5 Things You Must Do when Visiting Vietnam
Experience the many things that Hanoi has to offer with this must-do
checklist for first-timers
Hanoi, the colorful capital of Vietnam, is a melting pot of sights, tastes, and sounds. There’s so much to do that it can get a little overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time in the city. Here’s a rundown of five things you can do to get you started.
Explore the Old Quarter
When booking accommodations in Hanoi, you’ll most likely end up somewhere in the Old Quarter. Located at the heart of Hanoi, the Old Quarter gives you a glimpse of the city’s past with its narrow streets that are named after the wares sold on each. Best explored on foot, the busy Old Quarter is spilling over with varied goods that will definitely catch your fancy—from home wares to fashion accessories and even silver ware and musical instruments. It’s impossible to go back to your hotel empty-handed!
Go on a café crawl
Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee exporter, so naturally, the country is peppered with cafés in almost every corner. Try Cong Caphe (it has a number of branches scattered all over Hanoi), a hipster coffee shop that serves delicious concoctions like coffee with coconut milk and coffee with yogurt; or the Hanoi Social Club (6 Ngõ Hội Vũ), which serves eggnog coffee in an eclectic and artsy ambiance. If you feel like sipping a cup of joe with a view, go to Thuy Ta Café, where the backdrop of the calm Hoan Kiem Lake will keep you company. There are also the more mainstream coffee hangouts like Highlands Coffee and Trung Nguyen Coffee.
Feast on local dishes
In Hanoi, you won’t run out of yummy dishes to sample. Pho, of course, is one; you can practically find an eatery that serves a steaming bowl of this rice noodles in every corner. Bun cha (try Bun Cha Dac Kim restaurant on 1 Hang Manh street), a refreshing meal of grilled pork with noodles, herbs, and a dipping sauce, is best eaten with a group of hungry travel buddies. If you’d rather go for a healthier fare, order cha ca la vong—cubes of fish sautéed in onion leeks and dill served with vermicelli noodles and the ubiquitous sweet fish sauce—at Cha Ca Thang Long on 21-31 Duong Thanh street.
Stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake, a popular landmark in the city, is a scenic place that’s quiet in the mornings and becomes busy with locals and tourists alike as the day draws on. Read a book under the trees, take photos of the Turtle Tower that sits in the middle of the lake, take selfies on Huc Bridge, or find a quiet spot all to yourself.
Visit museums, temples, and pagodas
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum houses the preserved remains of Vietnam’s national hero, Ho Chi Minh. Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake is a popular tourist destination. The Temple of Literature, built in 1070, is the site of Vietnam’s first national university and is a temple dedicated to philosopher Confucius and to sages and scholars. The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is a sprawling space that showcases the country’s many ethnic groups. Meanwhile, the Tran Quoc Pagoda, Hanoi’s oldest pagoda, has a commanding view of the quiet West Lake area.