The first stop of our vietnam trip was Hanoi, because here we also landed and spent the first day. We had been looking forward to the city in advance, because we had already been to Hanoi on our world tour in 2015 and back then we liked the city very much 🙂
Table of contents
Hanoi’s place in the world’s restaurant
– Since the reunification of the country in 1976, Hanoi has been the capital of Vietnam
– It is the second largest city in the country after Ho Chi Minh City with 8 million inhabitants
– The city is located in the north of the country on the delta of the Red River
– Hanoi is connected internationally via Noi Bai International Airport
– Hanoi is the oldest of the existing capitals of Southeast Asia (founding year 1010)
– Hanoi was formerly the administrative center of French Indochina
– To this day, French culture has been preserved partly in the cityscape
– “Ho N’i” means “city within the rivers”
– In Hanoi the houses are high, but very narrow, as the property tax depends on the width of the building
– Hanoi has several lakes: Hoan Kiem Lake, Ho Thien Quang Lake, Truk Bah Lake, Bei Mau Lake and Tu Le Lake
– The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is on the banknote of 100 000 Dong
– Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is located in Hanoi and is the final resting place of the great Vietnamese politician
– There are about 5 million scooters on the road in the city. But Hanoi plans to ban motorcycles in the city centre altogether by 2030
Our hotel “Thang Long Espana”
At the airport in Hanoi we were already received at the exit by our German-speaking Gebeco tour guide. Until the group was full, we got cash at the ATM in the meantime. For most ATMs, you can withdraw a maximum of 2 million dong (1 euro = approx. 25,000 dong) in a withdrawal process. The fees are about 20,000 to 25,000 dong per withdrawal.
After a short time our tour group was complete and it was possible to start. Our group consisted of a total of 26 people and was therefore rather a larger group. On average, there are 19 people on the trip, but at least 15. The group consisted of 7 couples and 12 solo travellers aged between mid-20s and mid-60s.
When all the luggage was invited to our coach, it could start around 8 o’clock. It took us about 50 minutes to get from Hanoi Airport to the city centre. It didn’t take long for it to rain really hard. But fortunately the rain was short-lived, so that some time later the sky cleared again 🙂
The first port of call was our Hotel Thang Long Espana , where we stayed for one night. We couldn’t get to our room at the time, but at least we were able to store our luggage. We had a spacious twin room on the first floor, which we liked very much. Unfortunately, however, it was a bit bright, as the connecting door to the adjoining room was very thin and you could hear, for example, the guests in the room next door. Since the breakfast restaurant is also located on the first floor, noises such as clapping plates, chairs, etc. could already be heard in the morning from 5.30 a.m. But since we had to get up early anyway, it didn’t bother us so much. We liked the breakfast very much. There was a live cooking station as well as a good selection of hot dishes and cold things (e.g. fresh vegetables, salad, fruit, ham, sausage) so that we could start the day well strengthened.
The sights of Hanoi
Hanoi has been the capital of Vietnam since reunification in 1976. The city of 8 million inhabitants, which was founded in 1010, contains millions of mopeds, a traditional old town, extensive parks, over 600 temples, pagodas and European buildings from the colonial era.
After checking in at the hotel, we explored Hanoi in the morning together with our tour guide and our group. For this we first took our coach to the Temple of Literature and later took a tour of the old town. In the afternoon we had free time, so we could explore Hanoi on our own.
The Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature is a Confucian complex in the west of Hanoi’s Old Quarter and is considered the most important literary temple in Vietnam. The complex is not actually a temple and was not built for religious purposes in 1070. It is the first academy in the country from the very beginning: in 1076, the National University was founded on the grounds of the Temple of Literature in memory of Confucius.
The site is divided into five walled courtyards, which line up along a north-south axis according to the classic scheme of Chinese residential and temple complexes. The third courtyard is dominated by the square pond of Thien Quang T’nh (“Fountain of Heavenly Clarity”). On the edge of the lake there are 82 stone stilts from the years 1442 to 1779, on which the names of the successful graduates of the Confucian Academy are carved. Each stele stands on the back of a turtle that embodies strength and a long life. The collection of these 82 steles was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter
As a visitor to Hanoi, you should definitely stroll through the Old Town. Whether day or night, there is always something going on here and you can discover something at every corner. The old town is called the quarter of the 36 alleys, named after the goods that were once sold here: for example, the Fischgasse (Hang Ca), the Korbgasse (Hang Bo), the alley of the sailmakers (Hang Buom) and the alley of the hatmakers (Hang Non).
Life takes place here on the street, i.e. the sidewalks in front of the houses have been converted into work, dining room and playground. Mopeds roam the streets, street vendors push their cars in front of them, and people eat in the countless kitchens and sit on small plastic stools. On weekends it is a little quieter here, because then some alleys in the old town are converted into pedestrian areas.
