Guide to Vietnam – Hanoi day 3
First stop: Thang Long Royal Citadel. Several Vietnamese dynasties have resided here in this royal palace. The glory days of the palace have certainly passed, with prevalent marks of gunshots and bombs, and much of what is left is in various states of disrepair. Don’t come here expecting the same grandeur as Beijing’s Forbidden City, or sheer size of the temple city Angkor Wat, instead tread here with an open eye to appreciate the hardship, destruction and after effects of war and colonialism. The long process of restoration (and reconstruction) has begun, but still remains one of the many places you can get a glimpse on how resilient the Vietnamese people are, through periods of French colonialism, successive wars, agricultural destruction and economic stagnancy.
If you know much about the Uncle Ho and the independence of Vietnam, you might be interested visiting him at his final resting place – Ho Chi Minh mausoleum – where he lays embalmed and on display to the public. A little creepy yes; but by no means a deterrent for the millions of local Vietnamese who each year flock to see their once inspiring leader. The memorial itself is a landmark in its own right.
Also dedicated to Ho Chi Minh, the museum next door is a little more family friendly, providing a glimpse of Vietnam’s revolutionary struggle against foreign powers. It is quite new, and showcases a jarring mix of Ho Chi Minh’s legacy, modern artwork, war artefacts and communist propaganda.
It gets pretty busy at both places on weekends (huge lines expected), so try planning your trip during the week. It must have been a Saturday or Sunday when I went, as the crowds were insane. We actually ended up accidently stumbling through the “exit” gates, and got in without lining up. (*ahem, definitely would not recommend trying this! Do so at your own risk.) Also be wary a lot of “attractions” like museums close for lunch-break, so please plan around that.
Sugar cane (nước mía) to replenish the sugar stores. These can be found at numerous street stalls. Just look for the sugar cane pressing machine. I generally had mine without ice (or minimal ice), in fear of getting that bad batch of ice. Make sure you eat your fair share of fresh fruit, herbs, fish and meats. Everything is super fresh, and usually picked / caught that morning. Obviously the same cannot be said if you bought stuff from supermarkets, of which there are few around anyway.
Afternoon snack at Banh Cuon ky dong. The banh cuon (steamed rice paper rolls) were pretty good, but not as amazing as those at Banh Cuon Tuyet Nhung. The herbal chicken soup (that many of the locals were happily slurping away on) was let’s just say interesting.
Round two: Bun Cha and Nem Cua Be, at Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim. Those crab stuffed spring rolls (nem cua be) were to die for – golden and crispy on the outside, bursting at the seams with crab meat and pork. Don’t be fooled by the bowl of “soup” served alongside – it is a light-tangy mix of nuoc cham, sliced green papaya and broth that is used for dipping everything in.
Trying one thing would never really be enough, so dish two: chargrilled pork patties served straight into the broth (see above) is unctuous, garlicky and charred. So simple but absolutely satisfying.
A few other landmark places West of Hoan Kiem lake: Temple of Literature – for a bit of quiet serenity in an otherwise jam packed day, St Joseph Cathedral, Hang Trong (collection of local art galleries).
There is no doubt that Duc My‘s eel noodle soup (mien luon nuoc) is one of my favourite places near my hotel for a quick and very cheap bite. The main ingredient is deep-fried golden and shredded eel meat.
A mound of this crunchy, mildly salty, and moreish protagonist is heaped onto whatever dish you decide to order. Whether it be with glass noodle with piping hot soup (can be served cold/dry without soup on those sweltering days) or stir fried (mien luon kho).
6.30pm every Friday / Saturday and Sunday night a 1km stretch of one of the arterial roads in Hanoi’s city centre is shut down for a night market. From Dong Xuan market all the way down to the northern tip of Hoan Kiem lake (passing through Hang Dao, Hang Ngang, Hang Duong & Hang Giay streets). It is uncharacteristically non-touristy and as such the the shopping selections here aren’t terrific, but the actual festive experience of rubbing shoulders alongside locals is definitely worth the trip.
- [Thang Long Royal Citadel]
- [Ho Chi Minh museum & mausoleum]
Museum – 0800-1130, 1400-1600, closed Mon & Fri afternoons.
Mausoleum – 0800-1100, closed Mon & Fri. Last entrance 10:15.
P.S. Avoid weekends & public holidays as it can get extremely busy.
- [Temple of Literature]
Where: Văn Miếu, Đống Đa, Hanoi. Enter via Nguyen Thai Hoc.
- [Banh Cuon ky dong]
11 Tống Duy Tân, Cửa Nam, Hoan Kiem District
- [Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim]
67 Đường Thành, Hàng Gai, Hoan Kiem District
- [Duc My]
18 Lãn Ông, Hàng Đào, Hoan Kiem District
(corner shop Lan Ong + Hang Duong. Signage is pretty obscure)
- [Night Market]
Where: along Hang Dao, Hang Ngang, Hang Duong &Hang Giay streets.
When: from 6:30pm every Friday, Saturday & Sunday night
My map of Hanoi:
For more Vietnam travel posts: