This year I spent five months in Vietnam and in that time I saw a lot of Vietnam. I stayed in a city that is two hours away from the capital so I had many opportunities to catch a bus to Hanoi for the weekend. If you are planning on travelling to Vietnam, then I would definitely recommend visiting Hanoi. There are many things that you do in the city.
Immerse yourself in culture
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
I would recommend going here if you want to learn more about Vietnamese culture. There are so many different types of ethnicities in Vietnam and this museum shows you what each culture is like. There are various displays on different artwork, tools, clothing and housing. Outside, there are even built-to-scale models of what the houses would look like.
Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature was the first university in Vietnam. The buildings there are beautiful and once you step through the entrance, it feels like you have been transported back in time.
Hoa Lo Prison Museum
It is a very jarring experience at the Hoa Lo Prison Museum but I would definitely recommend going there. It will give you a better understanding of what Vietnamese people had to go through to get to where they are today. When you go in, you will see the actual cells that the prisoners were held in. Make sure that when you go to historical sites such as this that you cover up your shoulders, legs and feet – don’t wear shorts or sandals.
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
You will start to notice very quickly that Vietnam’s first president, Ho Chi Minh, is very important to Vietnamese people. Not too long after I arrived in Hanoi, I noticed that many buildings, such as schools and police stations have a mural of Ho Chi Minh on the front. Vietnamese people call Ho Chi Minh “Uncle Ho”. Make sure that you do not say anything that could be construed as disrespectful towards Ho Chi Minh while you are in Vietnam. You can go to see Ho Chi Minh’s home and his actual body at the mausoleum.
Try some local cuisine
I miss pho so much. It was my favourite food while living in Vietnam. Pho is a broth-like noodle dish. It is an amazing comfort food. I had so much pho, especially when I was sick with the flu. The rice noodles are usually cooked in a chicken or beef broth but I was a vegetarian while in Vietnam so I ate a vegetable broth. It can be found practically everywhere. There are even restaurants that only serve pho. Vietnamese people eat pho for breakfast so if you go out looking for some breakfast, you will probably find yourself reading a menu for a pho restaurant.
This is basically a Vietnamese sandwich. It is made from a baguette inspired by French influence. The banh mi is filled with meat, usually pork and lots of vegetables. You will find carrot, cucumber, chilli and cilantro in your banh mi. Like pho, you can easily find banh mi on the streets. They are also very cheap, roughly €2 to €3.
Shop until you have no more dong
If you visit Hanoi, then you will definitely end up in the Old Quarter at some point. This bustling part of town is the place to go if you want to be surrounded by people. This is where you will find all the shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. It is pretty easy to find things here as well. All the streets are named after what they sell there so if you want to buy a bag, then you should go to bag street. If you go to that street you will find a long line of shops on either side of the road filled with the same products for sale. I’m not even exaggerating. There are so many shops on each street selling the same thing so if one shop doesn’t have that bag in the right colour then all you have to do is move next door.
You will need to learn how to haggle if you don’t already. I will say that I was horrible at haggling. I hated bringing down the price because I felt so guilty. It is important though because when the vendors see you, they will automatically know that you are a tourist and that you are gullible (sorry, but it’s true). They will try to sell you something at a ridiculously high price but you will have to haggle otherwise you will have spent all your money in a day. One thing to note is that once you start haggling, you have to buy that item. Vietnamese people believe in luck and they will consider it unlucky if you haggle, change your mind and then walk away.
Go out for a drink (or five)
Nightlife in Hanoi is great, especially if you love beer. Bia hoi is the local beer and it is extremely cheap. You will pay about 20,000 dong for a jug of beer, which not even a euro. You will see people on the street sitting at small tables and on red stools. This is where you go if you want a glass of bia hoi. I myself, am not a fan of beer but of course, I had to try it when I was there. These vendors will usually also sell food, like pho.
Bars and clubs
Hanoi during the day is crazy busy and it is really hard to navigate with all the traffic. Hanoi at night is somehow even crazier with everyone out drinking and enjoying themselves. Everything is cheap and you don’t have to worry about spending all your money on drinks that night. Nightclubs and bars in Hanoi have cheap drinks and you don’t need to pay to get in. In some places, you can also choose the music, which can make a night even more fun when you’re out with your friends.