Sightseeing in hanoi, Sightseeing in hanoi, Sightseeing in hanoi, Sightseeing in hanoi, Sightseeing in hanoi

Sightseeing in hanoi

Any guidebook can provide you with the top tourist sites.  I think the following are not to be missed:

    -EARLY MORNING WALK AROUND THE LAKE- Start off your day by taking an early morning (between 5:30-7:00) walk around one of Hanoi’s many lakes to see how Hanoians start their day-- tai chi, badminton, stretching is everywhere and participants seem to range in age from a few months to 80+.  In May and June I love walking to the lotus ponds aroundWest Lake (near Sadona Suites Hotel and also near the Hanoi water park) to see the flowers being harvested from small boats (see picture above).

    -THE TEMPLE OF LITERATURE is a nice place to wander around.  This ancient Confucian place of learning also provides a quiet, calm oasis.  Try to plan your visit around lunch time because there are two restaurants across the street that are good, not only for their food but also for the worthwhile cause.  KOTO (Know One Teach One) takes in street children and provides them with education and vocational training.  On the same street is Cafe Smile, part of the Hoa Sua School group.  Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are provided education and vocational training in the hospitality industry.  And while you are spending your money on worthy causes, shop at Craft Link, a few doors down from each restaurant.  This non-profit focuses on poverty alleviation by providing outlets for traditional handicrafts.  A great place to purchase your souvenirs!  KOTO, Cafe Smile, and Craft Link (Craftlink closes for lunch from 12:00-1:15) are all located on Van Mieu Str.

    -HOAN KIEM LAKE AND NGOC SON TEMPLE- Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword) is the heart of Hanoi.  Unless its sweltering or raining, take a leisurely stroll around the lake and people watch.  On the southwest shore there is a nice beer garden and at the northwest end a lakeside restaurant that used to be the French Club, where the French colonials would meet with Vietnamese to do business back in the days of Indochine.  Today, they have good ice cream.  And speaking of business, Australia-New Zealand (ANZ) Bank and its ATM’s are on the western shore if you need to refresh your dong supply.  At the northeast end of the lake is Ngoc Son temple with its colorful red bridge.  On the southeast edge is the international post office if you need to mail some purchases home or buy stamps for post cards.  Keep and eye out for the lake’s famous turtle.  Seeing him is considered good luck so if you do spot him go out and buy a lottery ticket. Click here to read a L.A. Times article on the turtle in Hoan Kiem lake.

    -THANG LONG WATER PUPPET THEATER is on the northeast side of the lake and is a great place to see this traditional art form.  As you take your walk around Hoan Kiem stop here for tickets, its definitely something you should see while in Vietnam.  In rural areas flooded rice paddies were used as the ‘stage’ for the puppet show.  Before the lights dim read your play bill so you have a rough idea of the stories that will be shown.  Show times are at 3:30, 5:00, 6:30, and 8:00.  Just don’t sit in the first few rows unless you want stagnant water splashed on you.

    -THE OLD QUARTER AND DONG XUAN MARKET- After you’ve made the loop around the lake head through the Old Quarter towards Don Xuan market.  This area was originally made up up guilds with each street specializing in a certain product.  Now it seems like every other building is being torn down to build a hotel or restaurant and only six streets remain that specialize in their original product (Hang Thiec, Lo Ren, Hang Hom, Hang Bac, To Tich, and Lan Ong).  Do make your way away from the shopping streets to get a glimpse of daily life in this area.  According to the 2009 Vietn Nam Census, the population density of the Old Quarter is around 82,300 people per square kilometer!  Plans are currently in place to spend US $288.4 million to relocate 1,800 households to a new urban area 8km away.  Here’s an excerpt from the Viet Nam News describing life in this area:  “Nguyen Hong Tam, 60, resident of the Old Quarter’s Hang Duong Street, said 21 different families live in his house, which was built over 100 years ago.  His six member family, including his 90-year-old parents and his two grown up sons, live in a 10sq. meter room.” There are plenty of cafes to duck into when you need refreshment (many with free wifi).  If you are in town on a Friday or Saturday night stroll through parts of the old quarter at night when streets are closed to traffic and tons of stalls selling everything imaginable get set up in the middle of the street (from about 7:30pm to midnight Friday and Saturday).

    -THE HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM,  One-pillar Pagoda, and Ho Chi Minh Museum.  For me, the value of going to see Uncle Ho is to watch the reactions of the Vietnamese around you.  Seeing an 80 year old woman and a 14 year old boy brought to tears at the sight of him speaks volumes to the place he holds in their hearts. Note that the mausoleum is closed on Mondays and Fridays and all of November.

    -THE VIETNAM MUSEUM OF ETHNOLOGY should not be missed, especially if you will be visiting areas with minority groups, such as Sapa.  Vietnam is home to 52 different ethnic minority groups, comprising about 18% of the population.  This museum will give you some insights into the different cultures in this mutli-ethnic country.  The museum also has water puppet performances on Saturday and Sunday, at 10:00, 11:30, 2:30 and 4:00.

