Hoan Kiem Lake
When looking for the best Hanoi attractions it is likely that you will stumble upon Hoan Kiem Lake. And since it is hard to avoid, it would be wise to know how to best appreciate the lake and its surroundings. The lake, nestled in Hanoi’s old quarters makes for a relaxing escape from the bustle of the street activities and the chaotic traffic. Its as if the lake was put there for that very reason. But no, its history and significance go far beyond being an oasis for a traveller’s aching legs. Legend has it that the lake is the place where a divine golden turtle returned the sword from Emperor Le Loi, who was given a magical sword to drive out the invaders from China. The name itself translates to Lake of the restored sword.
The lake also serves as the de facto social and cultural center of Hanoi where locals and tourists alike share the space in a universal appreciation for this urban oasis. A walk around the lake, or just sitting by one of the benches in the waterfront provides for a great photo opportunity or people watching. Gardens line the banks of the lake making the entire surrounding all that more beautiful. Its especially captivating after dark or early in the morning. A pagoda dedicated to the golden turtle also sits at one end of the lake and is connected by a beautiful oriental red bridge. A visit to the pagoda is a nice way to spend time by the lake while getting more intimate with the legend of the turtle. The glassy waters on the lake at night reflect the light beautifully from the city and from mildly colored lights on its banks. Its really a place to unwind and recuperate in a city that can often take the energy out of you.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
This monolithic structure stands proud in the middle of Ba Dinh District where all the important government offices are located. Construction on this commemorative structure for Ho Chi Minh began in 1973 and was completed in 1975. The mausoleum stands 21.6 metres high and 41.2 metres wide and is visited by both and travellers alike. We find that visiting this monument at night when it’s fully lit up is ideal.
Hanoi’s Old Quarters
Once you’ve entered the capital city, you’re bound to make a trip to find an accommodation in the belly of Hanoi, The Old Quarters. The best way to explore the soulful yet tumultuous streets is to dive right into it. You will immediately notice that everything spills out into the pavements even before you begin to explore. Restaurants, beer corners, shops, barbers, parking spaces and every possible thing that could spill out of the ancient shophouses will. Its almost like an invitation! While there may be plenty of other things to do in Hanoi, you’ll find yourself spending more time in the street stalls, or the beer corners than you imagine. So what is it in the old quarters that makes it among the top Hanoi Attractions?
Weekend music fiesta. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, the streets to the old quarters are cordoned off and the streets are suddenly cleared of traffic. Local bands liven up the streets in a few locations to a balanced mix of international and local tunes. Its quite a crowd pleaser and worth a look if you’re around during any of these weekends.
Street food: Let the aroma sneaking out of restaurants and street stalls guide you to their source. Trust your instincts when it comes to food around the Old Quarters for they are in abundance. A few of our favourites include, Xoi Yen on Nguyen Huu Huan Street, New Day Cafe for a wide selection of Vietnamese flavors, rice porridge at Ly Quoc Su Street, fried pillows with pork and mushroom stuffing at Ly Quco Su Street. We would suggest you spare some time and sign up for a street food tour in Hanoi.
Ta Hien Street: A favorite among locals and tourists, Ta Hien offers lots of Bia Hoi (local beer) and large crowds. It might be good place to come in with your friends to have a chill evening.
Architecture: the architecture in the Old quarters are a mix of traditional Vietnamese houses side by side with French colonial style buildings and shop houses. As you wander around the old quarters, there is so much happening on the ground level that it is easy to miss the architecture. If you are a little daring, enter one of the dark corridors that punctuate the shophouses and you will enter another world. You will usually come across traditional Vietnamese style courtyards which is a real treat if you are into architecture.
Temple of literature
The Temple of Literature is Vietnam’s oldest university and dedicated to Confucius, and used in the 15th century to educate Vietnam’s mandarins. A visit to the temple is a pleasant way to learn about Chinese influence in Vietnam. Visually, the architecture is stunning and historically it is significant. It’s also a good starting point before you visit the other museums depicting Vietnam’s modern history. The five different courtyards, beautiful and well maintained gardens, the shrine to Confucius all make for a tranquil escape from the bustle of the city and a good way to spend time familiarizing with Vietnam’s past.