While the thousand-year-old city holds plenty of history, the most captivating moment in Hanoi is the present. Follow this two-day itinerary to explore the storied past of the capital while experiencing the best of a modern-day Vietnamese metropolis at the same time.
Touch down at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport and head toward the city. Dive right into the action with a cyclo ride around the Old Quarter, taking in its frenetic pace from the safety of your seat. Stroll around the placid Hoan Kiem Lake to see where locals hang out and catch a glimpse of Turtle Tower and the ornate Ngoc Son Temple. You can grab lunch in the Old Quarter or head to the clutch of cafés and restaurants around St. Joseph’s Cathedral before charting a course south to Hoa Lo Prison and the Vietnamese Women’s Museum.
Wind down the day on the streets of the chic French Quarter, either atop the Press Club terrace or at the roadside Tadioto. In the evening, grab dinner at Ngon before catching a water puppet or ca tru (ancient chamber music) show in the Old Quarter.
Rise early for a morning bowl of pho, Hanoi’s favorite breakfast food, before heading off to Ba Dinh Square to line up for a visit at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Once you’ve paid your respects, swing by Uncle Ho’s famed stilt house or head to the nearby One Pillar Pagoda for a different era of Hanoian history. From there, the Military History Museum, flanked by the Flag Tower and Lenin Park, is just a short walk away.
In keeping with the Communist spirit, stop for coffee at Cong Caphe or head straight down to KOTO for lunch. Spend the afternoon getting to know Hanoi’s Temple of Literature before wandering back toward the Old Quarter. Once traffic picks up and rush hour is in full swing, head for some bia hoi (freshly brewed light beer) and a night on the town.
Excursion: North to Mountainous Sapa
Head to Sapa, where you can opt to trek through Vietnam’s northern mountains, visiting remote villages.
Catch an overnight train from Hanoi and head to Sapa. You’ll arrive in Lao Cai in the morning and take a quick minibus ride to the small mountain town. Take the rest of the morning to explore the town, passing by its museum and shopping along Cau May Street. In the afternoon, head to Cat Cat village or hire a motorbike to visit the nearby waterfalls and Tram Ton Pass. You’ll also want to arrange a trek for the following day, either through a local guide or one of the tour outfits in town.
Rise early and set off with your local guide to one of the nearby minority villages and get a more intimate look at the varied cultures of Vietnam. The trek takes a few hours, including lunch. In the afternoon, return to Sapa for a bit of R&R and any last-minute shopping before heading back to Hanoi via overnight train or bus.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hanoi.