Visit Temple of Literature
Temple of Literature is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture founded in the 11th-century by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong to honor Confucius, academics and finest scholars. The temple grounds also housed Vietnam’s first university, in operation there until the 19th century, and include Hanoi’s best-preserved buildings and immaculate gardens. The altars are popular with students praying for good grades; while the pagodas, ponds and gardens of the five courtyards make picturesque backdrops for student graduation photos.
Enjoy a beer in Hanoi Old Quarter
Across Hanoi you’ll see signs for ‘fresh beer’, or ‘bia hoi’. A foamy, low alcohol draft beer, it’s freshly brewed and delivered to each bar, restaurant and doorstep-stall daily. Visitors and locals converge at Bia Hoi corner in the Old Quarter throughout the day to settle into low-slung plastic chairs at the open-walled bars.
The beer tends to be poured into plastic glasses straight from the barrel, served with an accompaniment of sticky barbecued chicken and fried rice. It’s worth trying the following day’s beer too, as each new brew is distinct.
Museum of Ethnology
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi offers a comprehensive insight into the country’s 54 ethnic minorities through its colorful, interactive displays. This fabulous collection relating to Vietnam's ethnic minorities features well-presented tribal art, artifacts and everyday objects gathered from across the nation, and examples of traditional village houses. Displays are well labelled in Vietnamese, French and English.
If you’re planning on going trekking to the north and northwest of Hanoi, this museum should really be considered essential, but it goes well beyond covering the groups who live there.
Hanoi Street Food Tour
Starting at Thanh Ha Market, you’re introduced to ingredients that have been transported from across the Mekong Delta. Try the delicate stamens of the banana flower, often used in salads or sweet custard apple, which looks like a small artichoke. Dong Xuan Market in the Old Quarter is crammed with stalls serving bun dau - hunks of tofu served in a hot noodle soup. Banh xeo - crispy fried shrimp pancakes - make a moreish accompaniment. Your tour will finish in the Cafe Giang, a coffee house that has been running since 1946. Its signature creation is egg coffee, which was conceived during the war when eggs replaced heavily rationed milk.
Water Puppet Show
Visit a Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi, which, if you can forgive the canned music, is a good opportunity to see this traditional Vietnamese art form. The puppetry in Hanoi has its roots in an art form that dates back to the 11th century. The tradition of water puppet theatre stems from a time when rice paddy fields were flooded and villagers would make entertainment by standing in the waist-deep water with the puppets performing over the water. Using large rods to support the puppets it appeared as if they were moving across the water with the puppeteers hidden behind a screen. Various puppets, be they dragons, dogs, or people, are brought to life with grace and precision on the surface of the water in this 20-minute show.
Hoa Lo Prison (Maison Centrale)
One of the most notorious sites from the Vietnam War is the Maison Centrale in Hanoi or the Hoa Lo Prison (in Vietnamese), better known by its ironic nickname of "Hanoi Hilton." Originally sprawling over 13 hectares and built by the French in the late 19th century, the prison housed Vietnamese revolutionaries and American POWs during the Vietnam War. Its Vietnamese name is derived from the street it is located on, and is far less sarcastic; it literally means stove but can be translated as “fiery furnace”. The prison is still a popular tourist attraction for those on the war history trail.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Tran Quoc Pagoda, perhaps the oldest pagoda in Hanoi and Vietnam, offers beautiful architecture, historic artifacts and a peaceful and serene environment. Purportedly founded 1,400 years ago by King Ly Nam De, the building was originally named “Khai Quoc,” which translates to "Establishing the Nation." A stela here, dating from 1639, tells the history of this site. The Buddhist shrine has undergone several changes throughout the years, particularly its renaming from An Quoc to Tran Quoc (protecting the country) by Emperor Le Huy Tong in the 17th century. Surrounded by lush greenery, the pagoda was a favourite amongst the kings and royal families for festivals, full moons, and Tet Festival.