I wasn’t expecting to like Hanoi. I’m not a huge fan of sprawling Asian cities as it is, and after 5 months of living on the idyllic island of Koh Rong, I was even less used to the traffic, pollution and noise that comes with big cities in Asia.
However, I was surprised to find that I actually really like Hanoi. Unlike some cities, it has a certain charm to it, especially in the Old Quarter, where I stayed. Although I’m not a fan of Vietnamese food, and the traffic is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, there was something about the city that captivated me, and so I’ve decided to share my favourite things to do in Hanoi.
1. Temple of Literature
As an English Literature graduate, of course I was eager to see the Temple of Literature. Built in 1050, the Temple of Literature is a Temple of Confucious that hosts the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first national university.
Although you don’t need to spend long at the temple, it is nice to stroll around the lake, through the gardens, and admire the Doctor’s Stelae, dedicated to past students who excelled at their studies, and the stone turtles, one of Vietnam’s holy creatures.
2. Hoa Lo Prison
Hoa Lo prison museum was a prison that housed political prisoners and US Prisoners of War. Although it is heavily biased towards the Vietnamese government, it is still a highly interesting and educational experience to walk through the museum visiting the solitary confinement cells, the death row cells, and the infamous tiger cages.
Hoa Lo prison museum has got to be one of the most worthwhile things to do in Hanoi.
3. Free beer at Bar Betta
Patronised mostly by expats due to the fact that it isn’t situated around the Beer Corner area, Bar Betta is a quirky café/bar with a gorgeous roof terrace that provides free bottled beer between 8 and 9 on Wednesdays and Sundays! A few bars and hostels around Hanoi have similar deals, with Santa Ana Backpacker’s offering free beer for 2 hours every day for guests. Getting drunk might not be at the top of everyone’s list when looking for things to do in Hanoi but if you like to party then just scout out the right places and you can drink for free every day.
4. Beer Corner
No trip to Hanoi is complete without a drunken night out around the backpacker drinking hub, Beer Corner. Start your night eating chicken skewers and drinking 5000VND keg beer with the locals on plastic chairs, before hitting up a few bars down the cobbled streets and ending your night at nightclub 1900 Le Theatre. Drinks are pricey but the music is good and the dancefloor is big!
5. Vietnamese Women’s Museum
History books are usually filed with tales of men, but the women of Vietnam have a colourful and bloody history themselves. Pay a visit to this 5-storey museum to learn all about female soldiers and guerilla fighters, as well as traditional Vietnamese fashion, family life, Goddess worship and superstitions.
6. Relax by the pool
Sometimes all you need is an afternoon by the pool, and for 100,000VND you can spend the day relaxing at Army Hotel’s pool. With snacks and drinks available, as well as sun loungers and parasols, you can’t go wrong. This place is perfect for an afternoon of sunbathing and day drinking with friends.
7. Hanoi Social
As mentioned previously, I’m not a huge fan of Vietnamese food and I believe that Pho may well be the most overrated food out there. However, when I discovered this cute café with adjoining shop selling jewellery, vintage clothes and adorable bralettes be alerted, I was in love. The menu has plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians, from mango curry to pumpkin salad, but also some great options for meat eaters such as pheasant goulash and Moroccan chicken with couscous.
I visited twice, and tried the falafel and salad sandwich with tomato chutney, as well as poached eggs and morning glory on toast with avocado. Both times I was more than satisfied, and even though the prices are a little above average for Western food in Hanoi, in my opinion it is still well worth a visit.