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Exploring the Enchanting Capital: Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, is a place that exudes charm and history. With its rich cultural heritage and bustling streets, Hanoi offers a unique experience for visitors. We spent four days in this wonderful city during our Vietnam Trip in the summer of 2023. Hanoi was our fourth and last destination on the trip. Vietnam in itself is a mesmerizing country offering diverse experiences and Hanoi is representative of that. In this article, we bring to you our experience and recommendations for exploring Hanoi.

To know more about our entire Vietnam Trip in a nutshell (including where we stayed and what to be careful about), please visit our article

Vietnam Trip Itinerary And More – Synopsis Of The Big Picture

An Introduction to the Capital City of Hanoi

Hanoi is located on the northern side of Vietnam and hence would either be the first or the last stop on your journey. Hanoi is known for its rich culture, vibrant street life, and historical landmarks that make it a must-visit destination. 

One of the most striking features of Hanoi is its architecture. The city is adorned with beautiful French colonial buildings, reflecting its past as a French colony. The Old Quarter, with its narrow streets and ancient houses, takes you back in time to the days when merchants traded their goods along these bustling lanes.

Furthermore, Hanoi is known for its vibrant street life. The city's streets are filled with food vendors selling delicious local delicacies such as pho (noodle soup) and banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich). Walking through these lively streets gives you a taste of authentic Vietnamese cuisine while immersing yourself in the local culture.

Start with a view from Room Balcony - See the Cube House 

What to Explore in Hanoi

The Hoan Kiem Lake, located in the heart of the city, offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle. The lake forms the center for most touristic activities in Hanoi. Here are some of the experiences you should include in your itinerary of Hanoi. 

The Aura of the Old Quarter

Lanes of Old Quarters

One of the most enchanting areas of Hanoi is the famous Old Quarter. Stepping into the narrow streets of this historical district is like stepping back in time. Here, you'll find charming colonial buildings, pagodas, traditional markets, and bustling street vendors. The old-world charm has been cautiously carried over to date. Strolling along the numerous alleys of the area would give you a good glimpse of local life and a number of shopping opportunities. 

The alleys in old times were structured to specialize in one commodity for each lane. These lanes were named accordingly as well. Even today when you roam around, it is evident that the majority of shops in a lane cater to similar categories of products. Another interesting observation you may have is the narrow facade of most of the houses (and also shops). These are called cube houses as they have a very narrow front face and are built vertically. Practically each floor had a room and there was a floor for every family (Vietnam traditionally had a joint family system). This allowed privacy to families and also (more importantly) saved taxes. Taxes during the French regime were based on facade width.  

Temples, Museums, and Monuments

Monuments in Hanoi are not just mere structures; they are symbols of the city's rich history and cultural heritage. As the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is home to numerous monuments that pay homage to its past and commemorate significant events.

One of the most iconic monuments in Hanoi is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Built to honor the country's beloved leader, Ho Chi Minh, this imposing structure stands as a symbol of national pride. Visitors from all over the world come to pay their respects and witness the embalmed body of Uncle Ho.

Supreme Court of India

Opera House

Another prominent monument is the Temple of Literature, which dates back to 1070. This ancient complex served as Vietnam's first university and remains a place of reverence for scholars and students alike. Its well-preserved architecture showcases traditional Vietnamese design elements, making it a must-visit for those interested in history and culture.

Other key monuments you may like to cover are The One Pillar Pagoda (stands on a single stone pillar emerging from a lotus pond.) and the Hanoi Flag Tower (a reminder of Vietnam's struggle for independence). On our trip, we did a tour on the Hanoi Sightseeing Bus which took us to most of these monuments and narrated the history and significance of these. 

Hoan Kiem Lake - The Anchor of Tourist Activities

Located in the heart of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake is a peaceful oasis amidst the busy city streets. The legend says that an emperor was once gifted a magical sword by a turtle in the lake, making it a sacred place for the Vietnamese people. Take a leisurely walk around the lake and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere.

There is a charming Ngoc Son Temple, located on a small island within this lake. The temple is connected to the land via a beautifully decorated wooden bridge. Also, there is a lot of hustle around the lake because most markets are built around the lake.

Hoan Kiem Lake - Mesmerizing Views

The Famous Red Bridge - Way to the Temple

Shopping in Hanoi - Upmarket Malls and Happening Night Markets

Shopping in Hanoi is a delightful experience that offers a unique blend of tradition and modernity. The bustling capital city of Vietnam is renowned for its vibrant markets, boutique shops, and trendy malls, making it a shopaholic's paradise.

A short walk from the lake is the Hanoi Opera House. It is a great way to spend some time if you are interested in a show. The Opera House is also the starting point for sightseeing tours. The area around the Opera House is full of luxury and international brands and modern shopping malls giving it an exclusive touch. These malls offer international brands alongside local designer boutiques. Vincom Center and Trang Tien Plaza are two popular destinations where shoppers can find luxury goods, electronics, and high-end fashion items.

