We spent a week in Hanoi, resting up before we tackled Malaysia. We enjoyed Vietnam’s hectic capital a great deal, and wanted to pass on some tips:
Do visit the Temple of Literature, a 1,000-year old university. Beautiful grounds just a short walk from the Old Quarter.
Don’t be scammed into seeing the water puppets. Lame — save your $5.
Do go exploring the streets of the Old Quarter. These twisty streets and alleys are full of fascinating shops, people, and smells. Even better when you realize each street seems to specialize in selling one thing — there’s a street for toys, woven objects, mirrors, religious objects, musical instruments ….
Do get out of the Old Quarter and explore other parts of the city. We enjoyed our afternoon wandering around the French Quarter, stopping in coffee shops, finding affordable food, and following our nose to whole pigs being cooked on the sidewalk! We used this Google Map over and over to find great eats all over Hanoi. It never led us wrong!
Don’t visit the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum unless you’re ready to stand in a long line, surrender all your stuff at the door, and promise not to snigger at the whole creepy thing. We weren’t willing to do any of the above, gave this a pass, and spoke to people who wish they’d done the same.
Do drink bia hoi, the cheapest beer on the planet (as little as 20 cents!), at one of the many bia hoi joints scattered around town.
Do enjoy a view of Hoan Kiem lake with a Cafe Trung Cacao (chocolate egg coffee) at Cafe Pho Co.
Don’t take the exhibits at Hoa Lo Prison (aka “The Hanoi Hilton”) too seriously.
Do note the communism-to-capitalism irony of the Hanoi Hilton souvenir shop! Beer coozies!
Don’t sleep too late, or else you’ll miss the most revered Pho in the city at Pho Gia Truyen.
Do eat your pho as the locals do, in reverential silence.
Also, since you’ll be up so early for breakfast, don’t forget to stop by Hoan Kiem lake to see all the people exercising!
Do say yes when locals approach you to practice their English or ask to take their picture with you. This second one was a bit strange at first, but I did feel like some minor celebrity!
Finally, don’t forget the cardinal rule of crossing streets in Hanoi: keep walking at a steady pace and (likely) one of those millions of Vietnamese zooming around won’t hit you.