Experience the best of Hanoi and Halong Bay

Boats dotting the waters of Halong Bay, Vietnam

Zoe Macfarlane

Posted August 02, 2023

Discover history, culture, mouth-watering food and awe-inspiring beauty with a trip to Hanoi and Halong Bay in Vietnam.

Captivating Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, is a fascinating destination where history, culture, and cuisine converge in perfect harmony against a backdrop of hustle and bustle. Whether it’s wandering the labyrinth of narrow streets in Hanoi’s vibrant Old Quarter, discovering the city’s ancient monuments, savouring Hanoi’s distinct flavours, or watching locals go about their day around pretty Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi never fails to charm. 

Halong Bay offers a contrasting experience to Hanoi just 2.5 hours’ drive from the nation’s capital. Time spent sailing Halong Bay offers an idyllic way to take in the breathtaking panorama of limestone karst rocks jutting from still emerald waters. 


Discover Hanoi’s most significant landmarks

To know Hanoi's history is to know Hanoi with some key attractions providing the best snapshot of the city’s most significant historical moments.  

Walking into the Hanoi Citadel is like stepping back in time, thanks to the impressive well-preserved 11th-century ruins of the Thang Long Imperial Citadel. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Hanoi’s most important political and military monuments. The Ly Dynasty moved the capital here in 1010 and called it Thang Long. While you’re here, visit the nearby One Pillar Pagoda; it’s considered the iconic symbol of Hanoi.

For a more modern historical monument, visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where the Vietnamese still pay respects to their revered leader. Considered the founding father of modern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh is entombed in this grandiose structure, perhaps out of keeping with his austere lifestyle. You can see how basic Ho Chi Minh chose to live at his house on stilts, a few minutes' walk from the mausoleum.  

The sobering effects of war and Vietnam’s independence struggles are best understood at the former Hoa Lo Prison. Chilling exhibits reveal how this notorious French colonial prison was used against Vietnamese revolutionaries and American prisoners of war. 


Hoàn Kiếm Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is a city steeped in history and culture, with some ruins dating back to the 11th century. Image: Shutterstock.

Experience Hanoi’s vibrant culture

There’s no better place to soak up Hanoi’s vibrant cultural tapestry than in the historic Old Quarter. Brightly painted French colonial buildings stand sentry on narrow streets with ancient pagodas and temples dotted among them. The bustling street markets are chock-full of goodies, including local handicrafts and delicious street food. 

Don’t miss Hanoi’s culturally significant Temple of Literature. As Vietnam’s first national university, this 11th-century landmark is symbolic of the country’s commitment to knowledge and education. Wander the serene courtyards, admire the traditional architecture and stone steles, and reflect on the long-lasting impact of the Tempe of Literature.

Centuries ago, Vietnamese rice farmers used water puppetry to regale stories that the community believed kept their crops safe and harvest bountiful. Witness the masterful puppetry and traditional Vietnamese music at the unique Long Water Puppet Theatre. 

Check the events calendar at the impressive Hanoi Opera House to experience the ornate details, exquisite embellishments, and French colonial architecture firsthand. Inspired by the Paris Opera House, the Hanoi Opera House hosts various events, including classical concerts, dance performances, and local and international opera singers.

Delve into Hanoi’s art scene

Hanoi is not only Vietnam’s capital with a complex and fascinating history, but its beating cultural heart. As you can imagine, a city that places emphasis on education and knowledge has a similar commitment to the arts. 

Do you know your Nguyen Gia Tri from your Tran Van Can? Possibly not, but Hanoi's Fine Arts Museum will give you a crash course in Vietnam’s rich artistic heritage. Spanning the centuries, 2,000 paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and lacquerware reveal the country’s breadth of artistic expression. The museum has a dedicated section for contemporary art, too.

To see a work of modern architectural art, visit the observation deck at Lotte Center Hanoi. Featuring a glass-bottomed floor, skywalk, and stunning 360-degree views, this sustainability-focused skyscraper was inspired by the ao dai, Vietnam's national dress. 


Tourists drinking tea and coffee in the Hanoi Train Street, Vietnam

Culinary delights to try in Hanoi include ca phe trung (egg yolk and condensed milk coffee) and the local bia hoi draught beer . Image: Shutterstock.

Delight in Hanoi’s delectable cuisine

Vietnamese cuisine is a blend of five fundamental flavours – sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy – and Hanoi serves this in a range of must-try famous dishes. While fine-dining restaurants are plentiful (and enjoyable), many of Hanoi’s best dishes are found at the more basic establishments and street stalls. 

While there are two opinions on where phô originates from – Hanoi and Nam Dinh – the capital is renowned for its flavoursome noodle soup. Grab a bowl of the city’s best beef phô at Phô Bat Dan in the Old Quarter.

A favourite Hanoi speciality for its smoky flavours is bun cha. Vermicelli noodles make the bun and grilled pork patties make the cha. It’s served with herbs, pickled vegetables, and a tasty dipping sauce. Bun Cha Tuyet 34 is one of the city’s oldest bun cha restaurants. 

Another Hanoi classic, cha ca, is not to be missed, especially at Cha Ca La Vong, a Hanoi institution. Turmeric-marinated catfish is stir-fried and accompanies vermicelli noodles, peanuts, herbs, and limes for a flavoursome dish that will leave you wanting more. 

Drinks-wise, try Hanoi’s egg coffee and bia hoi. Ca Phe Trung is a bitter-sweet blend of whisked egg yolk and condensed milk poured over Vietnamese coffee. For an evening beverage, join the locals for freshly brewed beer, bia hoi. Beer Corner, in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, is considered the epicentre of bia hoi.


A traditional Vietnamese junk boat sailing through Halong Bay, Vietnam

Book a stay on a traditional junk boat to get the most out of your Halong Bay experience. Image: Shutterstock.

Sail the serene waters of Halong Bay  

One of the most impressive natural wonders in the region, mesmerising Halong Bay has 2,000+ limestone islands jutting from its serene waters, and it’s only 125 kilometres from Hanoi. 

This UNESCO World Heritage Listed region is best experienced on a one or two-night stay on a traditional junk boat. Soak up Halong Bay’s ethereal ambience while sailing the still waters of the Bac Bo Gulf. Visit karst caves, witness floating fishing villages, swim, kayak, and indulge in the bay’s sublime seafood. By night, Halong Bay dials up its dreamy vibes when the starlit sky casts an enchanting glow across the bay. 

Besides Halong Bay’s popular junk boat tours, you can take an unforgettable seaplane or helicopter tour over the towering karst cliffs. For an adrenalin rush, you can get even closer on a rock-climbing adventure. 

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