Visiting Hanoi in Vietnam

Where to stay and things to do in Hanoi - The Old Quarter restaurants, markets, gardens, temples and Lakes.

Hanoi is Vietnam's second largest city and an ideal starting off point for an extended touring holiday to explore Vietnam. This particularly the case if intending to travel down the country i.e. heading south more or less along the coast of the South China Sea. Hanoi is the oldest and one of the most attractive capital cities in South East Asia - Ha Noi "city within the river bend" - was founded in 1010 by Emperor Ly Thai To. Hanoi city was built around a huge citadel and settlements to provide for the Royal Court which grew up around the east side - Hanoi Old Quarter.

Hanoi's Old Quarter has plenty of small hotels - these are not full of facilities generally speaking, just clean fairly spacey rooms usually offering a decent breakfast for not too much money. If you want more facilities and plusher - more expensive – hotels the best ones are probably up by the two lakes - see our top banner picture for a view of this area. One of the things which seems to be typical of hotels in Hanoi Old Quarter (our own experience and and mirrored by other people we met who were staying in the Old Quarter) is that hotel staff are extremely friendly and always helpful - advice on where to go sightseeing and so on. Also, if you wish to book trips from them to say Ha Long Bay there was not marking up the prices and/or trying to rip you off.

As far as for eating out in Hanoi - the Old Quarter has plenty of street food available, some cafes but not too many actual restaurants however the ones that are about offer good basic food at low cost. There are much plushier (and therefore somewhat more expensive) restaurants around the French area and even more expensive hotels out by the two large lakes. There are also quite a few places to eat around the side streets within the Cathedral area which is just a few minutes’ walk from Hoan Kiem Lake.

The Old Quarter remains as a mixture of narrow streets lined with shops and stalls and with each street specializing in a particular product or craft - with 36 distinct craft guilds the area was nicknamed the "36 streets". It is is a very interesting area to walk around, busy and noisy with 1000s of motorbikes, old narrow long tube houses (taxes were levied on the frontage of the houses so they were constructed only 2 meters wide however the depth was not taxable so the houses are often two stories high and go back a long way). There are several markets around - Dong Xuan Market is a very colorful and busy undercover market and Hang Ma Street is where you will find brightly colored lanterns for sale.
One place of interest is Guiding Light Mosque which is at no.12 Hang Luoc - it is difficult to actually see from the street as it is somewhat hidden amongst the clutter. The Mosque was built in the 1890s by the Indian Islamic community for traders and civil servants and is of interest because it is the only mosque in Northern Vietnam.

Hoan Kiem Lake - Hanoi Old Quarter (Lake of the Restored Sword)
Located close to the Old Quarter the Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the Hanoi's most popular areas to wander around especially in the evening. There is seating everywhere and also there are numerous flower beds (all very well kept of course) - a meander around the Lake takes around 30 minutes or so. In the centre of Hoan Kiem Lake is the Thap Rua (turtle tower) - which is a popular haunt of a variety of birds. To the south of Hoan Kiem Lake there is another much larger lake called Bau Mau Lake (3rd picture along) - this is situated within quite large grounds and you do have to pay a small fee to go in. There are probably meant to be quite a few facilities including a narrow-gauge railway which loops round most of the area, paddle boats and so on but it all did seem a bit run down. Nevertheless, the lake and park are a nice walk during the day though not too sure about being around there late at night.

Den Ngoc Son Temple - Hanoi Old Quarter - Vietnam
One of the main features of Hoan Kiem Lake is the beautifully red painted The Huc (Sunbeam Bridge) which leads to the Den Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain Temple). The temple was founded in the 14th century and is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao who is a national hero as he defeated the Mongols in 1288, also to Van Xuong - God of Literature, to Lai To - Physician and finally to Quan Vu - a martial arts expert. Very popular and busy (opening times are 07:30-19:00) at most times there is a minimal entrance fee to the Temple - you can walk onto the bridge anytime free of charge but in the evenings, it is totally packed out with youngsters. Located at Hang Chieu Street, Quan Chuong (Gate of the Commander of the Regiment) is the only remaining ancient gateway to the Old City of Hanoi and is so named in honor of an army officer who fought the French there in 1873 - originally there were 36 gateways into the City.

Bach Ma Temple - Hanoi
Originally founded in the 9th century and re-built several times over the years, Bach Ma Temple (white horse temple) is the oldest religious building in Hanoi Old Quarter - a temple has existed here since the 7th century. Legend has it that King Ly Thai To - who was having problems stabilizing the city ramparts saw a white horse running from the temple and around the area where the ramparts were being constructed. The white horse then returned to the temple and the King built the ramparts where the white horse had travelled. Thereafter the ramparts were sound - the King dedicated Bach Ma Temple to the Guardian Spirit or White Horse. Located on busy Hang Buom Street it can be hard to spot but worth the effort.

