Having finally ticked Vietnam off my bucket-list, I had to share the beauty of this hidden gem. An authentic, charming and beautiful country filled with rich cuisine and jaw dropping scenery. Here is our Vietnam journey!
After arriving in Hanoi off a 22 hour flight from New York, we had to power through and get out and see what we could, which meant I had to be super organized and plan well in advance of our arrival. If you want to read more about travel tips for Vietnam, I will be sharing these in my Vietnam Travel Guide.
We chose the Oriental Suites and Spa as our first hotel stop (we also only had 1-2 nights in-between Halong Bay). This is a small but very friendly and accommodating hotel. The hotel was in a great location and was literally only a 5 minute walk to the main attractions.
Hanoi has two main neighborhoods, the French Quarter and Old Quarter. Both are easily accessible on foot. The Old Quarter is bustling with small little coffee shops, gift shops and night markets.
There are lots of things to do in Hanoi however below is a list of my favorite to do’s (we didn’t get a chance to see Ho La Prison or Hanoi Museum as we only had a couple of days):
- Hoan Kiem Lake & Ngoc Son
- Try egg coffee
- Eat authentic Vietnamese food
- Watch the Thang Long Water Puppet Show
- Temple of Literature
- Trấn Quốc Pagoda (the oldest Buddhist template in Hanoi city)
- Ho La Prison
- Hanoi Museum
- Shop around in the Old Quarter/ night market
- Hanoi Train Street
Hoan Kiem Lake
The iconic Hoan Kiem Lake is in the heart of the Old Quarter (famous red bridge). Peaceful and quiet, the lake surrounds Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda sitting in the center. The lake and temple are probably the most famous places in Hanoi city. Legend describes how an emperor was once given a magical sword which helped him defeat his enemy and in doing so saw the return of the Golden Turtle God to the lake.
My top tip for Hoan Kiem Lake – due to the popularity of this site, it’s better to go super early in the morning to get the best view, peacefulness and also to enjoy people watching! Yes that’s right you will get to see young and old people jogging, dancing, doing tai chi, and exercising around the lake around 5-6am. The temple opens at 8am and closes at 5pm. So you will have plenty of time to grab a coffee and people watch! It’s truly inspiring!
Just across the street from Hoan Kiem lake, we had our very first experience of some of the best authentic Vietnamese food. We dined at Cau Go. The food was really delicious! It’s a roof top restaurant that faces the lake and bridge and allows for a romantic meal with a lovely view! We ordered vegetable spring rolls and papaya salad.
We also tried Hanoi’s famous ‘egg coffee’ at Giang Cafe. Our hotel recommended this place as it’s famous for it’s coffee and has been running since 1946! This place was packed with locals and tourists. Note this cafe was nothing fancy – just small tables and plastic chairs but that was the beauty of it. Although egg coffee is not something I would drink daily, I have to say it was delicious (1m calories) and definitely worth a try!
Trấn Quốc Pagoda & Temple Of Literature
On our second day in Hanoi we visited the stunning Trấn Quốc Pagoda (the oldest Buddhist template in Hanoi city) and the Temple of Literature. The Temple of Literature is a 1,000-year-old temple to education and spread over 5 courtyards. Both sites were peaceful and really beautiful.
Just across the street from the temple of literature we found a cute place for lunch – KOTO – “know one teach one”, A Van Mieu Training Restaurant. KOTO was started by Vietnamese Australian Jimmy Pham as a not-for-profit project providing career training and guidance to disadvantaged children and teens. Food and drinks were delicious. We ate for a good cause and got our well deserved break from the intense heat!
Hanoi Train Street
I was on a mission to find the famous Hanoi narrow train street where people live on either side of a train track. This meant dragging my husband through the beaming hot streets of the Old Quarter to find it. There is a twice-daily train, linking Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh in the far South, that passes through these residential streets, causing residents to pack up all of their belongings every afternoon (3.30pm) and evening (7pm). Of course it was a great insta opportunity!
The train street lies on a small street between Kham Tien and Le Duan, the exact lane the train passes along is called Ngo 224 Le Duan. It is walkable from the old quarter, and it will take you about 35-40 minutes to walk at a decent speed. Try Uber if its too hot to walk.
Thang Long Water Puppet Show
Finally, we were able to catch a last minute Thang Long Water Puppet show after dinner (these are the Broadway shows of northern Vietnam). The tradition of water puppet theatre stems from a time when rice paddy fields were flooded and villagers would make entertainment by standing in the waist-deep water with the puppets performing over the water and dates back to the 11th century. Although the whole show was in Vietnamese dialect, the actions, music and dance of the show were enough to convey the Vietnamese culture, food and lifestyle. We thoroughly enjoyed the show and it was a good introduction into what we had in store for the rest of our trip!!
After our 2 days in Hanoi, it was time to take a boat cruise along Halong Bay!
DeepsMak Blogging with a Cuppa x