Exploring Hanoi on a long weekend

In this post, I will share with you how to make the most of a long weekend in Hanoi. I flew to Hanoi from Singapore as part of a recent trip I made to South-East Asia. Vietnam is a charming country and one that is growing fast in terms of overseas visitors. The number of visitors to Vietnam in the first four months of 2017 is up by 30% over the same period last year. Having spent a week visiting this charming country, it is easy to see why.

Friday Night Dinner – Street food & Pho

I flew to Hanoi arriving on a flight from Singapore at 6.30pm, took the 86 bus from the airport (30,000 VND) and was in downtown Hanoi around 8pm on a Friday night. This was perfect timing to meet up with my friend Trang (who lives in Hanoi), check-in at my hotel, take a walk around the Old Quarter and choose a street food vendor serving pho. I love pho! I find it one of the most nourishing meals I could ever want to feed my body and soul with. And my first pho in Vietnam was delicious, everything I had imagined it would be. Perched on low to the ground, small plastic chairs, simple table, no frills and the street life passing by within touching distance.

 

The Old Quarter in Hanoi is bustling on a Friday evening. The area around the Hoan Kiem Lake is closed to traffic from Friday night until Monday morning affording you the luxury of being able to walk around without having to negotiate the Hanoi traffic.

Crossing the Road

Crossing the road in Hanoi requires advice, confidence and practice to master. I would much rather walk around a city than to take taxis so for me, learning how to do this from day one was a must! “Walk with confidence and do not stop”, Trang told me as she gently took me by the arm and led me into the Hanoi traffic. After a few attempts, I had learned to trust myself and the traffic!

In my hotel room, there was a list of travel advice for Hanoi. Under How to cross roads was written the following:

  • Be relaxed and self-confident
  • Look two ways or keep eye-contact with the drivers
  • Walk slowly with purpose
  • Never step back

Saturday – Old Quarter, Women’s Museum and Hoan Kiem lake

After a hearty breakfast, I met up with Trang to explore the Old Quarter. My hotel was close by so we could walk there. We walked past St Joseph’s Cathedral and ended up having tea in a cafe overlooking the Cathedral.

The Old Quarter is perfect for shopping. I tend to spend money on experiences and food. However, it was a pleasure to wander around, with eyes and mind open to what was on offer.

Hoan Kiem lake is a tranquil space at one end of the Old Quarter, and it was lovely to just walk around it and observe everything that was going on. People were playing shuttlecock football or đá cầu. And they were good! And at the top end of the lake, there was a band, in traditional costumes, with traditional instruments playing music.

Women’s Museum

From Hoan Kiem lake we took a short walk to the Women’s museum which is listed as one of the Top 25 must-see museums in Asia. The museum has a mix of permanent exhibitions (Women in Family, Women in History & Women in Fashion), alongside some special exhibitions. When we visited, these were the Worshipping Mother Goddess exhibition and an art space project. It is well worth a visit. We simply went up to the top floor and then worked our way down through the levels and saw everything in the museum! I was fascinated learning about the role that women had played in the history and culture of Vietnam, about the different ethnic cultures, as well as seeing the beautiful clothes.

The museum is located at 36 Ly Thuong Kiet, Hoan Kiem and is open 8am-5pm Monday to Sunday. There is an entrance fee of 30,000 VND.

Top tip: There is a lot of information available so be selective, and you will avoid information overload!

Dinner at Nét Huế

After a day of walking around Hanoi, we were ready for an early dinner. It can be difficult to know which of the many food offerings to try in Hanoi, so I was pleased that Trang was able to choose the local eateries for us.

We went to Nét Huế which has a small chain of restaurants and modestly priced food. We ordered steamed rice crepe rolls with grilled pork, fried rice cake with shrimp dumpling and shrimp and pork stuffed in tapioca flour. As someone who avoids wheat, it was a pleasure to be in a culture whose food choices can easily be wheat free.

 

Sunday – lunch at 1946 & Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

After a lazy Sunday morning and a pho for breakfast, I met up with Trang, and we took to her moped to travel more widely around Hanoi. Seeing Hanoi from the back of a moped, for me, was pure joy! I just loved it!

