In addition to spending time in Saigon and in the Mekong River, while in Vietnam we also got a chance to head north and spend a few days in the capital, Hanoi.
In comparison to Saigon, Hanoi is somewhat more walkable, at least some of the regions are. The sidewalks are wider than Saigon and the traffic and streets seem slightly less crazy and packed with people and motorcars (but there is still plenty of them, for sure!). Not that we didn’t walk around Saigon – Hanoi is just less spread out and somewhat less trafficky.
We stayed in the Old Quarter, a part of town with many windy streets and small sidewalks. The streets’ names change and rarely go in a straight line; however, thanks to a map (and B’s sense of direction) we somehow never got lost.
Some fun things to do in Hanoi:
-Check out the Dong Xuan Market– an indoor market with lots of clothing and other stuff for sale. We didn’t buy anything, but it was fun to walk around and people watch.
– View the old Opera House (like Ho Chi Minh City, there’s a pretty opera house here)
– Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake or others- there are quite a few lakes throughout Hanoi but this seems to be one of the largest. There are many locals walking around (some doing Tai Chi!) and old ladies selling donuts as well. B bought some of the donuts but they weren’t to his liking.
– Check out St. Joseph’s Cathedral
– Walk around the outside (or inside, if it suits you) of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum- we didn’t go inside, but instead walked around outside and saw the changing of the guard.
– View the Flag Tower
– Check out some old pagodas- We visited the Tran Quoc Pagoda as well as the One Pillar Pagoda
– Visit the Temple of Literature – this place was cool – it had a pagoda with a gold statue of Confucius inside. There were also a bunch of statues of turtles with old student essays on them from ages ago.
– Checked out the night market (so many of these cities have night markets!)
– Visit the Hoa Lo Prison (also called the Hanoi Hilton)- This is where many POWs stayed during the Vietnam War, including John McCain. I’m not going to lie, like some of the other Vietnam War attractions, this was somewhat weird to see. The prison was originally built by the French and they had photos and statues of the Vietnam prisoners during the French imperialism being tortured, starving, etc. But then they also had photos of American prisoners playing games, playing with pets, eating gourmet meals, decorating Christmas trees, etc. during their stay. Thus it’s called the “Hanoi Hilton.”
– See a Water Puppets show. This was really cool! They have performances throughout the day with people doing puppetry in an indoor water theatre. It’s a live performance with traditional music playing and all in Vietnamese.
– Drinking Vietnamese coffee. It’s super strong and super sweet- they put in a ton of sugar and condensed milk. It tastes like coffee ice cream.
And of course, we loved trying tons of local food. Much pho for breakfast and dinner, as well as spring rolls for snacks (and appetizers), fruit (my favorite is the jack fruit) and the best street food – Bun Cha, a specialty of the north of Vietnam which is noodles, broth, different types of beef that’s cooked on a grill on the street and fried clam spring rolls. SO good. We even made it to KOTO one day, a restaurant that employs local former at risk Vietnamese teenagers, similar to Homegirl Cafe in the U.S.
Overall, the trip was incredible. Vietnam, Hong Kong, Cambodia and Macau – I can’t believe we finally did this trip. It’s been one of the trips we’ve talked about but also one of those trips we thought would perhaps stay on our bucket list forever. Check out some more of our Asia trip, here! If you have the chance to go to any of these places, I highly recommend it.