12 Hours in Hanoi

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Colourful, vibrant and on-the-move; Hanoi, Vietnam’s historic capital, is fast becoming one of Asia’s most valuable economic hubs. In 2010, the city celebrated its 1,000th birthday, showcasing a collection of its most important historic gems for the first time — revealing a staggering depth of antiquity previously unknown to foreign visitors.

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Belying its status as one of the continent’s fastest-growing metropolises, Hanoi has suffered several periods of hardship throughout its first millennium. But, thanks to the resilience and determination of its people, the city has since bounced back — becoming a wonderful visitor destination in its own right.

Fun fact #01

Hanoi’s Long Bien bridge was designed by a French architect named Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. If that surname sounds familiar, it’s because he also designed the Eiffel Tower, and the Statue of Liberty for good measure, too.

Those visiting Hanoi as part of a once-in-a-lifetime Asian cruise break will treasure their time spent in this optimistic capital city. To help you make the most of your trip to Hanoi, here we provide tips and advice on what to see and do during your visit, as well as a few suggestions of places to eat.

What to see in Singapore

Whatever you’re looking from your visit, Singapore’s vibrant, multi-cultural mix of people and places means there’s something for everyone. Hit the streets for a spot of the real Singapore; a bustling, energetic environment filled with lively markets and street food vendors plying their wares. Not your cup of tea? Head to one of its green areas for something more serene and enriching; you’ll find plenty of walking trails, wildlife sanctuaries and treetop bridges to saunter across. All part of Singapore’s commitment to a greener, more sustainable city, be sure to walk a little further afield to check out these verdant retreats, nestled comfortably away from the rest of Singapore.

Fun fact #02

Houses in Hanoi are especially narrow because property tax is based on the width of the building.

Shrouded in as much mystery as it is history, Hanoi almost feels like a different world. Awash with a wartime backdrop, it’s a remarkably unexplored area, kept away from outsiders by its government as recently as the 1990s. For budding explorers, however, a vast and vivid setting awaits, where the curious can peel back layers of history, revealing its storied French and Chinese occupations.

hanoi city guide

With vibrant life around every corner, there’s a tangible mix of the old and new here, where its sprawling skyscrapers and shopping malls hide the Hanoi of yore. A stroll through its Old Quarter transports tourists to the past, while there’s plenty of opportunity to experience its modern metropolis. Complete with a bustling arts scene, a plethora of market stalls and an infectious energy to its streets, made up of equal parts street merchants and city folk, Hanoi is an incredible city to see for yourself.

Here’s a selection of the city’s highlights that we’d highly recommend during your time in Hanoi.

Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature

First built in 1070, the Temple of Literature is one of Hanoi’s oldest structures, and houses the Imperial Academy, Vietnam’s first national university. The site boasts numerous ancient statues, halls and pavilions, as well as the incredible Temple of Confucius. History lover or not, you mustn’t miss this peaceful heritage site.

Singapore Botanic Gardens

St Joseph’s Cathedral

With its Gothic Revival façade, Hanoi’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral looks more akin to the Notre Dame than a regular Vietnamese temple — and there’s a good reason for this. First constructed in 1886, at the peak of French colonialism in Vietnam, they lent it a distinct European charm. Despite suffering decades of persecution after the Viet Minh took control of the country, St Joseph’s is now considered one of Hanoi’s most prestigious sites.

Hanoi Opera House

Opera House in Hanoi

Modelled on the Parisian concert venue Palais Garnier, Hanoi’s opulent Opera House is considered the most important architectural landmark in the city. Once again exuding the influence of French colonialism, the Hanoi Opera House became one of the most important venues in Asia after its completion in 1911. Today the concert hall still hosts regular performances by the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and the Hanoi Philharmonic Orchestra.

Hunt for Bargains in the Old Quarter

old quarter hanoi

With its Gothic Revival façade, Hanoi’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral looks more akin to the Notre Dame than a regular Vietnamese temple — and there’s a good reason for this. First constructed in 1886, at the peak of French colonialism in Vietnam, they lent it a distinct European charm. Despite suffering decades of persecution after the Viet Minh took control of the country, St Joseph’s is now considered one of Hanoi’s most prestigious sites.

