably because you’ve been calling them rice paper rolls. Stuffed with lettuce, bean sprouts and small slivers of meat and tofu, these Vietnamese spring rolls are light and fresh, unlike their fried counterparts. Coming in a range of flavour arrangements, we suggest trying the original pork and shrimp combo at Banh Cuon Ba Hanh.
Best eaten at Banh Cuon Ba Hanh, 26B Tho Xuong Str, Hoan Kiem Dist, 10000
Looking something like a giant taco, banh xeo is a thin crepe stuffed with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and fresh herbs. Usually served with lettuce, cut up the banh xeo into slices, roll it up in the lettuce leaves and dunk it into the array of side sauces. Delicious.
Best eaten at Banh Xeo Zon, 25 Lo Su Street, 10000
Probably the most famous Vietnamese dish, pho is a soup loved by all. Rich, beef broth that’s been stewing for hours is complimented with a generous helping of rice noodles and slivers of beef or chicken. Add herbs, chilli and sauces to your liking. You’ll be living off this winter staple in chilly Hanoi.
Best eaten at 7 Nam Ngu, Cua Nam, Hoan Kiem, 10000
If it’s your first time in Hanoi, you’ve got to try the city’s staple, cha ca. Pieces of local Red River fish are marinated with turmeric, fried and covered with dill and spring onion. Served over rice noodles with peanuts and a dipping sauce, you can get this delicious dish at Cha Ca Phan.
Best eaten at Cha Ca Phan, 84 Tran Quoc Toan, Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem, 10000
Unlike other parts of Asia, sticky rice is less of a side dish in Vietnam and more of the main show. Small amounts of chicken, pork and fried or preserved eggs are mixed into sticky rice to make xoi. Pick up a bowl in Hanoi at Xoi Yen restaurant.
Best eaten at Xoi Yen, 35B Nguyen Huu Huan, Ly Thai To, Hoan Kiem, 10000
Food in Hanoi
Fresh, light and packed with flavour and texture, Vietnamese food has made a name for itself all over the globe. With many regional differences in climate, you’ll find that the northern cuisine in Hanoi is slightly heartier than its sister cities in the south. No complaints here. Here’s what you should tuck into in Hanoi.