OTHER SITES: In addition to the not to be missed places above, these following ones make for a nice outing.

    -THE HANOI COOKING CENTER (44 Chau Long St) gets rave reviews for its hands-on Vietnamese cooking classes.   In addition to the cooking skills and information, classes give you a little more knowledge about the cuisine you’ll be eating during your trip.  On the same property as the cooking center is the absolute gem of a bookshop, Bookworm.  Run by a young Vietnamese man, this is the place to pick up some additional reading material or the wonderfully detailed map of Hanoi called “Xin Chao, Hanoi” produced by two expat friends.  Bookworm also stocks brief guides/books produced by the Friends of Vietnam Heritage.  Titles include: “Walks around West Lake”, “The Temple of Literature”, “Bat Trang Pottery Village”.  These books are very well researched and provided detailed information for those wanting a little more background.

- RED RIVER TOURISM (42-46 Chuong Duong Do, Hoan Kiem, (04) 3826-1479) has boats that cruise down the Red River to different spots along the river.  The company that runs this is Du lich Song Hong.  Departures are at 7:30am and they return at 4:30pm.  In addition to seeing the scenery along the banks of the river you will also stop at Dam Temple where they worship mother water.  Next is Dai Lo temple that worships four ladies that were saved by a monk when their boat capsized while they were traveling along the Red River.  Lunch is then served on board as you cruise to the final stop, Bat Trang pottery village.   A ticket costs 325,000 which includes lunch, drinks are extra.

In addition to sight-seeing in Hanoi, there are various half- and full-day trip options:

    -CRAFT VILLAGES.  There are several traditional craft villages a few kilometers from Hanoi that are fun to visit.  These villages are interesting partly for seeing the products they specialize in being made and partly to observe village daily life.  Although many craft villages have seen their incomes rise dramatically in recent years (especially Bat Trang pottery village and Dong Ky wood working village), life remains challenging.  Largely because of pollutants involved in the craft making process, the life expectancy of craft village residents is 10 years lower than the rest of Vietnam, cancer rates are significantly higher, and respiratory problems are commonplace.  If you’re visiting, keep in mind that most workshops/shops will close at lunch and for an hour or two afterwards.

    *Van Phuc is a traditional silk weaving village about 12km southwest of Hanoi.  This village has specialized in silk since the 18th century.  You’ll hear the clanking of the mechanized looms as soon as you arrive.  There are also lots of shops in the village with prices cheaper than what you’ll find on Hang Gai.  You don’t need a guide.  This village has been absorbed by Hanoi so its not at all rural.  If you are taking a taxi, make sure your driver knows where you are going.  There is another Van Phuc in Hanoi, the diplomatic quarters near the Dawoo Hotel, and you don’t want to be taken there by mistake. You can ask someone at your hotel to explain to the driver where you need to go.   In Van Phuc, much of the fabric is made there.  There is another fabric village called Ninh Hiep, but it has very little silk and mainly offers fabrics imported from China.  Ninh Hiep is sort of a whole sale village where shops in Hanoi come to purchase products.  Its interesting to visit, but not at all as interesting as Van Phuc.

    *Bat Trang is a traditional pottery village on the banks of the Red River 13km southeast of Hanoi.  This traditional ceramic village dates back 5 centuries.  You can walk around and see the ceramic making process and buy as much as you can carry back.  If you don’t want to carry, they can arrange for shipping.  If you’re heading to Halong Bay you can ask your tour company to include a stop at Bat Trang on your way back to Hanoi.  No guide is needed.  If you want a self-guided tour of Ba Trang, purchase the Friends of Vietnam Heritage publication on Bat Trang at Bookworm.

    *Dong Ky village used to specialize in fire crackers until the government banned them in the mid 1990s.  Now they produce traditional furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  In addition to watching the amazing wood carving process, its fun to visit the village around rice harvesting time.  A guide is helpful.

    *Ha Thai specializes in lacquer.  If you are curious about how all those colorful products for sale on Hang Gai are made, this is the place to come.  A guide is useful.

    *Cu Da specializes in making vermicelli noodles.  As you want through the village you can see different stages of the product being made.  Cu Da is in the same direction as Van Phuc, so its possible to combine them into one trip.  A guide is useful.

    -If you’re visiting Hanoi a few weeks after Tet, definitely head to the Perfume Pagoda.  This all day trip from Hanoi has beautiful scenery, and the beautiful scenery combined with the sight of all the boats overflowing with pilgrims heading to the pagoda is amazing.  The water is only a few feet deep so no worries about drowning.

    -If it’s not close to Tet you can take a similar trip to Tam Coc-- similar in terms of the scenery.  Once you arrive at the jetty you’ll board a row boat and be rowed along by a woman (no men, just women).  This is often referred to as inland Halong Bay.

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