Enjoy a Picnic on the Banks of Hoan Kiem Lake

Enjoy a Picnic on the Banks of Hoan Kiem Lake

You wouldn’t think it, but the huge body of water that is Hoan Kiem Lake is located slap bang in the middle of one of Hanoi’s busiest neighbourhoods. Far from being overcrowded, Hoan Kiem offers peace, quiet and tranquillity — making it the perfect place for a picnic if you’ve tired of trawling the city.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Water Puppet in Hanoi

“Weird”, “fun” and “delightful” — these are but a few of the words used to describe Hanoi’s Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre on TripAdvisor. Whether you’ve kids in tow or not, a trip to this peculiar venue is well worth it for an afternoon of light-hearted oddness.

Hanoi’s Best-Kept Secrets

Looking to avoid the crowds and explore the path less explored? Here are Hanoi’s best-kept secrets.

Fun fact #03

Hanoi’s former name, Thang Long, literally translates to “ascending dragon”

Fun fact #04

The Hoan Kiem Lake’s most famous, and legendary, denizen is said to be a giant, golden tortoise who gave a divine sword to a Viet king to help defeat the Chinese after 1,000 years of occupation.

Souvenirs

If you fancy taking a little piece of Hanoi back with you, we can highly recommend these wonderful treats and trinkets.

Lotus Tea

lotus tea

There are plenty of edible souvenirs to bring back with you, and this delicious coconut jam makes an excellent little gift. Enjoyed across the nation on toast, Kaya is a wonderfully flavourful spread made from eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves. It’s available across the city from supermarkets and Ya Kun Kaya Toast shops.

O Mai

dried fruit

The ever-popular Singapore Sling has been knocked back across the city’s bars since the 1930s – bring back a bottled version for your loved ones bought from Raffles Hotel, the place it was originally created at all those decades ago.

Gold plated orchid

The finest silk in Vietnam is to be found in Hanoi, which shouldn’t be surprising considering they’ve had 1,000 years to master making it. Used to make dresses, ties, bags and scarves, visit Khai Silk and see the city’s finest wares for yourself.

silk hanoi

Fun fact #05

For a short while in 2012, Hanoi was the cheapest city in the world for a one-night stay for two at a four-star hotel, which included cocktails, dinner, a bottle of wine and a taxi ride.

Where to eat in Hanoi

Rumbling tums? We’d recommend the following stops for authentic Vietnamese fare and international favourites.

Banh Mi 25

Banh Mi may sound an exotic dish, but it’s actually the Vietnamese term for sandwich. Perhaps its greatest culinary export, it’s packed with meat, coriander, cucumber, pickled carrots and topped with mayo, pate or jalapeno. So, if you’re looking for a light bite during your tour of the city, head to Banh Mi 25 — the aptly-named sandwich shop selling some of Hanoi’s most beloved Banh Mi sandwiches.

Banh mi sandwich

Café Duy Tri

If you’ve a courageous palate and want to sample some of Hanoi’s traditional Vietnamese cuisine, make for Café Duy Tri. Located in the Old Quarter where it spills out on to the cobbled street, this authentic Vietnamese café is popular with locals and tourists alike, and serves some of the best coffee in the city.

pho bowl

French Grill

Despite their comparative distance, the French influence runs deep in Hanoi, including in its food. If you’re a fan of Franco cuisine, head to French Grill, arguably Hanoi’s best European restaurant. With a faithful array of French classics on the menu, including lobster bisque and pork tenderloin, this restaurant is a great choice for those not keen on Hanoi’s more exotic fare.

juicy beef steak

If Hanoi has taken the top spot in your must-visit list, why not pay tribute as part of an Asian cruise holiday? At Cruise1st Australia, we offer lots of cruises to Vietnam, so you can spend a day or two in this majestic old city. To browse our range of Asia cruises, visit the website or call us on 1300 857 345.

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