Hanoi was our first stop on our 11-day Vietnam-Cambodia trip (see summary here). We visited this ancient and historically important city on the first week of February which incidentally was winter. Well, not that snow-filled kind of winter, but enough to make us tropical people freeze at 12 NOON! So be sure to know the weather first before visiting Hanoi, especially if you’re not adept to cold temperature (like us), and not go under-dressed for the weather (like us). It was also a couple of days before the Vietnamese tet holidays, their version of Chinese New Year, a perfect opportunity to see Vietnamese culture up close.
Vietnamese are known for their love for coffee, and it was evident the moment we stepped out from our hotel (B&B Hanoi Hotel Review here). As we walked along the cold streets of Hanoi at 7AM, coffee stalls were everywhere! I swear, there are coffee stalls every 5-minute walk, if not less.
Also, the Hanoi locals are not very exposed to English language, I suppose from the communist history. So be ready to do some hand actions and fill-in-the-blanks. It would be best to know some of the common Vietnamese words, especially for ordering rice or asking for the comfort room! True story.
With the help of our hotel’s free Hanoi Map, we were able to tour Hanoi in one day with full tummies and history overloaded cameras.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
If you are interested in seeing the embalmed body of the most popular president of Vietnam, then this should be the first thing on your itinerary when visiting Hanoi. The mausoleum is open daily except Monday and Friday, from 8:30 AM to 11:00 AM. Be sure to observe the proper attire when visiting, as a respect.
Tip: Arrive early to avoid long queues. Also, cameras are forbidden inside the mausoleum so unless you want to be scolded by scary looking Vietnamese police, strictly follow their rules.
Flag Tower of Hanoi
A 15-minute walk from Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, this landmark can easily be seen. No entrance fee.
Vietnam Military History Museum
Being on the same compound with the Flag Tower, this is a must visit. When we arrived here, it was lunch break already so we weren’t able to go inside the museum itself. Nevertheless, we strolled around the compound to see exhibits of the remnants from the war. Open from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM at 20,000 VND per person.
Thang Long Royal Citadel
Declared as a UNESCO Heritage Site last 2010, this tourist spot is a must-see, according to my researches prior to our trip. When we got there, a 3-minute walk from Flag Tower, there was nothing much to see. Well, the citadel was supposedly something awesome since it was built in the 11th Century during the Ly Viet Dynasty. We didn’t bother going near it though.
Cha Ca La Vong at Cha Ca St.
I have read in numerous blogs that this is the best Hanoi food and apparently included in the world’s ‘must eat food before you die’. Being a sucker for good local food, we didn’t dare miss the opportunity. We rode a taxi to 14 Cha Ca street, in search for the famous cuisine. Be careful not to be fooled by the other restaurants with the same name! Look for this shop:
It is a family-run restaurant, with a homey feeling. We took the stairs to the second floor to find tables with smoking pots! When we asked for the menu, the waiter just pointed to the signage on our table:
We ordered one for each, and I swear, it was the best food we ever had in Vietnam! Better than Pho, and that’s saying something! It’s a simple dish of grilled fish with coriander, dill, etc, together with cold noodles. There was just something about it that made us crave for more on our whole trip in Vietnam! We even looked for a Vietnamese restaurant here in the Philippines serving Cha Ca La Vong. Please please, do us a favor and try this special dish when visiting Hanoi! Definitely a must-try!
Hoan Kiem Lake
When strolling around Old Quarters, this site shouldn’t be missed. It’s a lake in the middle of busy streets but it was still peaceful and tranquil. We stayed here for a while to marvel at the beauty of the lake. If you like people-watching, this can be a perfect stop since locals go here with their families and dogs, just walking around the lake. It was also a perfect opportunity to rest our tired legs.
Hoan Kiem Lake is “Lake of the Returned Sword” in English, based on the legend of a turtle grabbing the magic sword of emperor Le Loi. A friend of mine told me that there really is a big turtle in the lake. Unfortunately, it was so cold the turtle might have frozen underneath already.
Hoa Lo Prison
We took a 15-minute bike taxi to Hoa Lo Prison from Hoan Kiem Lake with a stern looking Vietnamese. If you are a history-buff, or if you want to enlighten yourself with the war history of Hanoi, you must visit Hoa Lo Prison. It is all about the Vietnam war, of the French and Americans in Vietnam, and of the horrors the civilians in Hanoi experienced.
Bia Hoi Corner
Looking for a nightlife in Hanoi? Then go to Bia Hoi corner! This is the go-to place of tourists who would like to have drinks after a long and tiring day of touring.
Below is a summary of our Hanoi tour itinerary plus actual expenses in VND, USD and PhP (for two people). Scroll further down for the in-depth details of each destination.
- Check the weather of Hanoi! It is said that December to March are the cold months so be sure to dress accordingly!
- Know some basic Vietnamese words. Because Hanoi locals are not very exposed to the common tongue.
- Walk until your feet hurts. It is the best way to explore and experience Hanoi.
- Beware of the motorcycles when crossing streets. They are unforgiving!
Check out the rest of our Vietnam trip!
- 2D/1N Cruising at Halong Bay
- Traveling in Vietnam via Saigon Express
- 24 Hours in Hoi An
- 2 Days in Ho Chi Minh
- Crossing the Vietnam-Cambodia boarder by Bus
- 11 Days Vietnam-Cambodia Itinerary and Summary
For any questions, leave a comment or send me an email!