36 hours in Hanoi

36 hours in Hanoi

Tet fireworks over Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.

As fireworks erupted in the sky over Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter the year of the cat officially began.  Tet celebrations commenced across the capital city as people and traffic filled the streets.  One of the few days that Hanoi officials do not enforce the midnight curfew is the Lunar New Year.  The curfew is just one example that Hanoi has not quite caught up with Ho Chi Minh City in the south, but times are changing.  Hanoi has fought back from the B-52 bombings of the Vietnam war to build high-rises and modern stores next to the old French architecture and temples that make-up the 36 streets of the Old Quarter.  It is the juxtaposition of the past, present and future that create such a rich experience in Hanoi.

5 p.m.

Downtown Hanoi is small but disorganized, with streets changing name almost every block it is nearly impossible to keep track of where you are or where you’re going.  Start by taking a stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, which offers beautiful evening views and a point of orientation for navigating the old quarter.

6:30 p.m.

Enjoy a beer curbside at one of the many bia hoi corners throughout the old quarter of Hanoi.  Bia hoi literally translates to “fresh beer” and is sold for 4,000 dong (20 cents at 20,000 dong to the dollar) a glass from a keg.  Each corner has a different keg so you can taste each and decide on your favorite.  Early evening is a great time to grab a glass of beer as you can watch rush hour zoom past and you’ll be done drinking before the midnight curfew in the capital.

Enjoying a Bia Hoi as the world goes by.

8 a.m.

Get up early and head to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to pay your respects to Vietnam’s hero Ho Chi Minh.  Pay a visit to his embalmed body and then visit his museum featuring a memorial bronze casting, art displays and a short history and inspirational timeline of Ho Chi Minh’s life.  Also take the time to stop at the one pillar pagoda, presidential palace and Ho Chi Minh’s stilted house.  Be ready to check your bag and camera at the gate as these items are not allowed in the mausoleum or the museum and you need to get there early because everything closes at 11:00 a.m.

The one pillar pagoda that is located just next to the Ho Chi Minh museum.


Enjoy the delicious smells and tastes of Hanoi’s many street stalls.  Start with Cuon Can, which is a thin rice paper pancake with minced mushrooms, pork and an egg inside.  Bun Bo Nam Bo is a delicious entrée choice with slivers of beef over rice noodles with a spicy sauce and peanuts.  If you are feeling adventurous you can try pigeon, it’s better than you think- you’ll wish it had more meat on it.

A whole pigeon served at a street stall in Hanoi.

2:30 pm

The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) was built in 1070 during the reign of Emperor Ly Thanh Tong to honor scholars and literary men; he dedicated it to Confucius.  Six years later, Vietnam’s first university, the royal college was founded at the temple to educate the children of the court mandarins.  The peaceful sanctuary is just a short walk from the old quarter and brings you to a series of gates the first being talent and virtue and the last being the gates of synthesis.

4 p.m.

While you’re in tourist mode go visit Ngoc Son Temple located on a small island in Hoan Kiem Lake.  This shrine is also dedicated to literature, Van Xuong, the god of literature that is.  The sanctuary to Van Xuong affords an excellent view of the lake and a quiet place to rest from city traffic and the bustling old quarter.

5 p.m.

Ngoc Son Temple is right near the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater (57 Dinh Tien Hoang) and you should be just in time for the 5:15 pm puppet show.  Tickets are only 40,000 dong  for second class and 60,000 dong for first class(2 dollars and 3 dollars at 20,000 dong to the dollar), all seats are in a small theater and the only difference between the two classes is being closer to the stage.  The ancient art form of water puppetry derives from rice-farmer folk culture.  The puppets move and dance in a small pool of murky water directed by hidden puppeteers.  The true pleasure of the experience is in listening to the beautiful folk music.

The puppet artists at the water puppet show

7 p.m.
After the short water puppet show grab a drink and dessert on the patio at Highlands coffee that overlooks Hanoi’s busy traffic and Hoan Kiem Lake.  The view is worth the higher prices, but you can still get a coffee for under $3.

