What makes Vietnam's capital so charming

by Rob Towell, 11/1/2019

What makes Vietnam's capital so charming


Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its bustling streets, centuries-old architecture and rich culture with Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences. This vibrant city is a must-do during your Vietnam travels. Keep reading to find out why!


Beauty in chaos

The heart of Hanoi is the chaotic Old Quarter, where the narrow streets are roughly arranged by trade with shoe street, beer street, doorknob street, toy street, plant street (the list goes on). You can find just about anything if you know where to look. Alternatively, the Ðong Xuân Market is your one-stop-shop for household goods, souvenirs, cheap clothing and street food. It is crowded and chaotic but an experience you don't want to miss. 

Dotted through the busy city are many quiet little temples, including Bach Ma, honouring a legendary horse, and famous bridges like Long Bien bridge. You also have quirky attractions like train street, one of the most Instagrammed places in Vietnam, stunning sights like the Botanical Garden and flower market.


The legend of Hoan Kiem Lake 

In the centre of the Old Quarter you have the famous Hoan Kiem Lake; This Lake got its name (Lake of the Restored Sword) from a legend. In the ancient times circulated a story that claimed the Heaven-sent Emperor Ly Thai To a sword with magical properties. He used that sword to banish the Chinese from Vietnam. Following the end of war, a giant golden turtle took the sword and escaped to the depths of the lake to return the sword to its divine owners, thus earning its name, the Lake of the Restored Sword. If you’re not amused by legends don’t fret because the lake is special for other things as well. This is the only lake in Vietnam that is home to an iconic tortoise. The tortoise is considered a sacred animal, so the lake itself is a holy place. If you’re in luck, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of these majestic animals. It was long thought they had become extinct until one crawled out of the lake a few years ago. The Hoan Kiem Lake is very popular among Hanoian’s as a gathering place for families, nature lovers and hangouts. If you want to spend time like the local residents do, show up at 6 am and practise Tai Chi with them. The best time to visit is from Fridays to Sundays because the nearby traffic is banned from 7pm to midnight, turning it into a peaceful oasis.


The city of museums

You also have many museums to visit, including the Women’s Museum and The Hoa Lo Prison museum. The Hoa Lo Prison Museum, better known by its ironic nickname the “Hanoi Hilton”, will make you experience a  range of emotions from disgust and sorrow to outrage at how something like this was allowed to happen. The museum displays and educates on the sufferings of the Vietnamese revolutionaries who were confined under the occupying French government during the early 20th century. What you see is only a glimpse into the prison, as most of the prison complex was demolished in the 1990s to make way for the Hanoi Towers. It is peculiar to have a prison built in the centre of the city. The idea of the French colonial administrators was to make an example of the Vietnamese fighters for independence. Almost all exhibits show the prison’s use up to the Vietnamese upraise against the French for independence. The museum also houses the most gruesome relic, the French guillotine on the Vietnamese rebels.

The women’s museum offers a beautiful tribute to the women of Vietnam throughout history and is run by the Women’s Union of Vietnam. The museum focuses on the position of Vietnamese women through history, from street merchants and mothers, to entrepreneurs and scholars. The narratives focus on their role in the society, the obstacles they overcame as society changed, and an abundance of information on everyday life, such as marriage, motherhood, fashion and life-changing rituals. One of the most interesting exhibits focuses on the position women played in Vietnam’s wars. The museum has displayed a lot of information about all of its exhibits in both French and in English and displays historic relics, which include Taoist books (among other impressive collected artefacts) and gives an in-depth insight into a better understanding of the women of Vietnam.

Notable museum mentions:

Temple of Literature
Vietnam Fine Arts Museum
Vietnam Military History Museum
National Museum of Vietnamese History
Museum of Ethnology

Visit the revolutionary leader of Vietnam

The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum is a must-visit whilst in Hanoi. It is the resting place of the revolution leader Ho Chi Minh, who was the President of the Communist Party of Vietnam, at the very same place where he, in 1945, read the Declaration of Independence and established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, but with a Vietnamese twist. It incorporates elements that are tied to Vietnamese architecture like the sloping roof. The exterior of the mausoleum is made of grey granite while the interior is black, grey and red polished stone. All of the materials used for construction were acquired from all over Vietnam. Fauna from different regions of Vietnam surrounds the mausoleum and the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is located in the central hall of the mausoleum, protected at all times by a military guard.


The taste of the city

Whilst in Hanoi you will have the opportunity to eat and drink lots of local treats, from the famous egg coffee to street-side Pho, Bun Cha (even Obama ate Bun Cha) and late-night Banh Mi. If you really want to get exploring on the food side of the city, you need to find little alleys and street corners, providing you with tastes and flavours you will not find anywhere else. There is also a 24hr Food Street and BBQ Chicken Street if you are looking for BBQ and the opportunity for sharing hotpot and more. You can even get 7k beer if you want to get super local and drink on the famous beer corner in the Old Quarter.

Notable food and drink mentions:

Bo Bit Tet – Vietnamese Beef steak, egg and chips

Ph?cu?n: rice noodle paper, beef, lettuce with sauce

Chè: dessert with beans, fruits, coconut

Ch?cáLãV?ng: Grilled Cat fish, dill

TràChanh: Iced tea with lime

Xôi: Sticky rice (add your topping of choice)

Búnmi?nngan: Glass rice noodles with Muscovy duck

Ph?chiênph?ng: Deep fried pho cusions with water spinach and beef

Bánhcu?n: Fermented rice batter filled pork and mushroom


The backpacker hostel in the heart of Hanoi

Whilst this might be a little bias on our part, Vietnam Backpacker Hostels - Downtown truly is one of the best home-bases for travellers in Hanoi. Our hostel focuses on making sure that you experience the best of the north, whilst having a comfortable environment to party and meet likeminded travellers. Nightly events and drinks specials make a fun environment perfect for socialising. Kick-off your night with free beer at 7 and then end it with our free pub crawl through the old quarter (departing nightly around 11.30/12). 

We have an experienced travel team ready help with all your travel needs like booking transport and tours, detailed itinerary planning and general advice regarding your adventure in Vietnam. We guarantee there's something for everyone, from our famous Ha Long Bay Castaways Island trip to cultural trips in the northern regions of the country, like Mai Chau, Sapa and Ha Giang. 
Let make your travels as easy and enriching as possible!

Notable tours:

Buffalo Run Hanoi – Hoi An 7d/6n ($500)

Castaways 3d/2n (Daily $229)

Mai Chau 3d/2n (Daily $125)

Hanoi Backstreet Tour (3x Daily $50)

Farm Day (Daily $37)

Hoa Lu/Tam Coc (Daily $38)


Travel with us!

Hanoi isn't the only place you will find us! With 10 locations throughout the country, there is always a VBH close by. Our travel team can help you plan and book your stay in the central and southern regions on Vietnam as well as book any tours in and around those areas.

Our locations:

VBH Original - Hanoi

VBH Downtown - Hanoi 

Castaways Island - Halong Bay

Mai Chau Homestay - Mai Chau Valley 

Hue Hostel & Sports Bar - Hue

VBH Hoi An

Kahuna's Hoi An Beach Club

Ninhvana - Nha Trang

Mui Ne Backpacker Villiage 

Saigon Hostel & Rooftop Bar