Perfect weather at 15 degrees, breath-taking landscapes, wonderful food, friendly people… these are what I remember of my first visit to Hanoi 11 years ago.
Did you know that Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam? Yup, it’s not the bustling Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, formerly Saigon) as many may initially think. Of course it’s understandable that HCMC is more popular owing to its exposure in many Vietnam war movies. But if you’re going to visit Vietnam, you may want to consider going to the capital where, ironically, life is less hectic.
Perfect weather at 15 degrees, breath-taking landscapes, wonderful food, friendly people… these are what I remember of my first visit to Hanoi 11 years ago. That’s why I was so excited to return, this time with the Hubby. Here’s a preview of our 5-day trip compiled into a list of Top 10 things to do in and near Hanoi. The more detailed posts will follow soon. For now, if you are planning to go to Hanoi or are on your way there, this list may be of help.:)
1. Ride a bike
Getting around Hanoi can be a pleasurable experience on a bike, as long as you stick to the bike lane. Just be careful navigating intersections, though, as motorcycles are plenty and sometimes, unpredictable. You can rent a bike from your hotel for less than US$4/day.
2. Eat a traditional Vietnamese meal by the roadside
We are big fans of Vietnamese food, even though we can’t really tell the difference between food from the North and food from the South.
We’ve tasted quite a few dishes for the first time in Hanoi, including the many versions of sticky rice. Food in Hanoi is also very cheap, with meals ranging from 1 to 3 $USD per person. Although we were aware that there were many fine dining restaurants in the city, Hubby and I preferred to eat where locals eat, that is, by the side of the road. It’s not for everyone. But it’s definitely for us!
3. Go on a Beer Tour
When doing his research on what to do in Hanoi, Hubby stumbled upon Beervn.com, a blog published by Jonathan Gharbi. Jonathan is a Swedish expat currently living in Hanoi with his wife. He conducts beer tours and introduces visitors to the wonderful world of micro breweries in and around the city. I will write about our beer-venture in another post. For now, suffice it to say that this was one of the fun-nest things Hubby and I did in Hanoi. If you happen to be in Hanoi or are planning your trip, check out Jonathan’s beer tour schedule on beervn.com.
4. Visit the Perfume Pagoda
Huong Pagoda (or Perfume Pagoda in English) may not be very appealing to many people due to its distance (70 kilometers from Hanoi, the trip could take up to 3 hours!). But going there will let you see the more laid back side of the province. The boat ride is an adventure in itself and the 6-or-so-kilometer trek up the mountain will give you a chance to commune with nature.
5. Explore Duong Lam Ancient Village
The ancient village of Duong Lam hasn’t changed much after all these years.
The ancient village of Duong Lam hasn’t changed much after all these years. The beautiful traditional Vietnamese houses and temples have withstood the test of time and are still being used up to now. Explore the village on a bike and enjoy a traditional meal or tea to complete the experience.
6. Check out the backpackers’ area
I’m sure many locals will disagree with this choice as they feel that this area is a tourist trap. But if you don’t have a lot of time to go around Hanoi, you can come here to sample the food and buy your pasalubong. Consider it a one-stop shop for travellers in a hurry.
7. Spend a lazy hour around the Lake
There’s no better and cheaper way to spend an hour in Hanoi than to walk around Hoan Kiem Lake. Savor the peace and quiet with the locals who seem to congregate here in the late afternoons. Visit some of the temples or just enjoy the view.
8. Watch a Water Puppet show regardless of your age
Watching the Thang Long Water Puppet Show is a wonderful cultural experience. The one-hour performance depicts local folklore and features an outstanding cast of puppeteers and musicians. Tickets are sold for VND100,000, truly worth the price if you ask me.
9. Drink local coffee
Of course one should never leave Hanoi without sampling the traditional brew.
Of course one should never leave Hanoi without sampling the traditional brew. Hot or cold, with or without milk, on the street or inside a coffee shop, Vietnamese coffee is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. I always bring home a pack or two for pasalubong. But truth be told, sometimes the pasalubong ends up in my pantry. Hahaha.
10. Make friends with the locals
You will never be able to understand or fully appreciate a place if you don’t talk to the locals. The Vietnamese are some of the friendliest people I know. Strike up a conversation or share a seat with them at a food stall. Seeing Vietnam through their eyes can be a very rewarding experience.
Watch our for the detailed posts soon! In the meantime, if you enjoyed this post, share the love! You can also like PinayTraveller’s Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and see my latest adventures on Instagram.