Our first stop was brunch at Nhà hàng 1946 Hoàng Cầu, which specialises in Hanoian cooking and is where local Vietnamese go for lunch. The restaurant is cosy and relaxed, the menu extensive and the food plentiful and flavoursome.

We ate salty chicken, green mango salad with dried shrimp, sauteed chayote with garlic and sour soup with chopped meat and rice. We also ordered the traditional corn tea to drink. I instantly loved the sour soup!

 Museum of Ethnology

From 1946 we travelled to the Museum of Ethnology and happily spent the rest of the afternoon there. The museum is large and is situated both inside buildings and in an outside area. The information provided covers textiles, daily life, social life, performing arts and religions. And as someone who loves edible spaces, I was thrilled to find a garden growing vegetables!

It would be easy to spend half a day looking around the museum and the culture exhibition next door and in the garden there is the opportunity to take in a water puppet show.

The museum of Ethnology is located at Nguyễn Văn Huyên Road, Cầu Giấy District and is open 8.30-17.30 Tues-Sun and is closed on a Monday. The current entrance fee is 40,000 VND per person.

Monday – Temple of Literature and Fine Art Museum

On Monday, with Trang back at work, and my departure from Hanoi at 7pm, I had another full day to explore this charming city, this time by foot. I chose to walk about 30-45 minutes from my hotel to go to The Temple of Literature and the Fine Art Museum.

Firstly, I loved walking around Hanoi. It is a city that suits the pace of walking, affording you the time to look into the shops and workspaces and cafes along the way. You get something of a feel for the city life walking around. Many stalls and small cafes spill out onto what pavement space is available and negotiating these is part of the experience. I felt entirely comfortable walking around and by this stage was confident enough to cross main roads and feel carefully relaxed about it!

Temple of Literature – Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam

This is one of the most important historical and cultural sites of Vietnam, and you will find a code of conduct for your visit here. The temple was dedicated to sages and Confucian scholars. It has been an important place of learning and training over the centuries and is described as having, ‘contributed to the building of a civilised and modern country’.

Allow plenty of time to walk around the whole site. It is large, and there are 4 buildings to see, all of which are suitably impressive. There are lovely gardens, statues, architecture and works of literature to admire.

 

Top Tip: If you can, make an independent trip here. The site does get crowded, so being able to wait a few minutes for the groups to move through allows you to more fully appreciate all that this site has to offer at your own pace.

The Temple of Literature is located at 58 Quốc Tử Giám, Văn Miếu, Đống Đa. It is open every day from 0730 – 1800 in summer and 0800 – 1800 in winter (on Saturday it is open 0800 – 2100). The cost of entry is currently 3000VND per visit.

Hanoi Fine Art Museum

Located just up the road from the Temple of Literature the Fine Art Museum was a real treat. The description on the website read, “Visitors to the Museum can appreciate and understand the entire history of Vietnamese fine arts through the collections and exhibitions on display“. This description is spot on. Allow a couple of hours to really appreciate all that this museum has to offer regarding art and sculpture.

The exhibitions cover, among others, fine arts in prehistoric and ancient times, fine arts in the 20th century to now, folk fine arts and ceramics from the 11th to the 20th century.

The Fine Art Museum in Hanoi is located at 66 Nguyễn Thái Học, Điện Biên, Ba Đình. It is open every day from 0830 – 1700 and the current adult entrance fee is 40,000 VND.

Reflections

I loved Hanoi and will definitely plan to return for another visit. There was so much more to explore. As a slow traveller, I chose enough for my long weekend and was happy to spend my time there sitting by the lake in the late afternoon watching the world go by and chatting with the locals. At 6.30pm I headed to the railway station to catch the train to Ho Chi Minh… and the story of that journey will follow in a later post!

Getting there

I flew with Vietnam Airlines from Singapore to Hanoi and would definitely fly with them again.

Staying there

I stayed at Le Selva Hotel in the Old Quarter and discovered a lovely boutique hotel. The room was immaculate, the breakfast was excellent and the staff helpful and courteous.

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