In the heart of the Old City is Dong Xuan Market Hall, Hanoi’s largest market. The market hall was built by the French at the end of the 19th century and today has countless stalls with a wide range of household goods, food, clothing and shoes.
In the old town you can also see the typical Vietnamese houses, which are very narrowly built. This architectural style is centuries old and once had to do with the shop tax, which in the medieval inner cities depended on the size of the shop front. The ground in Hanoi is becoming more and more expensive, so it is still typical to build the houses rather long, narrow and high. Our Gebeco tour guide has told us that the properties in Hanoi’s Old Quarter are more expensive than in Tokyo and that you can pay up to 50,000 USD per square meter. Hoan Kiem Lake or Sword Lake is Hanoi’s most famous lake and separates Old Hanoi from the former French colonial quarter. The lake is about 700 m long and was created as a reservoir of the Red River. Other attractions in Hanoi include St. Joseph Cathedral, Quan Thanh Temple and Hang Dau Water Tank.
In the evening we had a bite to eat in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. We chose the New Day Restaurant because we had very good memories of our last visit 4 years ago. The restaurant was – as at that time – very well visited and we had to wait some time before we got a place outside. The food was just as delicious and we could watch the hustle and bustle on the streets of Hanoi’s Old Town from our seats. A nice conclusion to an eventful first day in Vietnam.
The Tran Quoc Pagoda
Tran Quoc Pagoda is located on a small peninsula in West Lake and is considered the oldest pagoda in the city. It was originally built in the 6th century and has reached an age of more than 1,450 years. The red pagoda is one of the main components of the Buddhist temple Tran Quoc, as it contains the important monk’s ashes. The red color, by the way, symbolizes happiness and prosperity in Chinese and Vietnamese culture. On the grounds of Tran Quoc there is a so-called Bodhi tree. This is an offshoot of the original tree under which the Buddha once found his enlightenment.
The Citadel of Thon Long
The Citadel of Thon Long was the imperial court of several Vietnamese imperial dynasties, among which Thon Long was the capital of Vietnam between 1010 and 1802. The entire complex of the citadel covers an area of 140 hectares and was built on the model of the cities of other Chinese emperors. During the French occupation, large parts of the site and most of the citadel buildings were destroyed and forgotten. Some of the buildings, such as the main gate Doan Mon, were reconstructed and rebuilt. Archaeological excavations have been carried out since 2002, during which many of the destroyed buildings come to light and significant finds are made.
The 33.4-metre-high flag tower of Hanoi, at the head of which is the Vietnamese national flag, towers unharmed over the grounds of the citadel. Built between 1805 and 1812, the stone tower is one of the city’s landmarks and is still used as a military post.
The central area of the citadel (about 20 hectares) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.
The Presidential Palace
The former presidential palace in Hanoi was built in French colonial style. Ho Chi Minh never really lived here. He lived rather modestly, first in an outbuilding of the palace and from 1958 in a traditional stilt house, which can still be visited today.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum & the One Pillar Pagoda
The heavily guarded Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum houses the embedded body of “Uncle Ho”, the revolutionary founder and former president of Vietnam. After his death in 1969, the mausoleum was built for him from 1973 to 1975. Since then, the mausoleum has been open to the public and as it is of great importance to many Vietnamese, it is one of Hanoi’s most visited attractions. The mausoleum is located in the center of Ba Dinh Square, where Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence on September 2, 1945.
Entrance to the mausoleum is free. It should be noted that visitors are not allowed to stop once they are in it. Instead, you walk silently past the embedded body, which is in a glass box, and you are not allowed to talk, take pictures, carry a bag, eat or put your hands in your pockets. As a visitor, this shows the utmost respect for the former president. Two months a year, the body is sent to Russia for care and is not buried in the mausoleum during this time.
A few minutes’ walk from the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, there is the one-column pagoda of Cha M’t C’t. It was built in 1049, making it one of the oldest pagodas in Hanoi and a landmark of the city due to its exceptional construction. After the pagoda was destroyed several times (most recently by the French in 1954), the original tree trunk, which had now almost rotted through, was replaced by a concrete column. Nowadays, the pagoda therefore rests on a concrete pillar in the middle of a small artificial lake and is accessible by stairs for the faithful.
Die Train Street
Who doesn’t know them: the famous pictures and videos, on which trains pass through super narrow streets and people stand close to each other to take pictures. There is just such a street in Hanoi!
Until mid-October 2019, Hanoi Train Street was able to see the trains passing through a narrow, crowded alley. There were cafés all over the sides, tables and chairs on the rails. Shortly before the train arrived, everything was cleared away and one stood at the edge and the train passed close to the houses. However, as this became too dangerous and a train actually had to put down an emergency brake due to the large number of people, the route was closed to tourists and it is no longer possible to enter it. However, you can still take photos at the beginning of the route. But there is a security guard on the ground who takes great care not to go too far into the street.
