Hanoi Things to Do, Vietnam

Night panorama, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, on a bank of the Red River, 1, 760 km (1, 000 miles) north of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Photo by Iostream01.

Why visit Hanoi?

The Presidential Palace, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Presidential Palace. Photo by Jorge Lascar.

Vietnam’s 1, 000-year-old capital city of Hanoi is set in a beautiful lake-scattered landscape with more historic monuments than any other city in Vietnam, plenty of fine culture, delicate cuisine. On the downside crossing the road is a death-defying technique that has to be learned, traffic noise is ever-present and the climate tends towards sticky sub-tropical.
Hanoi features many striking French colonial buildings from its time as centre of the French Indochina empire, as well as fine Chinese-influenced Vietnamese architecture including many temples. The city is now being modernized with some speed.

Hanoi Things to Do

• Ho’s mausoleum.

• the Old Quarter is a bedlam of busy streets packed with shops selling all kinds of goods, each street named for its primary good or service. It’s neither quiet nor clean but strangely odd and engaging.

• the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) is in the Old Quarter and offers some stunning old architecture set in pleasant gardens and stuffed with 1, 000 years of history. A guide is worthwhile as there’s a lot of interesting information that is not visible or easy to discover. Try visiting late afternoon or early evening when the tourist rush subsides.

• One Pillar Pagoda.

• Thang Long Ca Tru Theatre, an ancient building in the Old Quarter is the place to hear traditional Vietnamese music played on strange and unique instruments.

• Water Puppet Theatre.

• Hanoi also encompasses many striking French colonial buildings from its time as the centre of the French Indochina empire, as well as fine Chinese-influenced Vietnamese architecture including many temples.


• Vietnam Women’s Museum is pretty place and looks at how women have been involved in Vietnam’s history and culture, including military conflicts as well as in commerce, family, fashion. The exhibits are well presented and the exhibits also gives insights into Vietnamese ethnic groups and their rich history.

• the Museum of Ethnology, ethnic tribes displays, is colourful and interesting.

• the over-the-top propaganda in the Ho Chi Minh Museum and Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution are hilarious.

Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, Hanoi, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum surrounded by acres of space and plants in the centre of Hanoi. Photo by Hoangvantoanajc.

The Mausoleum is an unusual experience, viewing the body of Vietnam’s number one hero. The embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is preserved in a glass case in the cool central hall of the structure. It’s open daily from 9 a. m. to 12: 00 noon for public viewing and visitors line up en masse, apart from sometime in November/December when Ho travels to Moscow for essential maintenance.
Staff enforce strict rules on dress and behaviour such as all legs must be covered, visitors must be silent, hands must not be in pockets, nor arms crossed. Smoking, drinking, eating, photography and videos are not permitted. Sounds like a traditional English Public School.
Why not follow this up with a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Museum for some serious propaganda fluff surrounded by outrageously kitsch ‘art’?

Ho Chi Minh's house, Hanoi, Vietnam

And if you’re a real fan of Ho Chi Minh you can visit his simple house. Photo by Jorge Lascar.

The Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

The Temple of Literature, dedicated to the great Chinese philosopher Confucius. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.

This temple (Van Mieu in Vietnamese) was founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong and was the country’s first university. The large complex is in a calm, green-shrouded location in the heart of Hanoi.

Hanoi Hilton

hao lo prison (also known as the Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hoa Lo prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton. Photo by Dennis Jarvis

Hoa Lo Prison was a prison from the French Colonial era and used to incarcerate Vietnamese as well as US military. Exhibitions, photos and information are direct, brutal and graphic so this is not a place for those with delicate dispositions, but it is educational and interesting.

Traditional Vietnamese Theater

Music in the Thang Long Ca Tru Theatre, Hanoi, Vietnam

Thang Long Ca Tru Theatre is the place to hear traditional Vietnamese music played on strange, unique instruments.

Water Puppet Theatre show, Hanoi, Vietnam

Water Puppet Theatre.

Than Long Water Puppet Theatre is a popular experience with many tourists, old Vietnamese legends told through imaginative and highly skilled puppetry, accompanied by musicians and singers. On the negative side seating is cramped if you’re western-sized and the songs can seem repetitive, but the show lasts for less than an hour and it’s certainly unusual and skillfully performed.
Buy tickets in advance as they are almost always sold out on the day.

Lotte Center Panoramic view

For a terrific view over the sprawling city head for the observation deck at the top of the Lotte Center. After buying a reasonably priced ticket a high-speed elevator blasts you up to the 65th floor, where you will find not only an incredible panorama but also  two glass sky decks to test your vertigo as well as a bar, food stalls, and cafe. The deck stays open till midnight. 

Short trips out of Hanoi

• Bat Trang, a famous ceramic/pottery village just 9kms south, easy to reach via Bus 47.
• Tam Coc and Hoa Lu, pointy hills (karsts), grottoes, ancient king’s shrines and an hour’s boating
• the Perfume Pagoda (mountain hikes, boating and temples), 60 kms southwest.
• Halong Bay’s magical, water-embedded peaks.
• Sapa, a two or three day jaunt, see at top.

Modern Hanoi

Water Puppet Theatre show, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is a boom town, modernising fast and getting a sniff of the smoggy side of contemporary societies. Photo by Ongbac9999

There is a thick haze of smog and noise around Hanoi these days as seven million people emerge daily from tall, improbably narrow buildings into the hectic outside where all life shares the streets – motorcycles, bicycles, cars, chickens, dogs, rats, humans and you, the tourist.

Crossing the road!

Vietnam has too many bikers and not enough pedestrian crossings, so visitors from the fully developed world who are used to waiting for a little green man to indicate that it’s safe to walk, need to reset their clocks. Here’s how to cross a busy Vietnamese road:
Try to relax and look self-confident, check both/all ways, walk slowly but steadily allowing vehicles to move around you, and don’t stop or step back. Drivers will be anticipating your moves so don’t do anything unexpected like shrieking and running back to the sidewalk! If the number of vehicles approaching is limited, try making eye contact.
Remember, bikers are quite used to this system of pedestrian lurchers and will steer to avoid you, assuming they’re paying attention and not answering their mobile phones.
There will be occasional pedestrian crossings at traffic lights but traffic turning right doesn’t need to stop at a red light so even if the indicator is green there may still be traffic passing and the same precautions apply.

‘In Japan people drive on the left. In China people drive on the right. In Vietnam it doesn’t matter.’  P J O’Rourke – All the Trouble in the World

Best Seasons

The best months Hanoi are autumn (October, November) or winter (December, January).
Unlike Ho Chi Minh City 1, 600 kms to the south, Hanoi has a humid sub-tropical climate, meaning that it’s hot and very wet in summertime with mosquitoes rampant from May to September and average temperatures ranging from 25C-40C (77F-104F).
The winter season is dry and cool, 14C-20C (57F-68F) though the temperature can fall to near freezing and feel worse because it’s still quite humid and Vietnamese don’t do heating in low cost accommodation, so budget travelers beware the cold.