What to do for four days in Hanoi?
November 22, 2006 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Before I leave Hanoi, Veitnam what should I dare not miss?

This December I am taking a tour in Southeast Asia and my final destination is Hanoi. The tour ends on Dec. 24 and I am not due to fly out until the 28th. That gives me 3 to 4 days to occupy myself. Other than gorging out on the food (and I'm looking forward to that) what should I be doing? Where should I must go and what should I must see? Thanks.
posted by beatnik808 to Travel & Transportation around Hanoi, Vietnam (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If the tour doesn't take you to Ha Long Bay, definitely go see that- at least one overnight, maybe two if you want to visit Cat Ba Island.

There's also plenty to do and see within Hanoi itself- Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, residence and museum are worth checking out, as well as the Temple of Literature, the military museum, wandering around the old quarter and drinking lots of bia hoy. If your're on a tour, much of that will likely have been covered. (Except perhaps the excellent bia hoy.)

Hanoi isn't a bad place to have a tailor whip up some bespoke clothes for a song, and since you have a few extra days you have time to do that if that appeals. I don't have a tailor to recommend, but a search of the archives might reveal a name or two, I think that question has come up in the past.
posted by ambrosia at 4:56 PM on November 22, 2006

water puppet show
posted by milkman at 5:08 PM on November 22, 2006

Go to McDonald's
posted by thilmony at 5:18 PM on November 22, 2006

Second pretty much everything ambrosia said. With the water puppet show, I say take it or leave it. If you've got a free hour, it's not the worst way to spend it, but I wouldn't put it in the "must-see" category.

In the Old Quarter, make sure to wander around the so-called "French Quarter" as well (west of the lake), a more calm and quaint area than the frenzied part north of the lake.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 5:27 PM on November 22, 2006

ambrosia's suggestions are good.

in particular, halong bay is awesome; we went there with a tour company called "ocean tours" that has a couple of locations in hanoi (one in particular at some backpacker-y restaurant that i can't remember the name of, but it's well-known and you can find it in lonely planet).

we took the kayaking option, which meant we split off from the main group on the second day and paddled around all day, stopping for lunch at some house on one of the floating villages. it was tiring but a hell of a lot of fun.

that night we stayed at a hotel on cat ba island and spent the next day on motorbikes; there's a beautiful road that runs up and down the length of the island and is a lot of fun to drive around, visit caves and see the views. also if you go to cat ba there's an excellent restaurant on the main road that runs along the beach. i can't remember the name of it either, but it's also in the LP book and is really very good.

as for in hanoi, if you go for the suit making (i did!) i got a good custom suit for $100 from cao minh. it took about 4 days to make (i had to go, pick out fabrics, come back to fit and get it adjusted, then come back to pick it up.)

the water puppets show was okay, but just okay. not fantastic. if you're hungry there's a good place to get bun cha across the plaza from the dong xuan market; i don't remember the name but it was always crowded and good. dong xuan itself is an experience.

my favorite thing in vietnam was just riding around on motorbikes; this takes some serious balls in hanoi but it's rewarding. there are some fairly posh shops around the temple of literature and the area around hoan kiem lake, especially the french quarter side.

got a very good massage (not the sexual kind) for next to nothing ($5 or something for an hour) at one of the hotels near the opera house. also, there was a very, very nice restaurant called emperor restaurant that we treated ourselves to. by hanoi standards its quite expensive - think $30-40 per person or so, but by western standards it's a great value.

i can make other suggestions if you're looking for something in particular. hope you have fun!
posted by sergeant sandwich at 6:33 PM on November 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

second halong bay, even though i swore it was haiphong. i recommend handspan tours, they are a little pricey but were excellent.

the water puppets i found sort of intriguing, but like others have said, nothing to write home about.

i found the hanoi hilton very worthwhile, and really found mccain's flight suit a powerful display, even though it's pretty understated. the mausoleum and surrounding grounds were interesting.

more than anything though, i would recommend extending your trip by a few weeks, and going down to hue and hoi an (but bring extra bags, as you will want to double your wardrobe there). do the dmz tour, of khe sanh, and the caves (the name escapes me at the moment, but they were incredible), and spend a few days in hoi an having clothes tailored. two of the best meals i have ever had in my life were at cafe de amis in hoi an; the owner was the head chef for south vietnamese generals for about 25 years, meaning he cooked everything and then ate it to prove he wasn't trying to poison them. you only have a choice between meat, seafood, or vegetarian, and the menu is thereafter fixed, but you cannot go wrong.
posted by andifsohow at 7:22 PM on November 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

When I was in Hanoi the locals told me to skip Ho Chi Minh's place and see The Temple of Literature instead.