The Lotus Water Puppet Theatre
The water puppet theatre belongs to Vietnam as well as the 50 million mopeds that roar through the streets. This kind of theatre, which exists only in Vietnam, was probably an integral part of cultural life as early as the 11th century. Since this art form was kept top secret, it was almost extinct in the 1980s. Only a French organization managed to bring this tradition back to life with new dolls and a new stage.
In Hanoi there are two larger water puppet theatres. The most famous theatre is the Thng Long Water Puppet Theatre, where you usually don’t get tickets for the same evening, as most tourists and tour groups visit this theatre and it is very crowded. The tickets here – depending on the seat category – cost between 100,000 Dong (4 Euros) and 200,000 Dong (8 Euros).
We had received a tip from our Gebeco tour guide to go to the Lotus Water Puppet Theatre, which is located on the other side of Lake Hoan Kiem. Here you would still get tickets for the evening performance on the same day. The tip was worth gold! Because the tickets in the well-known Thng Long Water Puppet Theatre had already sold out long ago, we needed an alternative. And so we were able to get tickets in the Lotus Water Puppet Theatre 10 minutes before the evening show. The prices are the same for all seats and cost 100,000 Dong (4 euros).
The performance started with a musical welcome from the orchestra, which is placed on the left and right side of the stage and accompanies the entire performance with instruments but also with singing. The stage is a water basin and originally symbolizes a village pond, a lake or even rice fields, where such performances used to take place. In the water basin, behind a curtain, there are the actuators, which operate the water puppets mounted on poles. The poles are in the water during the performance and the dolls are above the water surface.
During the 50-minute performance, scenes from rural life are often depicted, e.g. fishing, a flute player on a buffalo or a smoking farmer. There are also mystical dances of lions and fire-breathing dragons.
Even if you don’t understand everything, we highly recommend a visit to a water puppet theatre, as it is unique in the world.
The Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural
Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural is a 6.5-kilometer-long wall full of ceramic mosaics located along the Red River dike system. The project was launched to mark the 1000th anniversary of Hanoi. Not only Vietnamese artists participated in the decoration, but also foreign embassies and cultural centers. The mosaic images represent different periods of Vietnam’s history; modern works of art, hanoi paintings and children’s drawings are also attached to the wall. In 2010, the Mosaic Wall was included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “world’s largest ceramic mosaic”.
Egg Coffee – A Vietnamese specialty
In between, we tried a Vietnamese specialty: the so-called Egg Coffee. It is traditionally made from egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and coffee. Optionally, there is also an Egg Cocoa, where the coffee is simply replaced by cocoa powder. The drink is actually more reminiscent of a dessert, but – even if the idea that egg is in coffee is very strange – is actually very tasty. This specialty should definitely be tried out when you are in Hanoi. We can recommend The Café Dinh, located directly on Lake Hoan Kiem on the first floor of a building.
A map with all the sights in Hanoi
On the following Google MyMaps map we have drawn all interesting photo spots & sights in Hanoi:
Starbucks Global Icon City Mug of HanoiWe are collecting the Starbucks Mugs from the cities and islands we visit on our travels. Unfortunately, not every city that has a Starbucks store with an own mug. But if the city has an own mug we like to collect them as a souvenir. We only collect city mugs from the "Global Icon Series", which was released in 2008. You can see our complete collection here: Starbucks - Our collection of Mugs from the Global Icon Series
Hanoi has several Starbucks stores and also its own cup 🙂
All travelogues from VietnamDuring our 10-day trip with Gebeco through Vietnam we got to know many different sides of the country. Starting with the pulsating capital Hanoi and the millions of scooters on the streets, the majestic beauty of Halong Bay, an exciting night train ride to the cultural centre of Hue, further to the old town of Hoi An, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and on to the megacity of Saigon in the south of the country. Our trip was very varied and full of contrasts and here you can find an overview of all travel reports: Day 1: Our trip “Typical Vietnam!” with Gebeco (Vietnam)
Day 2: Hanoi – Tourist Attractions, Things to Do & Photo spots (Vietnam)
Day 3: Halong Bay – A day trip from Hanoi (Vietnam)
Day 3: The Night Train from Hanoi to Hue (Vietnam)
Day 4: Hue – Citadel & Imperial Palace with the Forbidden City (Vietnam)
Day 4: Hue – Emperor’s Tomb of Minh Mang & Thien Mu Pagoda (Vietnam)
Day 5: From Hue to Hoi An – The Cloud Pass & Da Nang (Vietnam)
Day 5: Hoi An – Tourist Attractions, Things to Do & Photo spots (Vietnam)
Day 6: My Son – The ruins of the ancient temple city at Hoi An (Vietnam)
Day 7: Saigon – Die Sehenswürdigkeiten von Ho Chi Minh Stadt
Day 7: Saigon – A culinary Vespa tour of the city (Vietnam)
Day 8: The Mekong Delta – A bike & boat tour (Vietnam)
Day 9: Cu Chi – The Tunnels of the Vietcong in the Vietnam War (Vietnam)