Hanoi has been the official capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam since 2 July 1976. It is located in the north of the country and has almost 8 million inhabitants. Those who visit the old centre, the old quarter, for the first time will have to get used to the hustle and bustle of motorbikes in combination with the sometimes narrow streets. And for some people, this is the reason why they would like to leave Hanoi quickly. But don’t let it get you down, because Vietnam’s capital city is a great place to visit and has a number of interesting sites that you shouldn’t miss out on.
What would you like to know about Hanoi in Vietnam?
- History – 5 historical facts
- Sightseeing – What to do in Hanoi?
- Accommodation – Where to stay?
- Transport – How to get there
History – 5 historical facts – Did you know…?
- Hanoi has had many different names over the centuries. It has been called Long Do and Dai La, Dong Quan, Dong Kinh and Thang Long. The latter is still regularly used (the puppet theatre is called Thang Long Theatre) and originated when King Ly Cong Uan saw a dragon flying over the city in a dream. Thang Long therefore also means ‘rising dragon’. In 1831, the city was given its definitive name of Hanoi.
- In 1637 the Dutch East India Company (VOC) established a trading post in Dong Kinh, also known as Tonkin. This was mainly used for the export of silk to Dejima in Nagasaki, Japan.
- On 17 October 1887 Hanoi became the capital of French Indochina. French Indochina then consisted of Vietnam, Cambodia and, from 1893, Laos.
- In 1954, Hanoi was named the capital of North Vietnam by the Vietcong. When the Vietnam War was over, Hanoi became the capital of the whole of Vietnam.
- The Americans had heavily bombed Hanoi during the Vietnam War. The infrastructure was badly damaged, as were some parts of the city.
Sightseeing – What to see and do in Hanoi?
How much time do you need to explore Hanoi? Of course, that depends on what you would like to see and if you wish to leave this busy city as soon as possible. In 2 days you can have seen the most important highlights of the city. Here are a few historical ideas.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) was president of Vietnam from 1945 until his death in 1969. He fought for an independent Vietnam, which was colonised by France until 1954. During the Vietnam War (1955-1975) he fought with his Vietcong against the Americans. Ho Chi Minh died in 1969 and although he would have preferred to be buried, he is now laid to rest in this mausoleum.
Hoa Lo Prison: Besides a visit to the mausoleum of Uncle Ho, you should also take a look at the Hoa Lo prison. This building was used during the Vietnam War to imprison American prisoners of war. The most famous of these is former presidential candidate John McCain. Nowadays, it is a museum in which you mainly discover the miserable conditions under which people had to live during the French colonial rule and during the Vietnam War.
Hoan Kiem Lake: South of the old quarter you will find this famous Vietnamese lake. In the lake is an island where you can visit a temple. Central to this is the legend of the turtle and the sword. Halfway through the fifteenth century, King Ly Thai is said to have received a sword from the gods to drive out the Chinese. After this happened, he made a sailing trip on the lake, but a golden turtle took the sword from him. He did this to give it back to the gods. The meaning of Hoan Kiem is therefore ‘The Returned Sword’.
Water Puppet Theatre: Feel like relaxing in the evening? Then go to a performance in the Water Puppet Theatre. This form of art originated in the 11th century and has been held every day since 1969 in the Thang Long theatre near Hoan Kiem Lake. It is a puppet show in which actors play the puppets in a basin of water, accompanied by an orchestra on the side. Performances are held several times a day and are in Vietnamese, but the story can be followed by everyone.
Accommodation – Where to stay?
Most tourists choose a hotel in the old quarter. From here, you can see a number of sights within walking distance. This is also the area where you can find the best restaurants and drink a beer on the street in Bia Hoi Street. For 20 euro cents (converted), you get a freshly tapped beer and sit on a plastic chair on the street discussing the holiday with your Vietnamese neighbour. But if the police come: get up quickly and leave, because officially this is not allowed!
The old quarter is located north of the city’s most famous lake, Hoan Kiem Lake. The price per night for a hostel is about €3. That is very cheap and the quality was fine by me. By the way, the hostel I stayed in was Hanoi Old Quarter Backpackers Hostel. Unfortunately, you cannot book it any more. But at most hostels, you can get free beer in the evening between a certain time and meet people. Super cosy!
Transport – How to get there?
There are no direct flights from the Netherlands to Hanoi, only with a transfer via, for example, Turkey or Qatar. The city’s airport is called Hanoi Bai Airport and is located about 30 kilometres north of the city centre. Bus 86 will take you to the old quarter within 50 minutes and the ride costs about € 1.30 (35,000 VND). Or you can take a taxi, but then discuss the price in advance (guide price 350,000 VND, or € 13.00).
Continue your journey through Vietnam? By bus or train you can go north to Sapa, located between the rice fields and mountains of the country. Or east to Ha Long Bay. By train you can also go south to Ninh Binh / Tam Coc and Hue. Of course, this route can also be done by bus.
Do you have any tips, comments or ideas for Hanoi in Vietnam? Feel free to leave a message below.