What to Do in Hanoi

Vietnam has always been on my list of travel destinations and when the opportunity came, I decided to spend a week exploring the Northern half of the long country. Hanoi is a beautiful but extremely hectic city with an abundance of history behind its years. First inhabited from 3000 BC, it has been occupied by the Imperial Japanese (1940) and twice by the French (1873 & 1946). The influences of the occupations can be seen in the city of Hanoi and in much of the culture and even the food and cuisine. Crossing the roads in the city is probably one of the most dangerous but exhilarating things to do. After a couple of days of exploring this magnificent city, those road crossings, scooter and car near misses will become second nature. It might be a busy and crowded place and a polar opposite to Wales or Surrey Hills, but that along with the history and culture really makes it a place that is unique for what it is. Below is my list of things to do in the busy city of Hanoi!

Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple

Sitting in the center of Hanoi is the large Hoan Kiem Lake and the Ngoc Son Temple. The legendary tale goes that in the 15th century Emperor Ly Thai To was sent a magical sword to help fight against the Chinese in Vietnam. At the end of the war, a large turtle took the sword and vanished into the lake to return it the heavenly owners. The name of the lake is actually derived from the story — Lake of the Restored Sword. In the lake is a mini island with the temple dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao, for his work in defeating the Mongols in the 13th century, La To (Saint of Physicians) and Van Xuong (scholar). It is a nice afternoon stroll along the river and towards the temple and you might even try keep an eye out for the legendary turtle!

St Joseph Cathedral

Not far from the lake, this cathedral was inaugurated in 1886 and is in a neo-Gothic architecture. Its large twin bell towers hangs a large shadow in the sun along with the beautiful stain glass windows. This building definitely stands out from the surrounding areas and it is structures like this that helps build on Hanoi’s diverse and unique characteristics.

Hoa Lo Prison

This prison was originally built in 1896 by the French to hold about 450 inmates. The size of the prison was actually quite small and eventually held up to 2000 prisoners. A walk around the cells will show how the tiny spaces would have struggled with such large numbers of prisoners.

The prison itself was not very secure and hundreds of prisoners were able to escape through the sewage system. The back of the museum displays some of the tight spaces that prisoners used to escape. During the American War, US prisoners actually named this prison as the Hanoi Hilton. A walk around really gives you a feel for the prisoners’ living conditions — quite a remarkable place to visit.

Ba Dinh Square and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

This mighty large square is famous as the place where President Ho Chi Minh read the Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945. Some especially important buildings surrounds this area including the President’s Palace, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Planning and Investment and the National Assembly Building. It is quite an impressive square and also houses the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which is a very distinctive building and is the final resting place of President Ho Chi Minh.

West Lake and Tran Quoc Pagoda

A little further outside of the center of Hanoi is the large West Lake that spans over 15 km and is sized at around 500 hectares. Very similar to the Hoan Kiem Lake, there is the Tran Quoc Pagoda sitting on an island in the waters. With its large size, it is perfect for a sunset bicycle ride around the perimeters of the lake while enjoying the setting of the sun. There are also plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars near the area for a quite break and refreshments!

Manzi gallery

More of a hidden gem just on the outskirts of town is Manzi gallery. The building in itself is incredibly beautiful — a 20th century French villa. Now it holds regular art exhibitions, talks, movie screenings and performances, with the aim of promoting contemporary arts. It is a perfect place for a bit of peace and quiet, away from the hustle of the busy streets of Hanoi.

Hanoi Old Quarter

You definitely will not miss the busy streets of the Hanoi Old Quarter, with flying cars and beeping motorcycles. Here you will find old restaurants to cafes and even people cooking on the streets. You will get lost but you will end up walking along and experiencing some of the delights of Hanoi. Take a wonder along the old streets, do a bit of shopping and enjoy the unique atmosphere that this incredible city brings!

All in All

The busy city life of Hanoi is an attraction and experience itself, with the packed city offering a different breath of life, something you don’t see in many cities. History is enriched in the culture and the streets and the city itself reflect the stories and phases it has been through. Its a wonderful city well worth visiting!

Stay tuned for more about the incredible culinary experiences of Hanoi next!

Originally published at Out Of Office London.