What to Do in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam, reached its 1,000-year anniversary in 2010, celebrating a rich history. Serving first as the capital of French Indochina from 1902 to 1953, Hanoi, or “Ha Noi” in Vietnamese, wasn’t officially appointed as the country’s capital until after the 1945 revolution against French colonial rule just in time for the Vietnam War. While much of the city was destroyed during this time, Hanoi managed to retain several historical areas, buildings and temples. Rebuilt and reinvigorated, visitors to the city can experience the Hanoi of old and new.

Satisfy Your Traveling Foodie

Much like the food trucks that have overtaken American cities, food vendors are a staple along the paved roads of Hanoi. Proclaimed by some to be the best street food across all of Asia, nibbling and sipping your way through the city on is a must. A food tour from Hanoi Street Food Tours or Well Eaten Path can lead you to the best places for phở, sweet and salty sticky rice, Bánh mì sandwiches and more. For those who want to take the flavor home, get your hands sticky in the culinary kitchens of Hidden Hanoi, where you can learn to make banana flower salad and spring rolls.

Vietnamese rice noodle
Vietnamese rice noodle

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Experience a Uniquely Vietnamese Show

Almost as old as the city itself is the art of water puppetry. This historic genre surfaced as an improvised form of entertainment when the rice paddies would flood. Sit inside the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater and watch skillful puppeteers manipulate their stringed performers. With puppeteers hidden behind a crafty set design, the wooden and lacquered characters bob above and below the shallow water’s surface, sometimes even spitting water or spewing fire.

Water puppet show
Water puppet show

Take a Walk Through History

A city doesn’t make it through 1,000 years without accumulating a bit of history. Displayed through temples, museums and monuments, much of Hanoi’s history is displayed within the city center. The Temple of Literature showcases traditional Vietnamese architecture and boasts gardens dating back to 1070 A.D. On a tiny island across the Rising Sun Bridge lies the one of Hanoi’s most visited temples, Ngoc Son. Although the Vietnamese Army Museum houses more memorabilia belonging to the U.S. Army, it’s an interesting stop for the artsy display of materials. Don’t miss the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, ironically nicknamed “Hanoi Hilton.” Once home to American prisoners of war, this museum gives an insightful, if biased, view into the lives of those imprisoned there.

Hoa Lo Prison Museum
Hoa Lo Prison Museum

Mosey Through Hanoi’s Old Quarter

For a real-life game of Frogger, take to the streets of the Old Quarter, where buzzing motorbikes and scooters whiz by as you explore Hanoi’s oldest section. Leave your map in the hotel and let the zigzag of the streets guide you on a tour of this bustling neighborhood, submerging yourself in the heart of some local color. Bring your camera to snap shots of historic buildings draped in thick black wires attempting to bring them into the modern world. If the sun starts to beat down too hard, slip under the shade of one of the Old Quarter’s covered street markets.