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 perfect launching pad for trips to Sapa and Halong Bay. Overall, I enjoyed the city and its delicious mix of French colonial architecture.
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Hanoi
1. Wander around the Old Quarter
2. Visit the Temple of Literature
3. Visit the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts
4. Wander around Hoan Kiem Lake
5. Ho Chi Minh Museum & Mausoleum
Other Things to See and Do
(Click the title to expand the text)
1. See 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 one is the one you should see. Admission is free, though donations are accepted.
2. Visit 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.
3. Watch a water puppet show
Water Puppetry as an art form dates back over a millennium in Vietnam. Near the lake, you can take in a show at the Water Puppet Theatre. Puppets are carved from wood, and the shows are performed in a waist-deep pool, which makes the puppets look like they’re walking in water. This is a very unique and worthwhile cultural experience. Admission is 100,000 VND for adults and 60,000 VND for children.
4. Tour Hoa Lo Prison
U.S. POWs named Hao Lo “the Hanoi Hilton” and this is where many U.S. 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. The entrance fee is 10,000 VND per person.
5. Shop at 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.
6. Go to the 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. Admission is 20,000 VND per person.
7. Learn some women’s history
The problem with written history is that so much of it revolves around men, and female contributions tend to fall to the wayside. The Vietnam Women’s Museum tries to turn this around with exhibits about the history and daily lives of women in Vietnamese society. There is some great material to encounter here, as well as some video interviews that will give you better insight into the life of a female street vendor. Admission is 30,000 VND.
8. Explore the Museum of Ethnology
The Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology is a multipurpose institution, serving as both a research facility and a public museum. It contains exhibits on the different ethnic groups which reside in the country and will give you a much better understanding of Vietnamese history. Admission is 40,000 VND for adults with discounts available for children and students.
9. National Museum of Vietnamese History
This museum has a collection of antiques (and some replicas) dating from around 1000CE all the way to 1945. Admission is 15,000 VND for adults, with discounts available for students and children.