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24 Hours in Hanoi

By: Tanja Wessels Posted: February-18-2010 in
the streets of the Old Quarter are a visual feast
Tanja Wessels

The Vietnamese capital has long been on my destination shortlist and when the boyfriend came to visit I didn’t think twice about telling him how vital a visit to Hanoi was on his first trip to Asia. (After a visit to Angkor Wat first- of course). On the 10th of October this year Hanoi will be turning 1000, it’s a good thing cities don’t get cakes with candles them. Having spent 5 days getting to grips with it, I have taken the highlights and compiled the ideal day in Hanoi.

I can think of no better place on earth to get excited about a cup of coffee in the morning than Vietnam. The chocolaty richness of every cup, iced or hot, is truly an experience to rave about and available everywhere. So wherever breakfast finds you, be sure to include it in the mix. Map in hand, make your way to Ho Chi Minh’s final resting place, a granite mausoleum modeled after Lenin's Tomb in Moscow. He may have never wanted to be put on display in this manner but his people clearly had a different idea- so on display he is. The hours are variable and it’s mornings only, so be sure to check in advance.

The mood then becomes very serious indeed and any conversations or desires to put your hands in your pockets should be left at the entrance. It is true- you are not allowed to walk around with your hands in your pockets. Once inside the mausoleum all is serene and surreal, making it a haunting and memorable experience.

Considering the rather heavy start to the day, nip into Café Smile for a coffee. Run by the Hoa Sua School for Disadvantaged Youth, the waiters are students at the school and the location and staff are utterly charming. When you feel you have caught your breath it is time to see the Temple of Literature. Dating from 1070, Vietnam’s oldest ‘university’ is marvelous. Dedicated to Confucius the space is dotted with ponds and gardens throughout a series of courtyards.

Overlooking the Temple of Literature is a wonderful 4-storey restaurant called Koto (Know One Teach One) and this is definitely the place for lunch after your visit. An adventurous menu offering local specialties means that it’s very popular, so booking is recommended. As with Café Smile, Koto offers vocational training programs for street kids, so feed your body and you feed your soul.

The Old Quarter is a must for any visitor to Hanoi and the rest of the day can easily be spent here. However, before venturing in, take a deep, deep breath and brace yourself for the never-ending sound of beeping horns and more motorbikes than ants on a lump of sugar. A walk along Hoan Kiem Lake at the heart of the old city is a good way to ease into the chaos that awaits. Pop into Ngoc Son Temple, have a wander and then zip out, cross the road and turn left up Hang Dau. And let the fun begin!

If you have ever wondered what a roasted dog looks like steer yourself to Cau Go Wet Market- you may just ‘get lucky’. We did and I can report that it ain’t pretty- it was a medium sized canine and he left little to the imagination, he looked so life-like when cooked, all that was missing was his collar…

For a more cerebral experience visit the historic ‘tube’ house at #87 Ma May Street. These long narrow houses are divided into sections, the narrowness being down to the fact that properties were taxed on the basis of their street frontage. Number #87 offers a fine example as well as all the necessary historical background.

Make your way around the Old Quarter at a leisurely pace – with the traffic and pedestrians there is little alternative – once you resign yourself to the acoustic and visual orgy it becomes a little less overwhelming.

Lacquer, ink stamps, silk and embroidered products are but some examples of the items to take back home and shops pepper the streets in abundance. Temples are also in plentiful and offer a welcome respite from the bustling pace on the pavements. Bach Ma Temple on Hang Boum Street is one such place.

When it's time to start winding the day down there is no better way to really enjoy the atmosphere in this part of town than to sit yourself down on a little plastic chair and enjoy a glass if Bia Hoi (fresh beer) on "Bia Hoi corner" which is the crossing of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen streets. Marvel at the lack of road rage as people experience constant ‘near misses’ in the traffic and unwind as the world zooms by.

As dinnertime approaches hop into a cab and head to Bobby Chin’s Restaurant. The TV chef’s restaurant has a great lounge in which to sip creative cocktails. On the night we went there was live music and a glamorous crowd to boot. The menu was fun and the friendly service made it a wonderful ending to a lively day.

There are not many places in the world where one wakes up to visit the embalmed body of a former leader, spends hours avoiding being road-kill all the while experiencing amazing temples charged up on fantastic coffee and enjoying a buzzing atmosphere- that is Hanoi, a well-deserved destination on any travel itinerary.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum 5 Pho Ngoc Ha, Ba Dinh District tel: (84 4) 942 1061
Café Smile 5 Van Mieu Street, Dong Da tel: (84 4) 3843 88 50
Koto Restaurant 59 Van Mieu Street,
Dong Da tel: (84 4) 3747 0337
Bach Ma Temple Hang Boum Street
Bobby Chinn 1 Ba Trieu Street Hoan Kiem tel: (84 4) 934 85 77

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user avatar Anonymous

great article

Great article! Now am thinking I may go in October for the 1000th birthday.
I've also been to Bobby chin and love it. Will check out your other suggestions too.


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