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long in Hanoi
Constructed at the start of the Ly Dynasty (1009 - 1225), the Citadel is situated next to the Military History Museum (which contains lots of old sometimes rusting items such as tanks, planes and so on). You can get a reasonable view of the 34-meter Cot Co (Flag Tower of Hanoi) from out in the street. It is sometimes possible to climb some of the way up the tower although you have to pay to go into the Military History Museum to do this of course. Most of the Citadel was in fact demolished by the French invaders in the 1890s and the Cot Co Tower only survived this destruction as it was convenient for use by their military as a lookout post.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi
Inaugurated in 1975 Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a huge grey granite structure and the last resting place of Ho Chi Minh who was the President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Mausoleum completely dominates Hanoi's broad Ba Dinh Square. Entrance times and days need checking as they vary - seemingly the Mausoleum is open early morning and not necessarily each day. You need to be properly dressed to go in it (this means visitors cannot wear mini-skirts or shorts), behavior must be quiet and respectful and no bags or cameras/photography are allowed - however entrance is free.

The Presidential Palace and Botanical Gardens at Hanoi
Located close to the Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace was completed in 1906 for use by the Governor General of Indo-China - the building itself is currently closed to the public. However, for a small fee, visitors can go into the surrounding Botanical Gardens which has two carp lakes and the Ho Chi Minh Stilt House (apparently Ho Chi Minh would not live in the Presidential Palace for symbolic reasons). It is a very pleasant area with quite a few water features and lots of shrubs, trees and plants. The surrounds however seemed quite lacking in anywhere to sit apart from near the exit where there were some drinks facilities and a few bench seats.

Just to the South of Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum in Hanoi is the Buddhist One Pillar Pagoda which was originally built in 1049 Emperor Ly Thai Tong but - the most recent version was erected in the mid 1950s. It's a tiny wooden sanctuary dedicated to Quan Am, only 3 square meters in size and is supported by a single stone column rising from an artificial lake (it's meant to resemble a lotus blossom which is the Buddhist symbol of enlightenment and purity). The One Pillar Pagoda is extremely venerated by Buddhists and perhaps second in importance only to the Perfume Pagoda but there is a not a lot to actually see.

Ho Tay Lake, Truc Bach Lake and Tran Quoc Pagoda in Hanoi
North of the Mausoleum are two lakes - the largest of the two is Ho Tay Lake (west lake) and the other is Truc Bach (white silk lake) - the two are separated by a causeway. This is a popular area for people to wander around, there are street sellers around selling fruit and so on, lots of cafes and plenty of seating. Around halfway across the causeway is the city's oldest Pagoda - Tran Quoc Pagoda - this Pagoda is extremely busy with both locals and with tourists. The Pagoda was built by Emperor Ly Nam De in the 6th century and was originally on the banks of the Red River. It is a single-story Pagoda built around lots of brick stupas and is also probably Vietnam's oldest Pagoda.

Quan Thanh Temple in Hanoi
Another temple close to the Lakes (just south of the Causeway) is Quan Thanh Temple which was built in the 11th century under the instructions of King Ly Thai To and dedicated to Tran Vo (The Guardian of the North). The black bronze statue (see photo) cast in 1677 shows Tran Vo seated on the main altar. The area is always busy and there is few Dong entrance fee for entry into the Temple.

The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) in Hanoi
This is open daily and there is a small entrance fee. The Temple of Literature was built in 1070 during the Ly Dynasty and founded in honor of Confucius. Van Mieu Temple is the oldest and perhaps the finest complex in Hanoi. Originally the temples were the center of higher learning and for educating future mandarins for over 700 years. Built to replicate the temple at Qufu in China it contains five courtyards - the first two have lawns and walkways each of which is separated by walls containing ornamental gateways and central paths divide the two halves. You then pass through the Khue Van Cac to the third courtyard - the gate was built in 1805 and it's upper story features four radiating suns pointing to the cardinal points.

Within the third courtyard is the Thien Quang Tinh (the well of heavenly clarity) and on either side of it are covered galleries which house 82 stone stelae (or stele) - these are some of the Temple's most prized relics.

They are stone pillars situated on tortoise pedestals and show personal details and names of scholars who passed Van Mieu's examinations during the 15th to 18th centuries. The music room and the Temple of Confucius are located in the fourth courtyard. The bell tower and great drum are situated either side of the fifth courtyard which also contains the former Quoc Tu Giam which is the National Academy - which now has a display of historical books and learning tools plus images of three Ly Dynasty Emperors.

St Joseph's Cathedral (Nha Tho Lon), Hanoi
Vietnam was once occupied by the French and as you travel around the country it is noticeable that most towns have a church or cathedral. St. Joseph's Catholic Cathedral in Hanoi is a huge grey building which was built in 1886 in the neo-gothic style. The main entrance is usually closed unless services are being held (when the Cathedral is jammed solid) so it's necessary to go around and use the side entrance to get inside the cathedral.

Walking across Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam
Constructed in 1902 this superb iron lattice railway bridge crosses Hanoi's Red River. Long Bien Bridge has a 1700 metre span and is badly in need of painting - the last makeover apparently took around 5 years the last time it was done in the '60s. There are walkways on either side of the single railway line - these walkways are strictly for motorbikes, cycles and pedestrians. Once across the Red River there is a small park down on the left where you can get drinks and where there is plenty of bench seating available (and toilets). Walking across the bridge takes around 35 minutes each way and it can be quite hot thirsty walking so remember to take a bottle of water if you do the trip. If you are really lucky one of Vietnam's long slow trains might rumble across the bridge beside you whilst you are crossing!

Source: Đặt khách sạn