Every day I took a walk around the Lake of the Restored Sword. I'd recommend visiting it and seeing if you can catch a glimpse of the old turtle that lives there. There's a temple/museum on an island in the lake that was nifty too.

And, I liked the water puppets. My brother even got me one for my birthday.
posted by jazon at 10:51 PM on November 22, 2006

Besides seeing things, I would suggest picking up cook books by Didier Corlou, chief chef of the Sofitel Metropole. His books are hard to acquire in the west and a foodie would appreciate them. Many of the books are in French but here is a man who has fallen in love with Viet Nam and its cuisine.

Email me, my collection is incomplete.
posted by jadepearl at 12:09 AM on November 23, 2006

Go to McDonald's

McDonald's what?
posted by the cuban at 1:41 AM on November 23, 2006

If you like music, Minh's Jazz Club in the Old Quater may be a good way to spend an evening.

Also, if you've been on a tour for the rest of your time travelling, you may enjoy spending a day or two just meandering around town, with no agenda, stopping for long lunches and coffee breaks.
posted by MetaMonkey at 1:47 AM on November 23, 2006

Seconding Bia Hoy. good times, good times.
posted by whoojemaflip at 5:54 AM on November 23, 2006

I was there in november, and I really liked Hanoi although some people I met on my travels hated it. Just try to accept all the insanity, the traffic and the noise and I'm sure you will love the city.

I tried dog meat. You can take a moto for around 40 minutes before you get to a part of town that is full of dog-meat restaurants. The restaurant I went to was an extremely nice family restaurant, and they really seemed to enjoy having me there.

The meat isn't that good, and I know a lot of people disagree with it, but the Vietnamese think it's perfectly normal since it's just like meat from any other animal.

Plus it makes a good story for when you go back home.

Also, 3 days in Halong Bay. I did the tour for 3 days. I think 2 days are not enough, especially in order to see Cat Ba island.
posted by einarorn at 10:20 AM on November 23, 2006

1. The Cha ca La Vong Restaurant at No.14 Cha Ca Street.

2. I would argue for the 'less is more' approach. Trying 'to do' stuff, beyond the tour, may just make it a whirlwind of chaotic memories. My suggestion is to get up early and walk a different section each day for a few hours, have lunch and get a motorcycle taxi back to your room. Rest. Go out in the evening and just sit and watch the people, the traffic - the world of Vietnam (like most places I guess) is best savoured when it comes to you rather than by your going chasing it. Find a shady outdoor cafe and don't move around too much.

Talk to people, leisurely. Go to the many parks and lakes. Play with the children. Standing still is sometimes the best form of travel. You'll remember these encounters with the real people better than by filling a photo album with the standard scenic/tourist guff.
posted by peacay at 10:52 AM on November 23, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for some of the ideas. Getting a custom suit made is high on my list of things to do.
posted by beatnik808 at 3:50 PM on November 28, 2006

I hope you're still reading this, and have a wonderful trip. I was there in July and totally fell in love and can't wait to go back.

1) Agreeing with all the people saying to go to Ha Long. Take the harbor tour around, stay in Cat Ba town, there's a great beach about two minutes (motorbike) from the main strip. A hotel right along the waterfront is cheap and won't be sketchy. Two days was enough for me, but I did not go much around the park.

2) Let me repeat that I really really loved this city, and I travel a lot. A few of the things not to miss while you're there: Van Mieu (this is the oldest university people keep mentioning), going for a walk around Hoan Kiem (but not right alongside the lake, at night, unless you're there as a couple), the old quarter and the open houses with old-school architecture, some of the museums (antrhopology/ethnography and the one near the citadel stand out as having been my favorites, but I'm blanking on the names), ...

3) The FOOD. I don't know who this McDonald's guy is, but you obviously have to have phở every day, lots of mixed fruit with ice and sweetened condensed milk, the dog (thịt chó, and no, it's not that great, and one of the sauces it is served with smells somewhere between socks and blood and the ripest French cheese), pork and mushrooms and stuff wrapped in rice paper (bánh cuón), wonton soups, big slices of duck, frog legs, the "sour" ice cream (flavor of yogurt, texture of ice cream), etc...
posted by whatzit at 12:19 PM on November 29, 2006

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