A lot of people have asked me what my favourite part of our Vietnam trip was and I honestly haven’t been able to answer. It really is impossible to pick between our incredible trek in the Sapa mountains, the picturesque yellow old town of Hoi An, or our breath-taking cruise through Halong Bay (more to come on that in a future post). I definitely think my favourite city though was Hanoi which was of course hugely influenced by the quality of the food, but also its position as a jumping-off point to places like Sapa and Halong Bay and I think as a city it’s where I felt a real sense of what modern Vietnam is all about.
I’ve shared posts already about our Hanoi Street Food Tour, our Vietnamese Cooking Class with Apron Up and some of my favourite spots for food & Drink in Hanoi, but here are some of the non-foodie things we did.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum
On a rather wet day we thought it would be a good idea to spend most of our time indoors, and so we visited the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. I knew that I’d want to spend a decent amount of time there and so the weather was the perfect excuse! We bought our audioguides and took our time working our way around. It was super interesting learning about women who were key players in the wars of the twentieth century, as well as what life in general was like for women through those difficult years. Women have really been an example of strength and appear to be recognised that way in Vietnamese culture, not least through the huge collection of propaganda posters the museum has. I also enjoyed seeing all of the examples of Vietnamese clothing from the local tribes and the techniques used to make them as well as how women in these ethnic groups live and some of their unique traditions.
Thang Long Water Puppet show
A really touristy thing to do in Hanoi is going to watch a water puppet show, an ancient traditional art in Vietnam. Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre have a few shows every day that last only 50 minutes, which I think makes it really accessible and was perfect for us as we just wanted to get a taste of what it was about without giving up an entire afternoon or evening. The whole show was in Vietnamese, but we didn’t find it difficult to follow what was going on and we had a program with titles of each part which made up for the rest. It was a lovely experience that we really enjoyed and I think it would be a great thing to do with young children as it was quite funny at times and wasn’t too long.
A few people we’d met along our journey through Vietnam had told us about Hanoi’s famous “Train Street” so we figured we’d wander up one afternoon and see what it was all about. It turned out that we’d arrived just 20 minutes before a train was due to pass through. We sat with a Hanoi Beer along the track and waited until we were told to clear everything away to make space for the train to narrowly fit through! It was totally pointless but quite fun. Here’s the location on Google Maps.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a big deal as you can imagine and there are set times when visitors can go to see Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body and pay their respects. We had read that the queues were long and although they can move quickly, we decided that we were more comfortable with just going to see the building itself which would make timings more flexible. The grounds have quite a stern feeling to them and for me were quite a stark contrast to the Hue Tombs for example.
Other sites we visited were the temple on the lake, Den Ngoc Son, which does get quite busy, but if you can catch it early I imagine could be fairly tranquil to sit and look out over the lake. We also went to see the Hanoi Citadel but managed to catch it during a festival that appeared to be some sort of pageant which was…interesting. The Temple of Literature, a temple dedicated to Confucius and the site of the first Vietnamese university, was interesting to see as well with its courtyards and ornate alters.
I’m glad we had a few days to explore Hanoi and I think I would happily spend more time in Northern Vietnam on a future trip if I’m lucky enough to come back.
Have you been to Hanoi? What were your highlights?