Dating back more than 1,000 years, Hanoi is a city rich with history. While Hanoi is a fascinating place to experience, touch, interact, and expand your knowledge of history, it is not the best place to learn history. To get the most out of your short visit, you must do your homework before you arrive. Many exhibits and landmarks have limited or no English translation. Read as much as you can and plan well so that you can hit the ground running!
Hate boring history books? Me too! John loves them and, to get me interested, he will often recommend a historical fiction novel to whet my appetite. A great novel that gives an overview of Vietnam’s history from the French colonial era until the last helicopter leaves Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War is Saigon by Anthony Grey (don’t let the name fool you, it involves Hanoi). It is a great starting point, and you will see many of the topics and history covered in the book in the many museums in Hanoi.
Times and prices of attractions: Times, prices, days closed, hours closed, etc., all change very quickly in Hanoi! We found much of the information online to be incorrect, even from very reputable resources. English language portions of some of the official websites may not be updated. Research carefully and build some flexibility into your schedule. Keep in mind that many museums close for lunch, and many are closed on Mondays and Fridays.
Scams: Minor scams are very prevalent in Hanoi. Most are very easily avoided. Here are two that we experienced on our trip:
- Short-changing – Rather than being short changed when using large bills (500,000), we found that in making change, they gave us too much back. This happened twice; at the Ho Chi Minh Museum and a convenience store. It seems that locals have just as hard of a time as tourists with all of those zeros! Only once were we short-changed on purpose. John received his change at a convenience store and noticed that the clerk moved a 10,000 dong bill to another section of the tray (a common tactic). We were short 2,000 dong / 0.1 USD, so we were most likely the fifth victim.
- Rigged Taxi Meters – We used taxis seven times and had only one with a super-charged taxi meter. After dinner in a different part of Hanoi, we had a hard time finding a taxi that would go to the Old Quarter. After several attempts, we found a taxi that would take us. After one kilometer, we realized the meter total was more than double the proper rate. We monitor our drivers using MapFactor and can track the distance covered as well as the route – trust, but cut the cards anyway! We asked the driver to stop once we were in an area with more taxis, paid the inflated fare, and hailed another taxi.
For our visit to Hanoi, we stayed at Golden Sun Suites (1,205,860 VND / 54 USD per night) in the heart of the Old Quarter. We could not have been happier with our choice! The room was spectacular and the staff was great
Taxi from Noi Bai International Airport to Golden Sun Suites (350,000 VND, 15.6 USD) – We had originally planned to take the Vietnam Airlines Shuttle Bus (40,000 VND / 1.8 USD each) from the airport to their office on Quang Trung and walk 15-20 minutes to our hotel. It quickly became apparent that they make their money by charging extra to drop everyone at their individual hotels. We would have had to ride around the Old Quarter until everyone else had been dropped off. That, combined with the fact that they were not leaving until the van was full, made us decide to negotiate for a taxi. We ended up with a very nice, comfortable SUV that delivered us right to the hotel door. Well worth the extra $12!
After checking into our hotel, we took a nice walk around Hoan Kiem Lake before heading toward the infamous Hanoi Hilton Prison.
Hanoi Hilton Prison / Hoa Lo Prison (30,000 VND / 1.3 USD each) – Open daily 8 AM – 5 PM, closed for lunch from 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM. The museum focuses on two main time periods:
- Hoa Lo Prison under the French colonialist regime in Vietnam
- Captured American pilots in Hoa Lo Prison (1964-1973)
After having heard so much about the Hanoi Hilton, it was fascinating to see it in person and to learn of its origins as a French Colonial prison constructed in the late 1800’s to detain Vietnamese political prisoners.
While most of the museum is dedicated to showing the oppression suffered by Vietnamese prisoners at the hands of the French, there are interesting displays about the American pilots who were imprisoned at Hoa Lo during the Vietnam War.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (100,000 VND / 4.5 USD each) – For current show times, check out their website. We love water puppet shows! This show lasts about 50 minutes and was very enjoyable.