10 a.m.

9) Sleep in after a long day of sightseeing yesterday and then head to the  many art galleries around Hanoi.  There is an abundance of beautiful paintings, fascinating propaganda art and even sculpture hidden in the many small galleries around Hanoi.  Here are just a few to check out Art Vietnam Gallery (7 Nguyen Khac Nhu Street; 84-4-39-27-23-49;www.artvietnamgallery.com). Other venues like the Mai Gallery (113 Hang Bong Street; 84-4-39-38-05-68; www.maigallery-vietnam.com), the Apricot Gallery (40B Hang Bong Street; 84-4-38-28-89-65; www.apricot-artvietnam.com) and the Dragon Gallery (12 To Tich Street; 84-4-38-25-07-40) represent dozens of artists and many different styles.

An example of the pristine galleries in Hanoi.


Golden Sunshine Hotel (36 Dinh Liet Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi) is located right near Hoan Kiem Lake and has new rooms with heat, hot water and great street views.  Rooms from 260,000 dong a night or 280,000 dong with a window and a view ($12 and $14 respectively at 20,000 dong to the dollar)

Travel Mate Hotel (12 B Chan Cam Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi) is a nice place with fantastic staff who will happily invite you for  a meal with them.

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» dad :
Feb 11, 2011

love the format, but assume you really don’t move at that pace…..water puppets looked amazing, we missed that……aunt ann’s funeral today, a fine celebration and the 3 kids played there clarinets, very emotional…..cold for one more day…..of course his name was jim thompson, we had desert at the restaurant next to his house and they were lima beans…incredible fireworks shot, could be best i have seen….may need to order more cards shortly, i hand them out to strangers…..be safe….love dad

» dad :
Feb 11, 2011

you Sapa pictures are amazing!…..not sure who gets the credit, but i think the photo with the animal and landscaping is national geographic quality….impressive you 2 can smile in mud up to your knees…..be safe..love dad

» Ken Tschannen :
Feb 11, 2011

Hello Erica, Looks like you are still alive! Really like those last pictures, really nice!! The fireworks and the night picture with the lights were great. Okay, Will buy you lunch!!!, if you can put my Vietnam trip agenda together for me for next year. My trip as I mentioned to you starts out in Phuket, Thailand, have rented a boat for a week, to explore and dive the islands, I have 3 other couples that I am bringing with me, From Phuket, we will be hanging out in Bangkok, then we will be heading to Angkor Wat, then to Vietnam, So we will be flying to Ho Chi Minh on a Sun. and leaving the following Sun back to Mpls. So that is your project. Fly, train, etc okay. don’t need to experience 24 hr. bus rides and if you have any nice hotels or things to do at each location that would be helpful. Sun. – Sun. I know we have only a week,(not a month) but I am sure you could put a great agenda for the group. You can e-mail your agenda to me at tschannen@comcast.net or post it on this web site. Thanks for your help, only 5 ewe’s left to drop lambs, has been a tough winter but now looks to warm up. Stay safe> Ken

» Mom A :
Feb 13, 2011

It will be fun to hear your comparison of temples in Vietnam vs the wats in Thailand. I don’t think I have seen anything so colorful or well kept as those in Thailand. While cathedrals and churches in Italy have awe inspiring renowned art in them and on their walls, there is such vibrant beauty in Thailand which is very inviting and tells stories in such different ways.

LOCAVORista Reply:

Mom, thus far Thailand is kicking Vietnam’s butt in the temple department, but they are much more expensive to visit. Still can’t wait for Angkor Wat, Cambodia could be king. Hope the dinner party was awesome and that Bar LaGrassa was as good as ever.

» Kelly :
Feb 14, 2011

Wow, you have convinced me. I need to make it to Hanoi. I will not, however, try a pigeon!!!! Great pictures girl!

LOCAVORista Reply:

Kelly, thanks for visiting our site. There is a lot to see in Vietnam, definitely add it to your travel list.

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{ Sep 11, 2011 - 09:09:37 } Living If | 9/4/2011 Snapshot Sunday

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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