I’m having a difficult time writing a post today. Mainly because I’ll be writing where I left off on my destination series, Vietnam. Fact: There are just some places that you won’t love when traveling, no matter how hard you try. Let me put it this way, if there’s one country that I don’t want to visit again, it is Vietnam. But I will try my best to write about the things that I like and recommend when visiting this country. It’s not my favorite mainly because of the Vietnamese people and scammers but the country is worth a visit.
To travel to Vietnam, a visa is required for most nationalities. But it’s visa free for travelers with South East Asian passports. So I was given a 21 day visa on arrival when I got to Hanoi and I get to spend three weeks exploring the whole country.
There are two ways to travel Vietnam, one is from the North to the South: Hanoi to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City or the other way around Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. I started from the north.
Hanoi is the take off point of travelers wishing to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of the mystical and scenic Ha Long Bay and the mountainous region of Sapa. Both of which I also visited and will write about next.
Here are my top places to see and experience while in Hanoi:
1. Wander around the streets of the Old Quarter District
Hanoi is a compact city that is great for walking. It is very chaotic any time of the day so just be careful when crossing the streets. Just go forward and don’t look back.
I stayed at Hanoi Backpackers Hostel in the Old quarter, which I highly recommend. Not only is this place highly social for backpackers, the location is also a great take off point in exploring this historic city. This hostel also offers a free walking tour of the city. I most especially loved the French architecture and the tree-lined streets. It can be hot and humid during the day but since it was in the northern region of the country, there is a cool breeze which can also be nice at night.
2. Ride a motorbike
This city can be best explored while riding a motorbike. I learned to drive a motorbike when I was in Pai. After my short stay in Pai, I then went to Vietnam. However, I do not recommend driving here for beginner bikers. This is a crazy busy place to drive around. But do pay a driver to drive you around the city. It’s quite an experience being driven by a Vietnamese in a chaotic city. Enjoy the ride and don’t forget to wear your helmet.
3. Visit the markets
One thing that I like to do when I get to a new city is explore its market. Vietnam’s markets are no exception. Their markets are as colorful as any South East Asian country. I loved taking pictures of the markets mainly because of the vendors wearing the triangular hats. These people are not the friendliest vendors in South East Asia but they look really nice with their hats. I believe it’s the Vietnamese signature hats.
4. Have an ice cream break in Hoan Kien Lake
Amidst the chaos of this bustling city is the Hoan Kien lake located right at the center of the city. In here you will find a couple of good restaurants, some pagodas and temples to explore and the best ice cream in Vietnam called Fanny’s Ice Cream. Try the gelato style ice creams and enjoy the scenery.
5. Learn History from Hoa Lo Prison Museum
If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of this once French Indochina territory, a visit to the Hoa Lo Prison museum is a must. I didn’t know much about the history between France and Vietnam and the war but after visiting this really nice museum, I get to learn more about it and felt how it was like to be in such a place during the French colonial period. The museum is well maintained and a very interesting place to visit.
6. Visit the Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is Vietnam’s oldest temple to education and the site of the oldest university. There are five different courtyards with beautiful gardens. I enjoyed it as it is a tranquil and great place to unwind after sightseeing and walking around the hustle and bustle of the city.
7. Try Vietnamese cuisine
A visit to Vietnam is not complete without trying its food. The most popular one is the beef noodle soup called “Pho”, which can be found in small stalls in the streets of the old quarter. But since I’m vegetarian, I had to go to restaurants that served vegetarian dishes, which Vietnam also has plenty of. I liked the fact that they serve such fresh ingredients and I highly recommend the tofu and vegetable noodle soup. Their soups are one of the best I tasted in South East Asia.
8. Happy Hour in Hanoi
Around 5pm, the street called Pho Ta Hien in the Old Quarter district gets really crowded with Vietnamese locals and tourists alike. This is what happy hour Vietnamese style looks like. Try it, you might just like it.
Anybody else who has traveled to Hanoi? Did you try out anything else that’s interesting? Leave a comment!