Weekend Night Market – Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 7 PM – 11 PM, the night market runs through the Old Quarter, starting from Hang Dao Street and running north to the edge of Dong Xuan Market. During the market hours, the streets are closed to traffic, making it a great place to stroll and people watch.
After our hotel breakfast, we headed on foot to Ba Dinh Square to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Historical Site, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (free) – Open 8 AM – 11 AM, closed Monday and Friday. Closed October and November when his embalmed body is flown to Russia for annual maintenance. No cameras or large bags are allowed. Storage is available at the entrance for you to check them. Modest dress is required, and rules are strictly enforced by armed guards.
We arrived very early and had less than a twenty minute wait in line to view Ho Chi Minh’s body in the mausoleum. Arrive late and the line stretches around the block with a very long wait time. You have about 1 minute of actual viewing time as you walk through the mausoleum.
Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Historical Site (40,000 VND / 1.8 USD each) – Open every day 7:30 AM – 4 PM, closed for lunch from 11 AM – 1:30 PM. The palace was built between 1900 and 1906 by the French colonialists for the General Indochina Governor. It is currently used for official receptions and is not open to the public.
For symbolic reasons, Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the grand structure and instead built a traditional Vietnamese stilt house to live in from 1958 to his death in 1969.
Ho Chi Minh Museum (40,000 VND / 1.6 USD each) – Open 8 AM – 4 PM, closed for lunch from 11:30 AM – 2 PM. Closed Monday and Friday. This museum is dedicated to the life of Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam’s revolutionary struggle against foreign powers.
Huu Tiep Lake and the Downed B-52 (free) – After our visit to Ba Dinh Square, we walked through the narrow alleys to Huu Tiep Lake. The walk is pleasant, and it is fascinating to get a glimpse of daily life.
In tiny Huu Tiep Lake are the remains of the wreckage of a B-52 that was shot down on December 27, 1972.
We sat at the Cafe B52 and had a a cup of coffee while taking in the grim reminder of the Vietnam War.
West Lake / Hồ Tây (free) – After our coffee, we continued our walk to West Lake to have lunch at a floating restaurant. Hanoi’s largest freshwater lake, West Lake has a circumference of 17 km and has lots of recreational and site-seeing points of interest. Unfortunately, we only took a short walk along the south shore and ate lunch at one of the floating restaurants, so we did not get to see any of them! Next time…
Floating Restaurant Tay Long 2-3 – We had a delicious and relaxing meal overlooking the lake.
Museum of the Victory over the B-52 Strategic Air Raid (20,000 VND / 1 USD each – or free?) – Open 8 AM – 4:30 PM, closed for lunch 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM. Closed Monday and Friday. When we visited the Museum, there was not a person in it – not an employee or visitor. As a result, there was no one to collect money. We were there for about one hour exploring the exhibits. Inside there are many interesting and informative photographs, documents, and artifacts.
The outdoor portion of the museum showcases weapons and aircraft used in the defense of Hanoi and an American B-52 that was shot down over Hanoi.
Hanoi Opera House (free) – Hanoi Opera House is located on the August Revolution Square. Construction of the French designed theatre was started in 1901 and was finished in 1911. Unfortunately, there were no performances during our visit. It is still a great place to visit to photograph and appreciate the architecture.
Hanoi Stock Exchange – Located across from the Hanoi Opera House is the Hanoi Stock Exchange. Many people are surprised to find that Vietnam has two stock exchanges; one in Hanoi and one in Ho Chi Minh City. These are great symbols of the fact that Viet Nam is in the transition to a market economy.
Hanoi Police Museum (Free) – Open 8 AM – 5 PM every day. The Hanoi Police Museum is top-notch and was one of our favorites in Hanoi. It is extremely informative, and the displays are explained clearly in Vietnamese, English and French.
The museum is divided into four sections:
- 1945-1954: Protecting the young Revolutionary Government and taking part in the resistance against French colonialism.
- 1954-1975: Maintaining order and security during the American War.
- 1975-1986: Hanoi Police prior to the reforms of the country.
