Vietnam’s capital has shrugged off its hostile war-torn image to emerge as one of Southeast Asia’s best and most culturally significant cities. There are countless museums, all offering visitors a chance to better understand Vietnam’s history of revolution, war and art, while the tangled web of streets in the historic Old Quarter are a great place to wander around. It’s a great launching pad for trips into Sapa and Halong Bay. Overall, I enjoyed the city and its delicious mix of French colonial architecture.
- Hostel Prices:Dorms start at $6 USD while private rooms start at 150,000.
- Budget Hotel Prices: Private rooms cost from $7 USD.
- Average Cost of Food: Street food is delicious and extremely cheap, with many dishes for less than $.75 USD. $4 USD is enough for a meal in a casual restaurant.
- Transportation Costs: Bus fares are usually no more than $.05 USD and taxis start at $.20 USD for the first 2km then $.50 USD per kilometer thereafter.
Top Things to Do
- Hoan Kiem Lake. Get here early in the morning to watch throngs of people practicing Tai Chi, running, cycling and walking before their working day begins. In the center of the lake is the Tortoise Pagoda, a shrine to the famous giant turtles that live in the lake. The lake is very beautiful and there is a temple worth visiting on the the north end of the lake.
- Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts. The Fine Arts Museum is a must-see if you are interested in the various styles of Vietnamese art. There are fantastic exhibits of Buddhist art, folk art and silk and lacquer paintings but the museum’s most impressive feature is Kouan Yin, the goddess of mercy who is depicted with a thousand arms and eyes.
- Quan Su Pagoda. As the headquarters for the Vietnam Central Buddhist Congregation, Quan Su is one of the most important temples in the country. If you’re going to visit any of Vietnam’s pagodas, this 15th century is the one you should see the most.
- One Pillar Pagoda. Built in 1049, One-Pillar Pagoda sits on stilts over a lake and is a miniature reproduction of the original temple built by the Ly Dynasty. A prayer at this little wooden pagoda is said to bring fertility and good health.
- Ho Chi Minh Museum & Mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam’s leader and founder of the communist state. Ho lies in state at this grey concrete mausoleum not far from the museum dedicated to his life and belongings and the house he used to live in. You’re able to walk through and see his embalmed body when it is not being repaired in Moscow. It’s morbid and fascinating at the same time.
- Hoa Lo Prison. US POWs named Hao Lo “the Hanoi Hilton” and this is where many US soldiers were tortured. Sen. John McCain from Arizona is its most famous prisoner. What remains of the building is a small museum, complete with the guillotine used to execute detainees. Again, morbid but interesting.
- Dong Xuan Market. Hanoi’s oldest market is located in the Old Quarter. The market is multi-storied and sells everything you could ever expect, especially a lot of knock offs. The market is a bit of a Hanoi institution and probably the best place for low cost shopping in the city.
- The Old Quarter. The Old Quarter’s 2000 year old streets are a web of shopping opportunities and cheap eateries. Gold and silver jewelery, clothes, cosmetics and even musical instruments can all be bought here alongside a myriad of other goods. There’s also a lot of fascinating old worn French architecture around and you can still see the strong French influence in the area. I never bought anything but I found the chaos, the crowds, and the maze of streets fascinating to wander through.
- Army Museum. References to Vietnam’s tumultuous history of combat are everywhere in Hanoi and a visit to the Army Museum is a good way to bring it all together. The museum has an excellent collection of planes, tanks and guns supplied by the Chinese and Soviet armies, alongside dozens of captured French and US made war machinery.
- Temple of Literature. Built in 1070, the Van Mieu temple is a great example of traditional Vietnamese architecture and is one of the oldest structures in the country. Originally dedicated to Confucius, what remains today of ancient Vietnam’s center of learning is five courtyards decorated with stelae which served as diplomas for the universities first doctorate students.
- Street stalls – For the cheapest food in the city head to the Old Quarter which is packed with low cost eats at the street stalls.
- Negotiate - For everything from street stalls, markets and taxis you should barter for prices. Tourists are often quoted huge prices and bargaining is expected.
- Take the bus - These are the cheapest and most hassle-free way of getting round the city and are comfortable and efficient.
- Drink Bia Hoi. This draft beer is available on the street throughout Hanoi and starts at merely $.15 USD per glass.