A day well spent in Hanoi
Jess Klaebe is one of our adventure experts and the Team Leader at James Street Brisbane's My Adventure Travel. Like all our adventurers, she has travelled the globe extensively. Jess spent time living in Vietnam and being one of our most popular destinations, she'd love to share with you a guide to a day well spent in their capital city, Hanoi.
Written by Jess Klaebe
Hanoi oozes culture, history, art, delicious food, architecture and life. There is an abundance to see and do in Vietnam's crazy, colourful and phenomenal city.
The heart of Hanoi is Hoan Kiem lake. At the city's first light I make my way down to the tree-lined banks of the lake and join in with the joggers. The peaceful surroundings make for a perfect setting to practice Tai Chi, train in the outdoor gym or just walk along the footpath surrounding the water.
Afterwards, I head to a local noodle shop for breakfast. I take a seat on a little stool, slurp on my pho and watch life here in full swing. Motorbikes whiz by with families of five somehow balanced on them. Students walk past gossiping and sipping their takeaway 'Ca phe sua da" (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk). Hawkers wearing conical hats approach me with a pole slung over their shoulders selling baskets full of items I will never need. Grandparents sit on the cafe stools across the road playing Chinese checkers while their grandchildren play around them.
I have a busy day of sightseeing ahead and the first thing I want is to soak up the history of this fascinating city. I make my way to Hoa Lo Prison, aka the Hanoi Hilton, named sarcastically by the American prisoners of war. Wandering through the dark museum, reconstructions of "hell's hole" tells stories of life behind these bars.
After spending around an hour in the museum, I head over to the Temple of Literature to get a lighter feel for the city's history. This Temple of Confucius was Vietnam's first National university and when I talk to some local students I learn they still come here give offerings and pray their exams will all run smoothly.
For lunch, I walk across the road to KOTO (Know One Teach One), an organisation teaching and training hospitality to street kids. The menu looks delicious and the young staff members are refreshingly joyous and helpful. As a recommendation they suggest the Banana Flower Salad, a famous authentic dish in Hanoi.
Once full up on fresh local cuisine, I hail a taxi and drive out of the city to one of the best museums in the country, Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. For anyone who's interested in Vietnam's minorities, this museum hosts a terrific collection of artefacts and tribal art collected from around the country. The tremendous compilation not only has a huge range of artefacts inside but also a has a garden with a life size model of housing displaying how the minorities live.
After spending a couple of hours at the museum I head back into town to wander the chaotic streets of the Old Quarter. More hawkers wearing conical hats and more shops selling the same things over and over. I find myself then stumbling across a massage parlour. Naturally, I lounge back into one of the couches and indulge in a well deserved $7, one hour reflexology massage.
After re-energizing, I'm ready again to walk back onto the streets and head to New Day Restaurant for dinner, which is highly regarded by both locals and tourists . I order the lemongrass chicken and when it arrives at the table the smell is heavenly. I thought some local food and a crisp, chilled beer would serve as the end to a perfect day in Hanoi, but after dinner I decide to end the day how I started - at the popular Hoan Kiem Lake.
The evening atmosphere has a romanticised feel to it. Local Vietnamese young couples stroll around the lake hand-in-hand or sit on the back of a motorbike practicing the popular "Honda hug". I dawdle around the dusk-lit lake and reflect on a day well spent in this fantastic city.
If you want to follow Jess' guide for yourself, the 10-day Vietnam Express Southbound tour could be for you. Check it out.