If you have only 24 hours in Hanoi, what will you do? Here are suggestions for you.
6am – discover city alone
Wake with the sun to explore the city’s treasured Old Town. Why so early? This is the time of day when the streets are empty, save for a few local stall owners setting up their wares. Early morning is also the absolute best time to get amazing photos of locals going about their daily business, and the smells of food cooking will drive you crazy.
8am – breakfast with the locals
Once you’ve seen the Old Quarter at the coolest and quietest time of the day, you’re sure to be hungry, and a steaming bowl of Pho (beef soup with noodles served with Thai basil and chillies) will be just what the doctor ordered. Get yours from a street vendor who only specialises in pho, and you know you’ll be getting the best quality.
9am – celebrate Ho Chi Minh
Suitably nourished, you’ll be ready to crack on with your day of sightseeing. Start with the Ho Chi Minh Museum, before all the school kids get there as trust me, it’s utter bedlam as soon as they arrive! For just 10,000 VND (about 30p) you’ll learn all about Ho Chi Minh’s life of power and suppression, and why he’s affectionately referred to by the Vietnamese as ‘Uncle Ho’.
Just outside the museum’s front entrance is the One Pillar Pagoda, a Buddhist temple which is definitely worth looking at and paying your respects to. Buy an incense stick from a vendor and add it to the others, given in offering to Buddha.
11:30am – feel enlightened
It’s around a 1km walk to the next stop, so depending on how you’re feeling (and how hot it is!) you can either walk or take a taxi to the Temple of Literature (entrance fee 30,000 VND). Wander through the manicured gardens and admire the stone carvings which record the achievements of the nation’s first scholars.
Visit the Well of Heavenly Clarity and then at the very end of the gardens you’ll find an incredible pagoda where a statue of Confucius stands proudly among other well-respected thinkers and philosophers.
1:00p.m. – See a slice of more recent history
Grab another cab as it’s time to visit one of Hanoi’s grizzliest tourist attractions, the Hoa Lo Prison, which was also dubbed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by U.S prisoners of war in the 1970s. Most of the prison has since been destroyed and only the main entrance area remains.
Honestly, there’s not much left to see here except for a couple of long rooms which housed the prisoners, a flight suit belonging to John McCain and a couple of old toilet blocks, but I still liked it for its historical value. 15,000 VND (about 50p) entrance fee.
2:00p.m. – Lunch time!
If you haven’t tried Banh Mi, then you haven’t lived! Fresh baked, crusty Frenc bread filled with sliced pork, eggs, home-made pate, coriander and a special chilli sauce make the most delicious lunchtime treat. For the best in town, take a taxi to Bahn Mi 25 (36 Hàng Cá, in the Old Quarter).
3:30p.m. – Age old traditions
Wander down to the Thang Long Water Puppet Show to get your tickets ahead of the 16:10 showing of this weird but wonderful cultural spectacle. Dating back to the 11th century, the art of water puppetry depicts typical scenes in Vietnamese family life over the years, and is well worth the 100,000 VND (about £3) entrance fee.
5:00p.m. – Sunset drinks and dinner with a view
One of popular places in Hanoi to spend a long languorous evening sipping cocktails is The Gourmet Corner restaurant, which has a wonderful terrace with a view over Hoàn Kiếm lake to the city skyline beyond. Arrive for 5p.m. and you’ll catch the happy hour cocktails!
8:00p.m. – Bia Hoi and a night on the town
No trip to Hanoi (and indeed to Vietnam) would be complete without tasting some of the fresh local draft beer, also known as Bia Hoi. Locals and tourists alike sit out in the open on tiny plastic chairs all over the Old Quarter and sip on beers costing as little as 5,000 VND (about 15p). Head for Ma May or Ta Hien Road for some of the livelier bars in town.
Late – Somewhere to rest your head
After a night of seeing what the nightlife scene in Hanoi is all about, you’ll need somewhere comfy to sleep off the inevitable.
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