- 1986-Present: Hanoi Police from the reforms to the present day.
Stardust E-Gaming Club at Melia Hanoi and Win’s Club Casino at Mövenpick Hotel Hanoi – After visiting the Hanoi Police Museum we took a little time-out to play roulette. Both casinos were nice but we preferred Win’s Club – perhaps because we were able to recoup our losses from Stardust!
Tirant Hotel’s Skyline Lounge Rooftop Bar – Skyline lounge is the perfect place to get a birds-eye view of chaotic Hanoi. It is fun to see if your mental map reconciles with reality!
We love the architecture of Hanoi. One unusual and distinguishing characteristic is the very thin buildings, the result of taxation based upon building width.
Ha Long Bay 1 Day Tour (1,117,500 VND / 50 USD each) – We booked our day trip to Ha Long Bay through our hotel. The tour was operated by Wati Travel. We had a great time and enjoyed seeing the Ha Long Bay UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While the main reason that we opted for a 1 day tour vs an overnight cruise is that we were in Hanoi for history and culture; the poor safety record of the cruise ships and the bait-and-switch tactics used by tour operators did influence our decision. Very often people are transported to a ship different than the one shown online or in the brochure. Here are some photos of boats that we took that are a cause for concern:
Vietnamese Women’s Museum (30,000 VND / 1.3 USD each) – Open 8 AM – 5 PM every day. The Vietnamese Women’s Museum is dedicated to researching, collecting, and exhibiting the life stories and experiences of Vietnamese women.
With over 1000 objects displayed, this museum is divided into three sections:
- Women in Family: Explores the roles and responsibilities of women in Vietnamese families.
- Women in History: Vividly recounts the sacrifices and achievements of female soldiers and civilians during the two resistance wars.
- Women’s Fashion: Showcases diverse Vietnamese fashions.
Movie Vong Eo 56 (Waist 56) at AEON Mall (75,000 VND / 3.3 USD each) – Keeping with the day’s theme of women’s history, we took a taxi to AEON Mall (140,000 VND, 6.2 USD) to watch the true life movie about model Ngoc Trinh – Vong Eo 56. The movie is a rags to riches story about a young woman who becomes a famous Vietnamese model. Ngoc Trinh plays herself in the movie, and it is a very fun show!
Hoa Lu and Tam Coc 1 Day Tour (1,005,750 VND / 45 USD each) – We booked our day trip to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc through our hotel. The tour was operated by Wati Travel. We really enjoyed this trip. If I had to choose between this trip and Ha Long Bay, I would choose this one.
In the morning, we explored Hoa Lu which was the capital of Vietnam under the Dinh and Le Dynasties during the 10th and 11th centuries. We visited two temples on the grounds of the old royal palace; one is dedicated to King Dinh Tien Hoang, the other to King Le Dai Hanh.
After eating lunch, we took a boat ride around the karsts and through caves on the Ngo Dong River. Tam Coc is beautiful and is often referred to as the Ha Long Bay on land.
After the boat ride, we took a bike ride through the rice paddies.
Vietnam Museum of Revolution (40,000 VND / 1.6 USD each, price includes admission to Vietnam National Museum of History and vice versa) – Open daily 8 AM – 5 PM, closed for lunch from 12 PM – 1:30 PM. Closed the 1st Monday of the month. This museum is fantastic!
Topics covered include:
- 1858–1930: The National liberation movements of the Vietnamese against French troops before the establishment of the Vietnamese Communist Party.
- 1930–1975: The National independence struggle of the Vietnamese under the leadership of the Communist Party.
- 1976–1994: The social construction of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.
Vietnam National Museum of History (40,000 VND / 1.6 USD each, price includes admission to Vietnam Museum of Revolution and vise versa) – Open daily 8 AM – 5 PM, closed for lunch from 12 PM – 1:30 PM. Closed the 1st Monday of the month.
The major exhibitions are arranged chronologically from primitive life in Vietnam to the August 1945 Revolution and the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The museum is divided into four sections:
- Vietnam in the prehistory: Focusing on the formation and development of the primitive society in Vietnam during the Stone Age (30,000-40,000 years to 4,000-5,000 years ago).
