Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is a bustling city unlike any other. Although it is a Communist country it opened its borders to the free market in the mid-1980s, making Vietnam a flourishing country.
Things are always in motion, changing and evolving, which makes it such a fun and interesting city to explore. Here are 10 things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam on your next holiday…
1. Visit the Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature, built in 1070, was the first national university in Vietnam. Originally dedicated to Confucius, and now honoring Vietnamese scholars as well, the Temple of Literature is an important landmark in Hanoi.
Today, students still flock to the Temple of Literature during exams to pray for good test results. Aside from it’s historical significant, the Temple provides a beautiful, green space throughout the year to enjoy.
2. Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
Although Hanoi is extremely hectic and often overwhelming, especially for first-timers, there are many outdoor spaces to find relaxation in the city. Hoan Kiem Lake is regarded as the center of Hanoi and is one of those beautiful, open spaces in the city.
As you walk around the lake, expect locals to approach you to practice their English and to see fantastic people watching. In the early morning hours and after sunset, locals flock to Hoan Kiem Lake to exercise during the cooler hours of the day.
3. Grab a Vietnamese coffee
Did you know that Vietnam is the 2nd biggest exporter of coffee in the world after Brazil? Coffee is not only cheap, but it’s also a major social aspect of Vietnamese culture.
On any given day, coffee shops around the city will be a buzz with groups of locals socializing over strong Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk or an egg coffee, which was created in Hanoi.
To grab an egg coffee, head to Giang Café in the Old Quarter. The creator of egg coffee opened this café and it is still run by the same family.
4. Rent a motorbike
Six million motorbikes roam Hanoi’s roads. Motorbikes are the main mode of transportation in the city and throughout Vietnam. Oftentimes you will see an entire family squeezed onto one bike. Dogs sit between the driver’s legs with their front paws hanging over the handlebars.
For this reason, the very best way to discover Hanoi is via motorbike. Rent a motorbike for the day in the Old Quarter and go cruising through the streets. But be careful! Traffic laws are really more of a suggestion in Vietnam.
5. Take in city views at the Observation Deck
Most visitors to Hanoi don’t stray too far from the Old Quarter, If they do wander off, it’s generally in a taxi to very specific locations in the city and then back to the Old Quarter.
Since the Old Quarter is a relatively small area, most people don’t understand how huge of a city Hanoi really is. To fully comprehend its size, head to the Observation Deck at the Lotte Center. Located on the 65th floor, floor to ceiling glass windows allow you to really see the sprawling city.
6. Learn Vietnamese history at Hoa Lo Prison
Vietnam has a very long and complicated history. To learn about relatively recent history, head to Hoa Lo Prison. The prison was originally used by the French to house Vietnamese enemies of the state beginning in the late 1800’s when the French governed Vietnam.
Once Vietnam gained its independence, Hoa Lo Prison was used to house American P.O.W.s during the Vietnam War. While not a happy period of time in Vietnamese history, it is important to learn about the history of Vietnam to really understand the country.
7. Wake up bright and early to see the Flower Market
While exploring Hanoi, you are bound to see local women walking their bicycles with baskets of flowers for sale on the back of them. To see where the women buy their flowers, head to the Flower Market.
It is a wholesale market that runs from roughly 12am to 6am in the morning. Vendors sell flowers from their stands or off the back of their motorbikes.
8. Buy groceries at Chau Long Market
Wet markets sell fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, meat and seafood. It is likely to be the freshest food you may ever come across. The produce is harvested within the past day or two and the animals are butchered the same morning that the meat is sold. The seafood is still alive and housed in various fish tanks.
Wandering through a wet market is quite the experience. Women drive their motorbikes through the market from vendor to vendor to buy the day’s groceries. Buyers haggle for the best price. You will definitely find a certain cut of meat or type of produce that you would never find at home!
9. Eat street food
Vietnam is famous for its abundance of street food vendors and stall. They generally only serve 1-2 things in order to perfect the dish.
Street food is safe to eat, cheap and delicious. A very common street food dish is a noodle soup, whether its pho bo (beef pho) or bun ca (fried fish soup).
10. Take a cooking class
Vietnamese food is extremely flavorful. In one dish you can taste many different flavors, such as basil, fish sauce, sugar, vinegar, coriander, or mint.
All the ingredients balance each other out – you can learn a lot more about how to pair them in a cooking class at Hanoi Cooking Centre.
Have you ever been to Vietnam? What are your favourite things to do in Hanoi? Let us know in the comments below – we’re so curious!