The main Hanoi sights seem less important in this old French colonial capital than absorbing the atmosphere of a city on the move. The main attractions are found around the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex which lies some 3km away from the Old Quarter where you’ll probably be staying. We took a cyclo from our hotel to the Mausoleum then walked back via some other city attractions which we’ve listed below. You’ll have no problem getting a cyclo in the Old quarter, or anywhere else for that matter, as they’re all over the city touting for business (see Hanoi transport for more information).
The price agreed for this journey was 35,000 Dong ($2US) which is an absolute bargain for two reasons. First of all we got where we were going to and secondly we experienced the madness of sitting in the middle of Hanoi’s traffic (more than once I closed my eyes as we crossed junctions!). Anyway we survived and are here to tell the tale.
Below are the main Hanoi sights with a brief explanation and opening times. They are listed in the order in which we visited them.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Thursday & weekends from 8am to 11am
Closed: October & November (Opened in 2005 on December 5th)
This cold, grey block of marble is Ho Chi Minh’s final resting place where, in spite of his wishes to be cremated, his body lies in state similar to Lenin, Stalin and Mao, other great communist leaders before him.
It is difficult to appreciate the national reverence to Uncle Ho and pilgrims from all over Vietnam travel to visit his mausoleum in Hanoi. There are strict behavioural rules and dress code at the monument for instance you cannot take bags or cameras inside, you must not wear shorts or hats and you must enter in silence. Every year the embalmed corpse returns to Russia for maintenance so the mausoleum closes for a couple of months. You can still visit the mausoleum complex when the actual mausoleum is closed as there is more to see. Read on.
Presidential Palace & Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House
Opening Hours: 8am to 11am & 2pm to 4pm
Take the path that leads behind the mausoleum (you’re unlikely to go wrong with all the guards around) and enter grounds where you’ll come to the large, yellow Presidential Palace which was the former home of the Governor General of Indochina.
Next you’ll come to a pond stocked with carp before arriving at the stilt house which was reputedly the home and workplace of Ho Chi Minh from 1958 until his death in 1969. It seems the area would have been invitingly open to US bombers.
One Pillar Pagoda
Opening Hours: Daily from 6am to 6pm
Still within the complex continue beyond the gift shop and you’ll come to Hanoi’s One Pillar Pagoda which dates back to the 11th century.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
Opening Hours: 8am to 11am & 1.30pm to 4pm
Closed: Monday & Friday
As you’re heading away from the One Pillar Pagoda you’ll see the Ho Chi Minh Museum at the top of the steps ahead of you. This is a fascinating museum with displays of memorabilia and photographs showing the history of Vietnam’s and Ho Chi Minh’s fight against imperialism.
Leaving the museum we had decided to walk back to the Old Quarter via a few sights on the way. Approached by one of the men hanging around outside we were asked,”Do you want a motorbike?” “No thanks”, we replied. “What do you want?” was the next question to which I’m still formulating an answer. Having escaped the motorbike and cyclo riders we continued on and visited the following Hanoi attractions.
Fine Arts Museum
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sun from 9:15am to 5pm
The evolution of Vietnamese art is shown on the three floors of this former French Ministry of Information building.
Temple of Literature
Opening Hours: Daily from 8am to 5pm
Directly across the road from the Fine Arts Museum is the back wall of the Temple of Literature which is a haven of peace away from the incessant traffic and attention of cyclo riders. It is architecturally interesting and was the site of Vietnam’s first university. Certainly one of the Hanoi sights well worth finding time for. If you’re here around lunchtime you must go to the KOTO restaurant on the street you’ve just walked along from the Fine Arts Museum. They offer an excellent Vietnamese menu and all the chefs, waiters and kitchen staff were street kids who have been trained to work there and a fine job they do.
Hoan Kiem Lake
After lunch at KOTO we walked back to the Hoan Kiem Lake which dominates the centre of the capital. A stroll around the water edge is a welcome break from the chaotic and claustrophobic streets of the Old Quarter. Cross the wooden bridge at the northern end of the lake which takes you to the Ngoc Son Temple.
Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre
Performances at 6.30pm and 8pm daily and at 9.30am on Sundays.
On our last morning in Hanoi we went to see a show at the Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre where most spectators are Vietnamese children with their parents. The art form of water puppetry dates back over 1000 years when it was started by rice farmers in North Vietnam. The Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre have performed their art worldwide. Well worth an hour of your time.