Vietnam is one of the top travel destinations in the world and it’s not hard to understand why. Vietnam is possibly the only country within Southeast Asia to blend the face of old Asia with the face of new Asia. Hanoi is the city where this blend can be best seen, where the medieval meets the modern to make for a unique and simply unforgettable break. The former French colonial city has everything to offer from water puppet shows, numerous museums and Vietnam’s oldest university, the Temple of Literature. Vietnamese cuisine varies depending on the region of the country you’re in and you will not be disappointed with what Hanoi has to offer. From steaming bowls of pho noodles to some of the best street food in the world, there is something for everyone.
If you’re visiting Hanoi for the first time, then a great way to get your bearings and learn how to cross the crazy, motorcycle jammed roads is to take a tour with Hanoi Kids. This small company is made up of Vietnamese students who take you on a tailored tour around Hanoi, based on the sites you want to see, and will provide lots of fascinating facts on their wonderful capital. They don’t charge you for the tour as their sole aim is to be able to speak and learn English, so this is a fantastic and fun way to see Hanoi and to really begin to understand life in Vietnam. See http://hanoikids.org/ for more information and to book a tour.
There are so many things to see and do in Hanoi but a must for any visitor is to visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh was president of North Vietnam from 1954 until his death in 1969 and his embalmed body is now on display in the Mausoleum. The opening hours are short (8-11am) and the queue is often very long so make sure you get there in plenty of time as last entry is usually around 10.15am.
A short walk from the Mausoleum is the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s first university. This is a great and rare example of traditional Vietnamese architecture which has been incredibly well preserved. The temple complex consists of five beautiful courtyards and they provide a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi’s streets.
If you only get chance to see one museum while in Hanoi, it should be the Hoa Lo Prison. The prison was built by the French in the late 19th century and was used during the Vietnam War to keep captured American POWs who nicknamed it the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. The prison offers an interesting insight into an important part of Hanoi’s history, although be warned there are some parts of the museum which have been included solely for propaganda purposes, but overall this will not detract from the thought-provoking experience the museum provides.
An experience that is simply unmissable is a boat trip to the wonderful Halong Bay. In 1994, Halong Bay was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and is one of South East Asia’s most spectacular natural wonders with over 3,000 natural limestone islands scattered in the bay. Most excursions depart from Hanoi and you can choose how long to visit for, although it is definitely recommended to go for at least one night as it can take nearly 4 hours to get there over land and by boat. It will be without doubt worth the wait as you relax and take in the peaceful beauty the bay has to offer, watching the sunset in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Halong Bay is perfect for those looking for that special romantic getaway.
A fantastic place to stay in Hanoi is the luxury 5 star Melia Hanoi is an exclusive resort set in beautiful gardens and boasting a range of luxury facilities. Melia Hanoi, situated in the heart of the city and within walking distance of many of Hanoi’s must-see sites. The hotel offers an excellent buffet-style breakfast with plenty to choose from and there is also an à la carte restaurant serving traditional Vietnamese dishes. The staff at the Melia Hanoi are very welcoming; don’t be afraid to ask for tips for where to go of an evening – everyone is always willing to help and offer their knowledge of the capital. Facilities include a fitness centre, swimming pool, free parking and room service as well as shuttle bus to and from the airport.
There are so many possibilities in Hanoi, so much to experience and enjoy and so many new things to try (maybe not snake’s blood!) that you won’t leave this vibrant city disappointed. This is one of the best cultural holidays for you to choose, which can cater for all types of people, offering some of the most unique experiences that only Vietnam can offer.