We started our current trip to Vietnam with three nights and two full days in Hanoi. Hanoi, located in the north of the country, is known for its crazy traffic, French influence and Old Quarter in which questionable electrical wires dominate the landscape.
- Ho Chi Minh Complex
One of the main attractions in Hanoi is Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. Upon his death in 1969, Ho Chi Minh was treated to a memorial fitting of a Communist Leader and embalmed for future generations to look upon with awe (despite actually wanting to be cremated, but pot-ay-to po-tah-to, right?). While Ho’s body is located within the Mausoleum in Hanoi, it’s actually only open to the public for a couple of hours in the morning a few days a week. Apparently queues can stretch for hours and you get approximately ten seconds in front of his body with no photography allowed.
As cool as it would be to see HCM, we decided that queuing for hours to see an embalmed former president wasn’t high on our priority list this trip and chose to skip actually seeing his body. That said, we did spend a wonderful afternoon in the Ho Chi Minh Complex in which the Mausoleum can be found.
The thing about visiting Vietnam from a country such as Australia is that while we were taught a lot about their history at school, it was a very one sided view of history. In my final year of school, one half of my modern history coursework was focused on Ho Chi Minh and the conflicts in Indochina, and while our teachers tried to ensure we were taught a well rounded view, visiting the Ho Chi Minh Museum reminded me just how drastically different narratives can appear depending which side of history you’re sitting on. The museum is one of the most aesthetically impressive museums I’ve ever visited (although the top honour in that category still goes to Epic Ireland in Dublin) but still manages to pump you full of information on both Ho Chi Minh as a person and of Vietnam during his lifetime (and the period immediately after, as of course, he passed away before the end of the Vietnam war). From letters written by HCM through to relics from his childhood home, the museum has everything needed for you to walk out the doors an expert on Uncle Ho, and questioning just why our nation was ever involved in a conflict against him (yay, propaganda!).
Cost: 40,000 VND per person
Also located within the complex is the Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Historical Site where HCM lived and worked during the final years of his life. Set in beautiful gardens, you can see the Presidential Palace (which HCM allegedly refused to live in because it would set him too far apart from his people), the Stilt House where HCM instead chose to live, as well as his former work rooms, cars, and areas he would spend his down time. If you’re heading there by yourself, there’s not a lot of information provided at the site, so do a bit of research before you visit. That said, we turned up to wander through ourselves and some local university students were volunteering to host private tours around the site in order to practice their English. We were shown around by a lovely young man who refused to even accept a tip as it was all part of helping him improve his historical explanations in English, which was a lovely bonus (not the refusing the tip, but the service itself!).
Cost: 40,000 VND per person
In between the Palace and the museum is the One Pillar Pagoda. Google tells me this is one of the most famous buildings in Vietnam, but I was left thoroughly underwhelmed. Located in between a million souvenir stalls, the pagoda makes for a pretty photo opportunity but isn’t anything particularly special to write home about for the average tourist. Of course, as with all places of worship, the Pagoda plays an important role in the history of Vietnam, and is a very special place for Buddhist’s to visit. Not being Buddhist, and also because I was wearing shorts, we didn’t actually go inside the pagoda, but from the bottom of the steps it looked much like other Buddhist temples I have visited on previous occasions.
We signed up for this class via Hanoi Street Food Tours after reading positive reviews on Trip Advisor and we couldn’t have made a better choice.
For $35USD/person we ended up getting a four hour class that included an impromptu motorbike ride and a super informative walking tour through the local markets. As someone who shops at Coles, having a live fish jump from a bowl onto the footpath in front of me, or seeing a giant bag of frogs waiting to be purchased was certainly an experience!
After purchasing the required ingredients we returned to the restaurant where the class was taking place. Our guide, Sam, couldn’t have been lovelier or more helpful as she taught us to cook four Vietnamese dishes (Pho, Spring Rolls, Papaya Salad and Egg Coffee).
My personal favourite were the spring rolls which I literally ate until I thought I was going to explode, but everything was beyond delicious. At the end of the class, Sam also collected our email addresses to send us the recipes from the class which was an added bonus!
- Hoàn Kiếm Lake
Located in the centre of Hanoi, Hoàn Kiếm Lake is a pretty area to walk around with a few nice places to take photos. We were lucky as during the days we were visiting the area directly around the lake was closed to everything except pedestrians. If you’re not as lucky, the area isn’t exactly tranquil, but is a nice slice of nature.
- Hanoi Opera House
We stayed right next door to the Opera House which made ticking this site off our to-do list an easy task. It’s a beautiful building, modelled on the Paris Garnier opera house, and both the exterior and interior make for pretty photo opportunities. We decided to see Lang Toi which is one of the productions currently being performed. It’s a show based on Vietnamese village culture and involves some of the craziest acrobatics I’ve seen outside of Cirque Du Soleil. It only goes for an hour (starting at 6pm), and we grabbed our tickets for 530,000 VND which was an absolute steal for the amazing talent we got to see. If you’re heading to Hanoi, definitely make a space in your evening to check it out!
Let’s be real, accommodation throughout Vietnam isn’t going to break the bank, even if you’re staying at the higher end of the scale. As someone who loves luxury but travels on a budget, it couldn’t be more of a dream come true. You pretty much have the pick of an entire luxury crop to choose from to ensure your holiday is as relaxing as you’ve imagined – what more could you want?
For this visit, we stayed at the Hilton Hanoi Opera in two connecting rooms – an Executive Twin and Executive King. Included in these rooms was full buffet breakfast (and by full, I mean four entire rooms of every food you could ever imagine) and access to the executive lounge which hosted drinks and canapes each evening, as well as unlimited tea, coffee and soft drink in the lobby bar throughout the day (this is usually in the executive lounge but was relocated during our stay due to renovations – no complaints, though!). We paid around $155AUD per night per room, which is an absolute steal (especially when considering our stay was over Easter! Even though it’s not really a thing in Vietnam, there were so many tourists in the city taking advantage of the holiday).
The hotel is right next door to the Opera House, and while it’s not in the Old Quarter (where most hotels and attractions are located), it’s within easy walking distance to almost everything in Hanoi (well, easy if you can manage to dodge your way through the crazy traffic!). I’d even consider *not* being in the Old Quarter to be an advantage, as the area can feel quite claustrophobic and being able to escape to the relative calm of the French Quarter was a welcome reprieve.
- To and from the airport: ~ 500,000 VND each way
- Around the city (e.g. from our hotel to the Ho Chi Minh complex): ~100,000 VND per trip
It’s pretty easy to walk around the main parts of the city, as long as you remember to be super alert as there are no traffic rules. Pedestrian crossings exist, but good luck finding anyone who abides by them.
Public transport exists, but based on my brief observations of buses going past, anyone who uses it to get around is a much braver person than I am
Just please, for the love of everything good in the world, wear a helmet.
No matter what you decide to get up to Hanoi, believe me when I tell you that you’ll need a few days to unwind after the utter hustle and bustle of the city. We decided to chill out by the pool in Hoi An as our break between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, so stay tuned for my next location guide…