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The best things to do in Hanoi

If you are planning to stay 2, 3 or 4 days in Hanoi, you might be asking yourself what are the must-do things. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. It is the second-largest city in Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh city. However, the atmosphere of these two cities is completely different. Hanoi is more ancient and traditional. Ho Chi Minh, instead, is more modern, dynamic, young, and looks like a western city. Throughout years, the northern part of Vietnam including Hanoi have been influenced by Chinese culture. Following several wars of resistance, the Vietnamese gradually regained the north of the country. This is why Hanoi has a rich historical and cultural value compared to Ho Chi Minh. Let’s take a look at the best things to do in Hanoi.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem lake is a sacred place for the Vietnamese people. The lake is located in the heart of the old town of Hanoi. If you walk around the lake, you will probably be stopped by Vietnamese students. It’s a great opportunity for them to practice their English with a native speaker. The red bridge will lead you to the Island of Jade which is home to the temple of Ngọc Sơn built around the XV century. The island is also home to a mummified tortoise dating from the XV century which was living in the lake. Address: Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam

Old Quarter of Hanoi

Being the soul of the Vietnamese capital, the old quarter is an interesting place to visit. It’s a lively place which has a charm of its own. The old quarter of Hanoi is considered the first shopping center in Vietnam. It covers a surface of 100 hectares. The old quarter has 76 streets from which 47 have preserved their historical names which start with “goods”. Each neighborhood bears the traces of its history. Street names always remind of the goods that were produced or still produced there. The old quarter of Hanoi is characterized by small streets, and houses-tubes. It is recommended to spend at least half a day, if not a full day to walk around. You can easily enjoy local gastronomy thanks to the many street food stands.

Street Food Tour

Hanoi is known for its gastronomical richness. It is known as a chaotic city where there are not as many sidewalks as needed. The motorcycles are literally everywhere and it’s hard to hide from the noise all day long. Besides its chaotic daily life, Hanoi is a street food masterpiece. You will cross small cafes that serve food on every corner.

Here are some of the street food you might want to try during your food tour:

  • Phở which is a beef or chicken soup
  • Bún chả which is rice vermicelli with grilled pork
  • Cha Ca which is a grilled and fried fish with rice noodles
  • Banh Mi which is a baguette sandwich
As you have probably mentioned, people in Vietnam, in general, use a lot of meat. But there are also vegetarian and vegan options as well.

Literature Temple & University of Hanoi

It’s a Confucian temple and the first university in Vietnam. It’s the most important mausoleum of Confucius in the country. Founded in 1070 the temple didn’t have a religious orientation. It was just a Confucian academy influenced by Chinese culture. The temple of literature is divided into 5 courtyards separated by walls following the traditional Chinese axis north-south. 82 stones of this monuments are included in the UNESCO Heritage list. This temple is the best place to discover the Vietnamese culture in its most authentic form. Address: 58 Quốc Tử Giám, Văn Miếu, Đống Đa, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam Opening hours: 8 A.M.-5 P.M. daily

Cuc Phuong National Park

Located 130 km from Hanoi, this park is an amazing getaway for nature lovers. The park is home to diverse fauna and flora. With its 97 species of mammals, 300 species of bird, 11 species of fish, etc. the park represents a huge natural heritage. Many species are included in the list of endangered species in Vietnam and require more protection. There are a lot of activities to practice in this national park. Some of them are birdwatching, cycling, trekking in the primary forest, wildlife observation, visit of biodiversity hotspots. Getting to Cuc Phuong national park is quite easy. You can either take a public bus, taxi, rent a private car or motorbike to get to Nho Quan. From there you have to take another bus which will take you directly to the park reception. Address: 242 H Minh Khai street Hai Ba Trung district, Hanoi city, Vietnam The best time to visit the Cuc Phuong National Park: between December and April as the weather is relatively good. Tips before you visit the park: take a sufficient amount of water, food, and products against mosquitoes.

Trip to Perfume Pagoda

Perfume Pagoda is one of the most important religious Buddhist sites in Vietnam. The site is home to many Buddhist temples and pagodas. The overall tour takes approximately 7-8 hours. During your trip, you will have the possibility to take a boat tour of around 1 hour. The itinerary passes by rice fields and some templates. Then you will reach to Perfume Pagoda by cable car or trekking. You will enjoy the amazing landscape throughout your journey and will learn about the Vietnamese Buddhist religion.

Halong Bay Kayaking

Halong Bay is known for its turquoise waters and thousands of imposing limestone islands covered by tropical forests. The boat cruises and kayaks allow navigating in the middle of these islands known for their extraordinary forms. Besides kayaking, you can practice other water activities like scuba diving, trekking and hiking especially in the mountainous national park of Cát Bà. The best time for a kayak along Halong Bay: between December and April as the wet period is gone.

Hoa Lo Prison Museum

The Hoa lo prison was built by French people in 1896. It was used to incarcerate “revolutionary anti-colonialists”. After the departure of the French people, the prison was mainly used to detain American pilots during the war in Vietnam. Later on, the museum was called “Hanoi Hilton”. Recently the prison has transformed into a museum visited by locals and tourists. You will find there a lot of photos and instruments of torture. However, nothing is translated into French or English. Address: 1 Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam Opening hours: 8 A.M.-5 P.M. daily

Trekking in Sapa

Sapa is a city located in the north-western part of Vietnam. It’s the starting point of beautiful trekking in the Hoàng Liên Sơn mountains. The city is situated at the foot of Phan Xi Păng 3143 meters high which allows 2 or 3-days guided trekkings. The tribes living in the hills and knows as Hmong, Tay, and Dao, form the majority of the local people. You will be transferred by an overnight train up to Lao Cai before getting to Sapa and starting your trek. This multi-day activity will refresh your batteries and offer to you a real cultural and natural getaway. There are a lot of tours that provide assistance and professional guide services during the trek. So that you can get rid of inconvenient organizational processes and enjoy the ride.

Cooking Class and Farm Tour

This tour will allow you to visit an authentic Vietnamese village and explore a vibrant local food market. You can walk in a fruit and vegetable market, and meet some agricultures. Then, you will learn to cook traditional Vietnamese food in a family kitchen.

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