Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam, situated in the north of the country and the second largest city, after Ho Chi Minh City. Hanoi has been the capital of the North Vietnam for over 1,000 years and was the former capital of French Indochina and later North Vietnam prior to reunification in 1976. There are many intriguing sights and things to do in Hanoi.
Hanoi sits on the banks of the Red River, which gives the city a cooler and more temperate climate than South Vietnam. With a population of over 6 million people, the city can feel crowded, although the wide tree-lined Colonial Boulevard in central Hanoi’s Old Quarter offers a welcome respite from the jostling crowds.
There are a wealth of attractions and cultural sites – Hanoi boasts over 600 pagodas and temples! Here are our top suggestions:
1. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum – The mausoleum opened in 1975 in honor of the national hero, Ho Chi Minh who lies embalmed within the building. He actually asked for a cremation and is instead housed within a Soviet-style mausoleum which is open to the public with free admission. Be prepared to queue quietly, go through security scanners and leave any fruit behind. You can also watching a changing of the guard routine which is carried out wordlessly.
2. Presidential Palace – The former residence of the French Governor General, Designed in the Italian Renaissance style, the site also displays the former residence of ‘Uncle Ho’, or Ho-Chi-Minh, the former leader and father to all Vietnamese citizens.
3. One Pillar Pagoda – A historic Buddhist temple which is regarded as one of Vietnam’s most iconic. As the name suggests it is a small timber temple perched on a single stone pillar and was commissioned in 1049 by the Emperor Lý Thái Tông.
4. Temple of Literature – The Temple of Literature site of one of Vietnam’s oldest Universities and dates back to circa 1070. Just one of the many things to do in Hanoi, this is now a Confucian Temple, one of many in the country but easily the most famous of all and is considered to be one of Hanoi’s finest historical sites.
5. Hanoi Hilton – No, not another hotel chain, but the ironic name given to the Hoa Lo Prison used by its most famous former residents, namely American Prisoners of war, including the Senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who spent parts of his five and a half years as a POW there. The site however dates back to the French colonial period (1886) and depicts much of its dark history in the remaining old buildings.
6. Ethnology Museum – It contains more than 10,000 objects, 15,000 black and white photos and hundreds of video tapes and cassettes which depict all aspects of life, activities, customs, and habits of the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam.
The museum has successfully recreated the daily life together with the religious rituals and the symbolic festivals of each ethnic group in Vietnam. Visitors have the opportunity to admire costumes, embroidery as well as outside stilt houses and habitats from the different groups.
All displayed objects mingle and supplement one another to create a colourful and diversified picture of Vietnamese culture. An open-air exhibition in the museum’s spacious and peaceful ground features ethnic houses from all over Vietnam.
7. Vietnam Women’s Museum – The museum displays rather recent history of women, such as women and ethnicity; women and the national struggle; Vietnam women association and the feminism; women and traditional costumes; and women’s cultural traits expressed through handicrafts.
There are also frequent exhibitions on contemporary women, such as women working as street vendors or women’s place in the family. The Vietnam Women’s Museum is definitely worth a few hour visit, especially for those keen on learning about culture and gender.
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