1. Shop at the Dong Xuan Weekend Night Market
Where? Dong Xuan and Hang Chieu Streets, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? Fantastic street food, crazy-cheap shopping, and that crazy atmosphere that makes Asian street markets so much fun.
How long will you need? Get there around 7pm, and stay until you’re shopped out.
Cost? Everything is pretty cheap, but be prepared to barter so you’re not getting ripped off.
2. Visit the “Hanoi Hilton” – Hoa Lo Prison
Where? 1 Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The prison was originally built by the French in the 1880s to imprison Vietnamese political prisoners, but when the French eventually left Vietnam in 1954 after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the prison was taken over by the North Vietnamese Army who used it to house, interrogate and torture American prisoners of war. It was the American prisoners who sarcastically nicknames the prison the “Hanoi Hilton,” in honour of the horrible conditions they faced in there. While it is obviously well known that the Americans suffered just as horribly to the Vietnamese as the Vietnamese did to the French, the exhibits in the museum focus mainly on the torment suffered by the Vietnamese under French control. And they are truly horrific.
How long will you need? 1-2 hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.50 per person
3. Stroll the through beautiful grounds of the Temple of Literature
Where? 58 Quốc Tử Giám, Văn Miếu, Đống Đa, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is dedicated to Confucius , and was the site of Vietnam’s first university, dating back to 1076. Back then, only those of noble birth were admitted, but the mid-1400s brought about a new age, where gifted students from around the country were allowed. Now, it’s a stunning public space where you’ll walk around with a slack jaw and constant camera clicking…
How long will you need? 2 hours
Cost? Around AUD$1.20 per person
4. Ignore the overcautious and pretentious travelers and eat street food!
Why go? It’s not dirty or gross, it’s not going to make you sick, it’s not something to turn your nose up at. The food being made by the sweet little old ladies on the back of a motorbike cart is some of the best food in the city, so drop the ego and get eating.
Cost? It’s cheap – the spread about cost us about AUD$6.00 each, and we got nowhere near finishing it.
5. Eat ice cream and people watch by the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake
Where? Literally in the middle of the city, you can’t miss it.
Why go? Hoan Kiem Lake is the centre of the city, and the place where so many social events are held; at any time of the day or night, you’ll see people gathering for a picnic, to study, to practice tai chi, or just for a bit of a gossip session. When the heat starts to get to you, grab an ice cream, park yourself in the shade of the trees that circle the lake, and just take it all in…
How long will you need? As long as you want
Cost? Ice cream is pretty cheap, and the view is free!
6. Get educated on the Vietnamese point of view at the Vietnam Military History Museum
Where? 28A Điện Biên Phủ, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The grounds are piled with discarded planes and bomb shells, the buildings full of photos and more pieces of history. It’s a sombre atmosphere, and you can’t help feeling enormous respect for this small but courageous nation of underdogs. While you could never understand what they have been through, you start to understand just why they’re so fiercely proud and patriotic, and it’s a great way to take in a serious history lesson.
How long will you need? We were there for a few hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.20 per perso
7. Take a day trip out to Ha Long Bay
Why go? It’s not hard to see why Ha Long Bay was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. The bay includes, I believe, almost 2000 islands and islets, and is just breathtakingly beautiful, especially when you’re floating through it on a boat, without a single care in the world…
How long will you need? All day long for a day trip, but if you have a few nights to spare, you can spend a few nights on the water.
Cost? We took a day trip with Intrepid, which was amazing – cost around AUD$120.00 per person (though I believe that’s gone up a little now), and worth every cent.
8. Indulge in one of the city’s favourite dishes, bún chà
Where? Literally everywhere from the street corners to the markets.
Why go? Vermicelli noodles. Meat. Peanuts. Spring onion. And a delicious sauce to pour over the top. Like you need any more convincing!
Cost? You can get a bowl for a few dollars almost anywhere in the city!
9. Take in the patriotism and national pride at the Hi Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum
Where? 19 Ngách 158/193 Ngọc Hà, Đội Cấn, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? Ho Chi Minh (or Uncle Ho, to the Vietnamese) fought for Vietnamese independence, bringing the North and South together under one rule. He was a popular man, and his mausoleum brings in hundreds of visitors every day, mostly locals actually, paying their respects. But the tourists come in by the bus load too, often making their way on to the museum, like I did. The museum is quite big, and incredibly interesting – it actually makes history interesting, for those of you who aren’t history nerds like me.
How long will you need? 2-3 hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.00 per person
10. Finish the day with a drink up on Café Nola’s umbrella-covered rooftop
Where? 89 Mã Mây, Quan Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Why go? Rooftop bar. Great cocktails at cheap prices. Delicious food to nibble on. And they have the cutest collection of umbrellas dangling above you. Best way ever to finish a big day in Hanoi.
How long will you need? Spend a long afternoon there, trust me
Cost? Cheap enough that I don’t remember