The Charm and Congestion of Hanoi
There’s an unofficial debate as to which city is better – Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon). Of course, one’s answer depends on many factors but when it comes to charm, Hanoi wins hands down. Its tree-lined streets, French colonial architecture, centrally-located Hoan Kiem Lake, Old French Quarter and overall more traditional feel make it a very attractive city for travelers.
Hanoi is inarguably an intense sensory experience in the best way possible. There’s no denying the masses of motorbikes congesting the streets can be alarming but once you learn how to cross through the madness, you’ll surely fall under Hanoi’s charm.
Arriving in and departing from Hanoi allowed us plenty of time to explore what the city had to offer – following are the attractions we chose to visit.
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum & Ba Dinh Square: The embalmed body of the notorious leader and president Ho Chi Minh is on display here. That wasn’t something either one of us were eager to see; we quickly snapped a picture and instead decided to walk around the impeccably clean grounds of Ba Dinh Square adjacent to the mausoleum.
- One Pillar Pagoda: Just a short walk from the mausoleum is the One Pillar Pagoda – one of Vietnam’s most iconic Buddhist temples. It can get crowded on the steps (as you can see) but the overall feel of this site had a certain serenity to it. And isn’t it so cute?
- Old French Quarter: Lots of shops, bars, restaurants, accommodation and tour operators are located in the Old French Quarter making it the most lively area of Hanoi. Many backpackers choose to stay here but don’t let that deter you from going – it still holds lots of charm. Wandering the streets in the Old French Quarter is fun and entertaining!
One of the widespread “scams” is these ladies carrying fruit baskets. They offer to let you carry it and take a picture but then ask for money. I didn’t know this and refused to pay but it’s up to you if you think this is worth a few dongs.
- Traditional Water Puppet Show: The most famous is at the Thang Long Theatre. The art of water puppets dates back to the 11th century but now it’s mostly sustained by tourists. Admission is cheap making this is a good option to spend an hour or two.
- Hoan Kiem Lake: Where lovers meet and stroll hand in hand – the romance-induced lake is in the heart of Hanoi. The small Ngoc Son Temple located at the perimeter of the lake is open to visitors. The Rising Sun Bridge painted in vibrant scarlet is designed in classical Vietnamese style which makes for a great photo shoot (just make sure to keep your eyes open unlike me)!
- Cho Dong Xuan Market: The biggest and most diversified market in Hanoi. Mostly for locals but there are also a few tourist-related items. Anything can be bought here but don’t forget to bargain (be nice & have fun)!
- The Temple of Litterature: Built to honor Confucius, it hosts the first university ever built in Vietnam. The traditional architecture and manicured gardens make for a pleasant visit. You’ll likely be asked to have your picture taken with some of the students dressed in their school uniforms (and don’t forget to do the “peace” sign as is customary when posing in Asia!).
Have you been to any of these attractions in Hanoi? Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh – what are your thoughts?