The city fulfils a great vacation with these requisites — delicious food, amazing sights and hospitable people.
Located a mere three and a half hours away, Hanoi, Vietnam is a short flight from Singapore, which means the capital is perfect either for a weekend getaway or as a stopover while you’re having an extended vacation across Southeast Asia.
Located on the located on the banks of the Red River, the French-colonial city offers everything from picturesque sights to yummy food, to friendly, hospitable locals and amazing history, heritage and culture. Plus, everything there is wallet-friendly and very affordable.
Booked your flights yet? No? We share 10 things you can’t miss out at Hanoi to give you #travelenvy and hopefully spur you to finally click that button.
As with any modern capitals built on old, established cities, the current Hanoi is way larger than it was. But if you want to get a sense of what the Hanoi of yore was like, the Old Quarter is a place you mustn’t miss. The place used to be the civic heart of Hanoi and still remains a bustling area for locals and tourists alike. Every street in the Old Quarter is markedly different from the next and it’s an area that you can spend a whole day exploring and never be bored. Why? Each street is known to have certain “theme” where adjacent shops would sell similar wares to each other. Whether you’re looking for metal hardware meant for the kitchen, art pieces to decorate the home with or you want to get a fresh pair of kicks (PS: head to Cầu Gỗ street), the Old Quarter will fulfil all your needs.
After a long day of walking and exploring Hanoi, you might be looking to rest your feet with a couple of cold beers in hand. Head to the area in and around the streets of Ta Hien Street (Beer Street) and Luong Ngoc Quyen in the Old Quarter. The streets are lined with bars and restaurants while the roads are closed to vehicles at night. So grab a seat by the pavement, order a local brew such as the Saigon Beer or Hanoi Beer and enjoy the chaos and madness of the area while you people-watch.
Here’s a little history crash course for you: the Vietnam War was fought between the Communist North Vietnam and the democratic/capitalist South. In the end, the North won and reunited the nation. Hồ Chí Minh, or fondly known as Uncle Ho, was the leader of the victors and his body is now entombed at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. There, you can pay your respects to the late leader before heading to the Ho Chi Minh Museum where there are exhibitions to educate you about the nation’s turbulent past. After that, take a walk to the Presidential Palace, a yellow colonial style building where Uncle Ho used to live and work.
Vietnam was very much influenced by Chinese culture, and one of the many things that were adopted by the Vietnamese was Confucianism. The belief places importance on education and that’s where the Temple of Literature comes in. Founded by Lý Thánh Tông, the third emperor of the Ly Dynasty in 1070, the site was Vietnam’s first national university. Here, you can marvel at the old architecture, courtyards and gardens. If you or a loved one are preparing for an exam, you could pray to the guardian deities for an added boost of grades. Pro tip: Many Vietnamese take their graduation photos (complete with the gown and mortarboard) at the Temple, so bring yours along and snap some for keepsakes.
The Hanoi Train Street might be a little hard to locate, but it is definitely worth the effort. As the name suggests, the street plays host to a train track that’s lined with houses and shops. If you’re looking to snap a melancholic #OOTD where you’re “candidly” looking away from the camera, here’s the place to go. Although you don’t have to jump and dodge motorcycles here (as with other parts of the city), the train still runs on the track, so you should heed caution and stand clear when it passes through. Oh, and don’t forget to apply the Sierra Instagram filter to really up the like count (plus an unrelated inspiration quote with the hashtag #wanderlust!).
Much like Singapore, Vietnam is a country you’ll find many temples and churches from various religions. For example, the Tran Quoc Pagoda is a beautiful pagoda built in the 6th century and its situated by the picturesque West Lake. This is a quiet reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city. Plus, you get to enjoy the view and breeze of the expansive lake too. Else, you could attend a mass at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a Neo-Gothic church built in 1886. The design is also said to be reminiscent of the Notre Dame de Paris in Paris, France.
Water puppet theatre is an artform that dates back to the 11th century and is indigenous to the Red River Delta area of Northern Vietnam. Said to be performed by villagers when the river flooded the paddy fields, you can catch the traditional shows at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Through the telling of classic tales with wooden, lacquered figurines, you’ll get a glimpse into the history as well as an understanding of the beliefs of ancient Vietnam. The show is performed with the support of the Vietnamese orchestra that plays traditional music. Tickets cost upwards of VND100,000 (S$5.87) each and the show goes on daily.
Phở or pho (say: fuh) is a hearty dish consisting of soft, silky rice noodles and steaming hot, soulful broth. It’s accompanied by meat, vegetables and herbs, with a side of red chilli to add extra kick into your soup. Are you drooling yet? Many would agree that pho is the national dish of Vietnam, which means you must have a taste of the dish to mark your trip. We recommend Phở Sướng, a hole in the wall establishment known for its beef pho, or Pho 10, which is easier to find and a tourist favourite.
Once you’ve ticked pho off your to-eat list, we also recommend Bún Chả (say: boon cha) — a warm noodle dish with grilled meats served with a dipping sauce and pickles — and of course, Bánh Mì (say: ban mi), a baguette stuffed with pâté or meat, pickles and herbs passed down from the French colonial era. Head to Quán Bún Chả Nem for the former and remember to ask for a side of nem — fried spring rolls made with meat and wrapped with rice paper — and Bánh Mì 25 for the latter. Another standout dish you have to savour is Cha Ca, a dish of fried turmeric-marinated boneless fish that’s finished at your table with herbs, rice noodles and a dipping sauce. We recommend Cha Ca Thang Long for the dish.
After you’ve been satiated by the savoury dishes that Hanoi has to often, it’s time to complete the meal with some sweets. Here, we have three places to recommend you. The first is Lutulata Desserts & Drinks. This cafe serves different Vietnamese desserts composed of jellies, fresh tropical fruits, coconut milk and other local flavourings. We especially loved the grilled bananas served with coconut milk and shavings but there are other hits such as the jasmine tofu sweet soup. Remember to wash it all down with their popular ginger tea.
For a more local experience, grab a stool and sit by the street at Huyen Vy Cafe (just beside Phở Sướng) and enjoy a cup of jellies and mixed fruits such as jackfruit, mango and pineapple topped with yogurt and lashings of coconut cream. If you’re too full (we are of the mind that there’s always space for desserts though), head to Giảng Cafe. The quaint establishment is said to be the originator of egg coffee. But don’t worry, you won’t be getting raw egg mixed with coffee. Rather, egg coffee is a combination of the famous Vietnamese coffee topped with a rich, pillowy meringue.
Here’s something for all you shopaholics out there. Trang Tien Plaza is the mall for you to shop at. You’ll find a range of high-end and high-street labels, ranging from Burberry and Rolex to Giordano and Adidas. There are also brands that are not available in Singapore, such as French womenswear label Weill, menswear label Miluxe and American fast fashion label Gap. Feel like catching a movie to escape the heat? You can at CGV Cinemas on the fifth floor.
By Ho Guo Xiong, July 2019 / Images: Shutterstock
More on The Finder:
Don’t miss out! Like our Facebook page for event updates and more.