Vietnam has always been in my bucket list and still is. There’s so many places to visit and things to do that a week is not enough. At least you need 2 weeks to visit some main attractions, sightseeing and tours. Most places are far away depending on where you’re staying, for instance Hoa Lu and Tam Coc which are in the country side of Vietnam. In addition, also Sa Pa and its spectacular landscaping sightseeings and rice fields, Ha Long Bay by boat or the beautiful Ban Gioc and Datanla waterfalls, I can keep going all day. However, you can always enjoy Hanoi if you don’t have time to visit all other places, after all, Vietnam is big!
I met with 2 friends in Hanoi at the hotel that we booked that by the way, very cheap. Vietnam is very, very cheap! The hotel was (Splendid Holiday Hotel) not fancy, just nice location with breakfast included, just what we needed. I downloaded an app called Grab for transportation which works like Uber or even better. Once I arrived to the
almost location, the driver was trying to explain me for about 7 minutes that the hotel was located inside these narrow streets that obviously cars can’t go through. But, I didn’t knew Vietnamese! I tried body language, pointing things with my hand, fingers, facial expressions… ugh! We just couldn’t communicate. Until I asked him like this: “Hotel-Map-Phone” while I was pointing him to the phone. He understood and searched on google maps the hotel, I took a photo with my phone and went walking with my luggage to the hotel which it wasn’t that far. Later, right after I arrived and meet with the girls, we went out to explore. We only took transportation when we really needed, despite the super hot weather, we walked to everywhere and enjoyed Vietnamese culture.
Our first stop was visiting the West lake where the One Pillar Pagoda is, which is regarded as one of Vietnam’s two most iconic temples. We also visit Trấn Quốc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi and The Vietnam Military History Museum.
One Pillar Pagoda
Today, this pagoda is like a temple for people to visit and pray if they want to have children. I did not, of course 😀 haha. But is a beautiful landscape to take photos, built on a single pillar to represent a lotus flower which is a symbol of purity in Buddhist culture.
Vietnam Military History Museum
This is a place I would have enjoyed more with my husband, since he’s the nerd in History. Although there’s description of every photograph and object, there’s always a moment you want to discuss or ask, searching for deeper answers in which I only knew my husband could have not only enjoyed, but also to share his knowledge with me. The rooms are full of war propaganda, photographs and documents from wars against China, France, and the United States. The grounds feature several captured such as helicopters and fighter jets as well as a central structure build from the wreckage of French and American planes. People may climb the flag tower with a great view from the top. If you are like me, that likes museums, this is one the must see museums in Hanoi.
Exploring Streets in Hanoi
Streets are just like I imagined, and I loved it. Street food everywhere, streets full of cables, people walking, selling, cooking in front of you and eating on the street, seating on small blue plastic chairs. Crossing the streets is crazy! And it’s something that although we were compromising our safety, we made fun from it, we cursed in spanish, we screamed while locals were laughing at us, we really kept this experience deeply in our hearts 😀 .
I’ve read many negative articles on different blogs that they’ve been scammed by locals on food and tours. I personally don’t like taking tours unless I have limited time and the only way to get to the location is by tour, on my experience on different local spots and restaurants that we ate, we didn’t get scammed, we were treated properly. Yet, on souvenirs shops they take their standards a bit too high and they don’t negotiate prices with you, they rather not sale. They overcharged, ripped off, and you may treated poorly by the locals, so heads up. Streets, yes, they’re not too clean some of them, specially the color of the water (lakes etc) on this area is not blue nor crystal, is dark green or gray. If you are searching something fancier with crystal water, then don’t visit Vietnam and try Phuket. In addition, the city is full of small pagodas, so most likely, you’ll be curious to explore every one of them, we tried though! Some of them are free or charge, some others are not.
There’s a lot of shops that you can do cultural shopping, Buddhas, fabrics, etc. Also local restaurants you can try Vietnamese dishes such as Pho, Vietnamese noodles or the Bánh mì which I totally felt in love with. I’m somehow really picky with Asian food, I’m just not really fan of soups which is something they love. So when I tried the Bánh mì in a local small restaurant named An Coffee. I, well WE end up by eating this sandwich the whole week every time we could. It consists of a split lengthwise crackly crust and not overly dense bread, filled with various savory ingredients such as pork (prepared in numerous ways; juicy pork meat ball, BBQ, shredded, etc.) and also chicken and vegetarian…Goodness! I’m getting hungry already.
Another thing you can’t miss (aside of Vietnamese coffee) is trying their juices! They literally squeeze the fruits and mixed them together in front of you. No artificially flavors, no corn syrup, no sugar added, everything is concentrated natural fruit juice! You can also try them at An Coffee, a very cheap and friendly environment restaurant that I truly recommend.
City View Cafe in Hanoi
I wanted to take this photo so bad but as the days passed, I missed the opportunity to take the ‘perfect’ photo, the day that I could finally take it… it was Weekend Night Market, so the sightseeing was not what I expected. Nevertheless, I managed to take a nice picture but not what I had in mind. They had markets on the streets, the main street was closed and they had a big platform with music and people dancing. Perfect time foe shopping cultural items and souvenirs. This is a must see while in Hanoi, you can have lunch or coffee while observing motorist navigate the ever-chaotic traffic below.
Saint Joseph Cathedral
In 1882, after the French army conquered Hanoi, the cathedral was constructed and completed in 1886, with the architectural style described as resembling Notre Dame de Paris. The church was one of the first structures built by the French colonial government in Indochina when it opened in December 1886. It is the oldest church in Hanoi.
I never had the opportunity to visit the inside of the Cathedral, but I enjoyed a danza that a group of females were doing in honor of motherMaria. Very beautiful and ironic in a Buddhist country.
Lastly, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (which is the final resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh) was so crowded, worst than a Disney line! Don’t get me wrong, I do make lines, heck I travelled 2 days to get here and not visit this mausoleum? But, but… it was too much indeed, we could have wasted all day by just doing the line. We tried previously but it was closed.Unfortunately that was the only day, our last day actually and we decided not to wasted there. Next time is on my list. This museum is a you-have-to-visit and remember to check the open hours before heading there.
I know there’s a lot more but I think these examples and experiences may help some of you who’s traveling to Hanoi -or- Is Vietnam on your list? It also helps to those that maybe have a layover and thinking there’s not much time to visit the city, but there is. Vietnam may not fulfilled everyone’s expectations but it depends on everyone’s taste and style. Don’t let people tell you stories; go, visit and experience it yourself, good or bad!
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