One of the first things I saw in Hanoi was the Old Quarter. The Old Quarter has tiny, narrow streets filled with shops and people. Shockingly for me, there were a lot of tourists. I hadn’t been near so many western people in a while, and it was a strange feeling. While the Old Quarter provides an energetic, chaotic feeling, I particularly liked Ba Dinh district. This area hosts many political buildings and the Ho Cho Minh museum and mausoleum, but further north is less touristy and much calmer.
Hanoi has fascinating culture and sites ranging from communist museums, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and endless temples.
Ngoc Son Temple
My first morning in Hanoi, I woke up early to visit the Ngoc Son Temple. It was before any tourists were up and walking around (thank you Southeast Asia sleep schedule), so I got the temple and the bridge to myself. This was a nice respite from the crowded, touristy streets of the Old Quarter that I experienced the night before. The temple is Mahayana Buddhism, but the Buddhism in Vietnam has elements of Taoism and Confucius. Near the temple, along the side of the lake, there were a bunch of Vietnamese people dancing as the sun rose in the sky.
The prison is a must see in Hanoi. The top floor of the prison has exhibits expressing the cruelties committed by the French to Vietnamese Communist leaders. The exhibits lament of the mistreatment and unsanitary, inhumane conditions of the prisoners, while tout the efforts of the prisoners to escape and support their country. The bottom floor of the museum has exhibits about the United States prisoners of war held there. The exhibits show pictures of the pow playing sports, cards, and laughing. They show all of the items that the pow possessed, like tooth brushes, razors, etc. There is no mention of the international coverage of how the pow were treated. The prison got the sarcastic nickname of the Hanoi Hilton because the conditions for the pow were so terrible, so this would completely contradict the message that the museum is portraying…
Ho Chi Minh Museum/Mausoleum
Another interesting communist museum, this museum dedicated to Ho Chi Minh has exhibits that have abstract ways of trying to portray messages about the Vietnam War and Communism. It’s pretty interesting to see the exhibit and then read the caption describing what the abstract piece is meaning to represent. While I was there, a family of ten asked for individual photos with me. It felt like I was a part of the museum! The Mausoleum is outside of the museum along this long walkway.
Pan Pacific Hotel
Unexpectedly, I spent a decent amount of time in this chain hotel. I walked by a hair salon and decided that I really needed a haircut. So as I was having a coffee yogurt drink, I did some research on hair salons near me. The Pan Pacific Hotel has a hair salon that had great reviews, so I decided to go there. Afterwards, I really wanted to see views of Hanoi, but the building I was going to go to was across the town. I looked up the hotel, and they have a rooftop bar. I spent a few hours up there soaking in the beautiful views with a fresh haircut.
Water Puppet Show
They put on multiple shows a day with puppets performed over a pool of water. The puppets represent traditional Vietnamese characters and tell traditional stories with music often in the background. The skill required by the puppeteers to make these puppets do elaborate things through water is impressive! They even had dragons that blew fire!
The Citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating from the Ly Dynasty in 1010. The North Vietnamese army used the citadel as a headquarters in the 20th century. The citadel has a unique ancient atmosphere that contrasts greatly from the surrounding French inspired political buildings.
Temple of Literature
The court yard in front of the Temple of Literature was decorated with lanterns for an upcoming holiday. The temple is two stories and has intricate designs and statues throughout with plenty of places to worship.
Along the bridge in the Ba Dinh district, there are a few temples worth checking out.
Pasteur Street Brewing
Of course, I checked out a brewery while I was in Hanoi. This brewery has a few locations in Vietnam and has some pretty experimental beers. Some of my favorites were a dragon fruit gose, polemo IPA, and jasmine IPA. On my way back to the hostel, I accidentally stumbled upon a night market for celebrating the holidays!