- The early national construction to the Tran Dynasty.
- Vietnam from the Ho Dynasty to the August 1945 Revolution.
- Collection of the Champa stone sculptures.
This museum’s scope was way outside our area of knowledge and opened many new doors for us to explore. We took lots of photos of the displays and signage and are already busy reading and researching the ancient history of Viet Nam!
In the evening, we exchanged our remaining VND for USD through our hotel in preparation for our return flight. Our hotel, Golden Sun Suites, exchanges currency at the current spot rate – better than you can get at the airport or currency exchanges. This is a very useful service!
Taxi to Noi Bai International Airport (335,400 VND / 15 USD) – We arranged our early morning taxi through our hotel.
We have been told by many people that they would not “waste” more than two days in Hanoi. They use Hanoi as an entry point and immediately rush off to other parts of Vietnam. We found quite the opposite! We ran out of time with five full days in the city and feel that we have just scratched the surface. We returned with a deeper understanding of Vietnamese history, and our short visit has given us many more points of history to study. We eagerly look forward to returning!
- Time of Year: April 2016
- Length of Stay: 8 Days, 7 Nights
- Total Trip Cost – 2 People: 1120 USD* (Exactly the same as our Saigon trip!)
- Cost Per Day / Per Person: 70 USD*
- Visa Information: Vietnam Embassy
*Excluded from the cost analysis:
- International Airfare – International airfare is not included because fares vary depending on your starting location.
GPS Coordinates: Note: We pre-loaded MapFactor with the coordinates of places that we wanted to visit. Often it would not pickup our position until we started to walk. Generally after less than a block it would start working accurately. To display the best route, remember to switch from auto to pedestrian mode. Always carry a map as backup! Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Click to expand
Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) @ 21.21342,105.803373
Golden Sun Suites @ 21.032733,105.849394
Hoan Kiem Lake @ 21.031554,105.851658
Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton) @ 21.024933,105.846441
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre @ 21.031746,105.853571
Weekend Night Market @ 21.033395,105.85092
Ba Dinh Square @ 21.037448,105.836001
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum @ 21.036806,105.834758
Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Historical Site @ 21.039191,105.834717
Ho Chi Minh Museum @ 21.035603,105.832587
Huu Tiep Lake and the Downed B-52 @ 21.037946,105.826905
West Lake (Hồ Tây) @ 21.042060,105.827047
Floating Restaurant Tay Long 2-3 @ 21.044075,105.833004
Museum of the Victory over the B-52 Strategic Air Raid @ 21.034969,105.825999
Hanoi Stock Exchange @ 21.024274,105.856823
Hanoi Opera House @ 21.024293,105.857438
Hanoi Police Museum @ 21.024721,105.845981
Stardust E-Gaming Club @ 21.024067,105.848517
Win’s! Casino @ 21.024962,105.844092
Skyline Lounge Rooftop Bar @ 21.033107,105.852392
Ha Long Bay @ 20.954924,107.068281
Vietnamese Women’s Museum @ 21.023418,105.851644
AEON Mall @ 21.026685,105.899523
Hoa Lu Ancient Capital @ 20.284915,105.906534
Tam Coc Wharf @ 20.215689,105.937229
Vietnam Museum of Revolution @ 21.025354,105.859005
Vietnam National Museum of History @ 21.024713,105.859756
click here to collapse
Note: We pre-loaded MapFactor with the coordinates of places that we wanted to visit. Often it would not pickup our position until we started to walk. Generally after less than a block it would start working accurately. To display the best route, remember to switch from auto to pedestrian mode. Always carry a map as backup!
You can copy and paste the latitude and longitude into Google Earth, your browser, or into your GPS.
*Disclaimer- ALWAYS verify locations, transportation routes, GPS coordinates, etc. Errors are made, routes changed, sometimes we are just plain wrong. No one knows what you like more than you. If the trip is worth doing, it is worth doing right! Do your homework.