However, it is in the night markets where Hanoi truly comes alive. The Hanoi Night Market is a vibrant hub where locals and tourists flock to enjoy street food while browsing through an extensive range of affordable merchandise. From clothing to accessories to home décor items, this market caters to all tastes and budgets. However, the night market has its glory mostly during weekends. The entire roads around Hoan Kiem Lake are made pedestrian-only zone during the weekends. There are a number of performances and other activities that keep tourists engaged during this time. If you are in Hanoi on a weekday, you could visit Dong Xuan Night Market which gives a similar experience. 

Train Street - A Fun Way to Enjoy a Coffee

The Train Street

The Street with Us

Street Food and Fun

No visit to Hanoi would be complete without indulging in its world-famous street food. The city is a haven for food lovers, offering an array of delicious and affordable dishes. From pho (noodle soup) to banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), and from bun cha (grilled pork with noodles) to egg coffee, the choices are endless. Explore the street food vendors and embrace the flavors and aromas that make Vietnamese cuisine so unique.

Getting out of Hanoi

Hanoi is located in the northern part of the country which is also a region bestowed with mesmerizing natural scenery. Hanoi is close to a number of enticing sites to come close to nature and we explored two of them - the Halong Bay Cruise Experience and the Nihn Bihn Day Tour. 

Halong Bay Cruise Experience

Halong Bay, located in northeastern Vietnam, is a natural wonder that captivates visitors with its breathtaking beauty. With its emerald-green waters and towering limestone karsts, it has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts millions of tourists each year. The bay is home to over 1,600 limestone karsts and islands of various shapes and sizes. These formations create a stunning landscape that seems almost otherworldly. 

We did a 2-day-1-night cruise tour of Halong Bay which we think is the best way to absorb the beauty of the place. If you are rushed, there is a day tour available as well. However, the cruise harbor itself is about 2.5 hours from Hanoi and hence the tour becomes very hectic. The bay and its exquisite are the best experiences at a slow pace. Spending the entire day and night on a cruise allows you to flow with the waves and get lost in the true rhyme of nature. 

More details of Sapphire Cruise are at - https://sapphirecruise.com/

Posing with our Cruise

The Views of Halong Bay

Views from our Suite Onboard

More Views Onboard

Nihn Bihn Day Tour

Located in the northern part of Vietnam, Ninh Binh is a hidden gem that offers breathtaking natural landscapes and rich cultural heritage. A Ninh Binh day tour is an ideal way to explore this enchanting destination and immerse oneself in its beauty.

The tour begins with a visit to Hoa Lu, which was the ancient capital of the country. Most tours allow you to pick a cycling activity as an inclusion and we recommend doing that. They drop you from the bus some distance away from the temples of Hoa Lu. You are then provided cycles to ride up to the Hoa Lu temples of the Dinh & Le Dynasties. There are cycles with baby seats as well, in case you are with kids. The experience to cycle is surreal as the guide takes you through a scenic route and takes you around the temples through lush green forests as well. Then you are provided an overview and history of the city and temples.

Light at the End of Caves

Temple Within the Lake

Inside Views of the Caves

After the temple visit, you are offered a local lunch at one of the restaurants. The lunch is decent and has a lot of tropical fruits - in fact, loads of mangoes! Later we visited Trang An, A UNESCO World Heritage site. Here, you get to ride on a rowing boat that takes you through the crystal-clear river into the numerous limestone caves. Some of these caves run over half a kilometer and the entire experience is memorable. Whether it's exploring mystical caves or cruising along tranquil rivers surrounded by majestic mountains, this journey will leave travelers in awe of Vietnam's diverse landscapes and rich heritage.

Logistics in Hanoi - What, Where & How

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and is well connected to the rest of the country and major cities of the world by air. There are adequate direct flights to India including with the budget carriers Indigo and Vietjet. There are regular buses and periodic train services to key cities within the country. Within Hanoi, there is adequate public transport. Grab and Gojek are the most convenient option for quick movement across the city. You may also want to give Hanoian Rickshaw (cyclos) a try to navigate the narrow lanes of the old square. While it is a fun ride, appreciate the fact that there is a person pushing your weight through the lanes. Also, the prices quoted at the start are way higher than reasonable ones and hence negotiate to something that you think is justified. 

For food, there are numerous options across the city. If you prefer to experience, street food is available in plentiful. There are upmarket restaurants serving international cuisine as well. We tried a couple of Indian restaurants during our stay. We like one in the Old Quarters called Maajhi which had a great ambiance and palatable flavors. We also tried Namaste Hanoi and Aalishan - the former has good food but nothing for ambiance and the latter is simply avoidable. 

For options to say, you are spoilt for choices across budgets. We recommend staying in the Old Quarters, somewhere near Hoan Kiem Lake. It brings the majority of attractions and activities within walking distance. While we stayed in upmarket properties in other locations in Vietnam, we chose to experiment in Hanoi. We stayed at one of the cube houses turned into a hotel in the center of the Old Quarters and had a good experience. The name of the hotel was Lotusama Hanoi Hotel (TripAdvisor Review). 


Hanoi, with its blend of tradition and modernity, is a city that truly captivates its visitors. From the bustling streets of the Old Quarter to the serene beauty of Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi offers a perfect balance between history and contemporary charm. Immerse yourself in the local culture, taste the tantalizing street food, and embark on a memorable journey through the enchanting capital of Vietnam.

The Kettle part of Kettle and Travel

Cycling Experience in Hoa Lu

Last Views of the Caves

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