If you had like one week to spend in Hanoi, you would most certainly have plenty of time to go super touristy and explore every inch of this beautiful city.
But what if you only had TWO DAYS?!! Would that be enough time to check out Hanoi?
TWO DAYS was roughly all the free time I had when I visited Hanoi last month. And I think I did pretty OK to cover some of the more exciting places and also Vietnamese food in that short period of time. So I thought I’d share some of what I went through which could perhaps be a suggested itinerary for some of you who might be also going to Hanoi with only two days to spend.
When I did some pre-travel research on day tours in Hanoi, I realised that many of them offered similar half day or full day city tours – which only covered about 4-6 places of attraction for about USD20 onwards. Two cheaper alternatives would be to (1) Secure a personal tour with a local guide for FREE – which you only pay for the transport and also their meals (check out hanoifreetourguides.com or hanoikids.org for example); or (2) Book a motorcyle taxi (Xe Om) to take you go sightseeing. I tried Option 1 with several sites but the local guides were not available on my preferred dates. So in the end I opted for Option 2.
Hiring a Xe Om is quite simple and are considerably cheaper than official sanctioned tour packages too! They are usually just hanging out casually on their motorcycles by any street corner. I managed to negotiate a Xe Om to to take me on a 4-hour tour from about 9am onwards for only VND300,000 (about USD 15). Of course I would spend the first hour hunting down my football ticket. So for just the remainder THREE hours, these are the places I managed to cover. Of course, do bear in mind that riding with a Xe Om is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Apart from getting a bonus roller-coaster death-defying ride for FREE, it also allowed me to see many places in a ‘touch and go’ manner, and I only stopped longer in places I have more interest in. Also, So here we go….from about 10am to 1pm, your tour on a Xe Om should include:
1. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
2. Chua Tran Quoc (next to West Lake)
3. Long Bien Bridge
Quite over-rated attraction. Probably looks better from afar. It’s basically only an old rusty steel bridge but if you were to cross it, you might want to stop somewhere in the middle to catch some good shots of the river running underneath.
4. Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural
This is actually found along the walls of the main road heading up into Long Bien Bridge. Quite a pretty sight that stretches for a couple of miles. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any good shots from my Xe Om.
This is a sample of what it looks like
5. Hanoi Opera House
6. Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) – In the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake
7. Hoa Lo Prison
This was one of two stops I made which I spent a slightly longer time than usual. Perhaps I have been watching too many prison break-type of movies but whatever it is, I was just compelled to explore this prison. Overall, I have to say that visiting Hoa Lo was very enlightening. It provided a very thorough glimpse of the history of war-rich Vietnam and the significance of its prisoners here during those times. Of course, I would not recommend this tourist spot for families to bring small kids. Many areas that have been reconstructed for tourism purposes still had that dark, eerie and grim feel to it. Here are some pics from Hoa Lo:
8. Vietnam Military History Museum
I also spent slightly longer at this next stop. If you’re a war buff, this has to be a ‘must-visit’ place in Hanoi. They have quite an impressive collection of war vehicles, planes, armoury, cannons, etc. either collected or reconstructed from the Vietnam wars. My tip for those wanting to visit here would be to come EARLY! Strangely, they close at about 12-12.30pm so it would be best that this be positioned as early as possible in your itinerary.
9. Cột cờ Hà Nội (Flag Tower of Hanoi)
Right inside the grounds of the War Museum is this prominently positioned tower with the Vietnam flag proudly waving at the end of it. It required some climbing up the steep steps to get closer to the flag but in the end the exercise was quite worthwhile. 😀
10. Lenin Monument
11. St. Joseph’s Cathedral
12. Old Quarters
After completing your morning tour on the Xe Om, spend the rest of the afternoon walking along the streets of the Old Quarters to buy some souvenirs or just plain shopping!
For lunch, pick any road side stall and get yourself some delicious street food accompanied by ultra cheap Bia Hoi…
With half the day gone, what else is there to do in Hanoi for the evening of Day 1? Stay tuned for my proposed itinerary in my next blog!