Hanoi, meaning “surrounded by river” is the capital of Vietnam. The Reunification Express travels the 1,760 kilometres north from Ho Chi Minh City. Around 35 hours on the train will allow plenty of time to soak up the Vietnamese countryside. Viet Jet and Jetstar Pacific provide low-cost air travel and a 90-minute flight. Invest the few dollars for extra legroom. You’ll be glad you did.
40 – 60-minutes has you in the city from the airport, passing rivers, farming, and a scenic rural landscape. On the city outskirts, typical Vietnamese architecture emerges. Small plots butting together with space created from 3 to 4 vertical levels.
To make the most of 24 hours in Hanoi, begin in Old Town. Here you’ll find a clammer of activity and little changed from the original streetscape. Finding delicious food is a cinch with pho, banh mi, cold rolls and sizzling woks on the sidewalk.
The streets are a retail roadmap. Street signs begin with Hang “to sell” followed by whatever product category is sold on that street. So you don’t like the price? Just pop next door. It makes haggling a breeze.
Walking Hanoi is easy too, with little gems around each corner. You’ll still need your game face for the motorbikes, but you can follow tree-lined streets, wander through parks and rest at nearby lakes.
Cyclos can pick up the pace and are a relaxing way to see the town. There are hundreds of riders but look out for Vinh in his Aussie flag cap or give him a call to pick you up. You’ll be friends for life by the end of an afternoon. (090 6089 524)
The Vietnam Fine Arts Museum has a wonderful exhibition of intricate lacquer paintings and can be included in a visit to the Temple of Literature. Dedicated to Confucius and the first university in Vietnam, the temple was built in 1070.
The Stelae of Doctors is in the 4th courtyard. 82 of the original 116 turtle stelae are inscribed with the names of 130 Royal exam graduates. The turtles at the base of the stelae signify longevity and wisdom.
For a bite to eat, cross the road to KOTO (Know One Teach One), a non-profit restaurant training disadvantaged Vietnamese youth in hospitality and life skills.
Jimmy Pham, a returned Vietnamese from Australia, launched the initiative as a 26-year-old tour operator. He met a group of street kids, saw the condition in which they lived and launched a program to give the youth of Vietnam a chance. This selfless venture proved successful. Organisations across the country are now adopting the KOTO social model.
The Army Museum and Flag Tower are a short walk from KOTO. Exhibitions present the development of Vietnam and wars fought for independence. You’ll need time here. The museum is large with indoor and outdoor exhibits along with dioramas and films depicting battle strategies.
If embalmed bodies of past leaders are your thing, view Ho Chi Minh in his mausoleum. Find out more about him at the Ho Chi Minh museum, visit his house and the Presidential building next door.
For ancient history, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is a block away. Exhibits include artefacts from the 6th through to the 20th century following trade and political evolution in Vietnam.
Opposite the Citadel’s north gate stands Cua Bac Church. Designed by French architect Ernest Hébrard in the 1930s, the church combines art deco and Vietnamese features making the overall structure unique.
Contrasting architecture and religion are found at Quan Thanh Temple and Tran Quoc Pagoda near Truc Bach Lake and West Lake nearby.
Follow your nose for fresh local produce at Cho Chau Long (Chau Long Market). Tropical fruits, local vegetables, fish, poultry, and meat are sold, but there’s plenty cooking too. For meat lovers, you’ll find it hard to resist the rotisserie pork, beef, and ducks basted constantly with oil and herbs.
On the way to Cho Dong Xuan (Dong Xuan Textile Market) take a slight detour to Long Bien Bridge. Designed by Gustave Eiffel of that Tower fame, it ironically, was an integral part of the Vietnamese defeating the French. Transportation via the bridge gave access to food and weaponry by Vietnamese soldiers at Dien Bien Phu battlefield.
Dong Xuan Textile market has clothing, footwear, souvenirs, watches, accessories, handbags, electronics, the list goes on; everything you need from a market. If floors of stalls don’t excite then plan this area for late in the day to experience the night market. A shopping street running from Dong Xuan Market to Hoan Kiem Lake.
Is it beer o’clock? You’ll find beer corner at a dog leg off the night market. The staff at Beer 2KU are friendly and efficient serving ice cold Hanoi Premium while promising “free beer tomorrow”. 😉
Green Tangerine is a special treat. The restaurant offers a contemporary French menu utilising local ingredients in a colonial house built in 1928. Try a Trio of Foie Gras and the Duck Confit, they’re both scrumptious.
French wine dominates for obvious reasons and the bar shakes a killer dirty martini. Courtyard or air-conditioned dining offer the sanctuary needed to indulge in true French style.
Xupito Bar, just moments away is a fun place for a nightcap. Officially a Mexican food and Tequila bar, the place is full of local Vietnamese and expats. You’ll make friends in no time and after closing, you may even get locked in with them.
It’s bedtime! The accommodation options are endless and inexpensive. Take a look at Hanoi Paradise Hotel. You can’t beat the location or the price and the personalities are a bonus.
Hanoi has so much more; Art galleries, Opera House, lacquerware and Hoan Kiem Lake. Hoa Lo Prison, affectionately known as the Hanoi Hilton where John McCain was a P.O.W., is now a museum and with a few extra days, Halong Bay is easily reached for cruising on a traditional junk boat.
Vietnam’s capital: it’s a place we love….