I’m sure if you are visiting this City you will have done your homework on which tourist sites to visit. But what about the more unusual sights Hanoi has on offer? We had the fortune to be here during the Chinese New Year so it was a little but quieter (understatement of the year) than an average day. In fact it was nearly deserted when we landed. We walked around at 6am, bleary eyed trying to stay awake and fend off jet lag. Luckily I had done my research and had several places within walking distance for us to meander to.
Apart from the usual tourist sites I wanted to get a feel for the local side of the City, and the best way to do this is walk/hire a bike. Here are the top attractions you must see plus a few more unusual sights you may not know existed in Hanoi.
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Hoan Kiem lake
This beautiful and peaceful lake right in the centre of the City has many attractive qualities, some of which are unusual to some. We wandered along and passed by many a local doing exercises and massages on each other. A bridge leads to Ngoc Son Temple, lit up red at night and which you are able to visit. At the other end is a fountain, all giving a very peaceful atmosphere whilst slightly unusual sights are going on all around you in Hanoi. If you are in to people watching, this is the place for you!
The Unusual Practise of Mummification
No trip to Hanoi is complete without visiting one its most famous unusual sights. The Mausoleum is where ex President Ho Chi Mihn is on display I’m a glass casket after being preserved for over 50 years! No cameras are allowed inside and it is heavily guarded inside and out. Utmost respect much be honoured when visiting this unusual attraction. On a normal day the queues to enter are horrendous, but due to it being New Year we more or less walked straight in! Take a jumper, its very chilly inside. Although you are not in there long as there is no standing still, you must keep walking. There is a lovely sprawling garden on site with very unusual plants to look at. You feel as if you are very far away from the bustling City surround you.
Walk Across The Road Like A Local
This isn’t unusual I hear you cry. Well if you haven’t visited Vietnam yet you will have no idea what I’m talking about. The traffic is unlike anything you will have experienced in your life. More scooters are on the roads than you could ever imagine possible, and there seem to not really be any place to cross! Unusual? No, just damn dangerous! At first we would spot a local who looked like they were about to cross the road and we stuck to them like glue as they easily navigated the chaos. As the days went on we realised you just have to walk. The traffic isn’t going terribly fast and they seem to just flow around you, like water going around rocks down a river. It really is an experience! Just trust in the fact you ‘probably’ won’t get run over!
No this is definitely not a hotel. This is the old Hanoi prison (Hao Lo), used during the Vietnam War to hold Prisoners Of War, whom nicknamed it the ‘Hilton Hanoi’. This is now a museum and is definitely worth a visit to get a feel for the terrible conditions the POW’s were kept in.
The Tricky-To-Find Train Street
The train line runs right through the city but is only used a couple of times a day. In-between the locals use the line to cook, clean, dry washing, play games & just enjoy life. We came across this particular crossing which had a little bar on the corner, set up with a beer and waited for the train. It’s best to know roughly what time the train comes or you could have a long wait! All of a sudden a traffic cop with a whistle appeared and started to shut the road to the scooters. Literally up until the last minute they were squeezing past in front of the oncoming train. Once the train had gone we then took a walk along the track knowing we weren’t going to get mowed down and got an insight in to local life. Fascinating!
Downed B52 & Cycle around West Lake
Even though this was a quick stop it was one of my favourite sights as it was unusual and poignant at the same time. I believe the lake the plane crashed in to was significantly larger at the time of the war. Now it has been reduced to a small pond where the plane has been left and there is even a little café there for tourists to have a drink at once they have found it in the little streets you need to go down. Check out the map below for the exact location, it is well worth a trip.
Hanoi’s One Pillar Pagoda & the Unusual sights displayed on the wall
The One Pillar Pagoda is unusual due to it being the only pagoda with one pillar in the world (I believe at the time of writing). However this is not what caught our attention here. On the wall next to the pagoda there were very unusual pictures depicting what bad things would happen to you if you did certain things. I wont spoil them all but some of them were hilarious, others very gruesome!
Unusual Themed Street Markets
Take your time to just walk around the City, especially the Old Quarter, it really is very safe. We came across a ‘car garage’ which consisted of a bunch of men, a few tools and small generator at the side of the road, just waiting for a customer. They were drinking beer so hopefully one came along soon or who knows what could happen to their vehicle lol. We passed markets, stalls, shops, you name it, they sold it. This weird yellow thing is apparently a fruit!
The Old Quarter – Hanoi
Such a fascinating insight in to a life very different from our own. One tourist attraction here is St Josephs Cathedral. Wander the streets of the Old Quarter, get your bearings and take in the sights and smells of local life. For a tour which takes in all of the sights visit this link.
Temple Of Literature – The Hanoi University
One of the main tourist spots is the Temple Of Literature. This is a beautiful example of Vietnamese architecture and was a University at one point. It is depicted on the 10000 Dong note too. There are many turtle statues and people come here give offerings and to pray.
Have A Sundowner at a Rooftop Bar
There are several places you can get a good view of Hanoi from above and one of them is the Roof Top Café (By Hoan Kiem Lake). Our feet were too tired from walking all day so we found a convenient spot right next to our hotel (The Movenpick below) where the roof top bar gave us a fab view of Hanoi in the mist (it was January!).
Unusual Traditional Coffee
Try a traditional Vietnamese coffee made with egg and condensed milk. Mr C was braver than me and loved it! Excuse the tired face, we had just come off of a 12 hour flight and were now in a completely different time zone – hence why we went straight for a coffee!
Cycle Around West Lake
Hire some bikes and get involved in the traffic, even though the Hanoi traffic is crazy! We didn’t once feel unsafe as the traffic just flows around you. You just need to be brave. Around the lake we passed people selling the traditional New Years trees with orange fruit on them. There is a dragon sculpture and Hanoi’s own version of Holland with a tulip garden! This was definitely a highlight of our trip & our guide was amazing.
Grab a Local Beer
After a fantastic day seeing unusual sights in Hanoi, treat yourself and grab a local beverage to cool down!
* Mr C’s Favourite Hanoi Sight*
My husbands favourite sight in Hanoi was Ho Chi Minh’s modest house on stilts he had built so he could move out of his Palace and live a more simpler life. This house can be found in the grounds of the Mausoleum which are beautiful. Within the grounds is an unusual sight in itself, there are very odd roots growing upwards seemingly with no purpose!
Visit Haylong Bay
Only a couple of hours from Hanoi is Haylong Bay, Vietnams stunning rock studded bay, a must-see when visiting Vietnam. Float around this gorgeous bay with Indochina Sails for a unforgetable experience of a lifetime.
Where To Find These Unusual Sights in Hanoi?
I’ve created you a route which you can cycle if you are brave enough in the crazy traffic. We did it so I can hand on heart say it is possible. You will also see so much more on your bike than you would with other transport. Immerse yourself and see some amazing things.
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