So I’ve decided to do some travel blog type posts to inspire you to visit Vietnam 🙂 We really loved Hanoi and I think it’s a great city to get your feet wet in this very large and complex country. Here are some of the activities and sights we really enjoyed.
The Old Quarter
Definitely stay in the Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake. Here you get the best atmosphere and streets – crazy traffic, sidewalks cluttered with people selling food, cooking, washing, riding bikes, welding metal – tons of market stalls selling everything you could possibly imagine. Some streets are dedicated solely to one type of item and are aptly named – for example, “shoe” or “toy” street. Lots of fun to look around, although the manic pace will get tiring for young kids after a while. We found a great cafe and sat on a second-storey balcony sipping passionfruit juice just watching it all go by.
The Water Puppet Theatre
The kids LOVED this. We went to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (located at the Hoan Kiem Lake) which is probably pricey, seeing how you can see it for free at various places including the Museum of Ethnology. But I think it was worth it because the show we saw was inside and they could do more with fireworks and lights and other effects. And anyway the tickets were less than $6 each – so cheap as chips really.
Hoan Kiem Lake
This is a beautiful lake and has the Temple of the Jade Mountain (worth a visit) and the Turtle Tower. Its nice to just walk around as well, especially at night when it’s all lit up.
Museum of Ethnology
It might sound dry as dust but this is a fascinating place as it contains both indoor and outdoor exhibits detailing the history and culture of the 54 ethnic groups which comprise Vietnam. The kids really enjoyed the outdoor exhibits – reconstructions of the types of houses various ethnic groups lived in, like this one:
Truly fascinating. And right over the road is…
Cong Vien Nghia Do Park
A fantastic park in Hanoi. The kids loved it here. It has a beautiful lake, a clean and huge play area with lots of equipment, including a zipline, and motorised cars for hire for less than $1 each. It was a good way to spend a few hours and let the kids burn off some energy.
Thu Le Park
We drove by this park on our way elsewhere and hilariously could not find out how to get back there for some time. We initially thought it was Lenin Park and went there (much to the surprise of the taxi driver), but that was pretty disappointing as it was just a square with a statue of Lenin (although it did lead to some fascinating conversations with the kids about Communism). Anyway we finally found the right place and it was great, although I will say I found the zoo a little sub-standard, which I guess is to be expected (it was hard seeing the tigers in such a small cage). Loads of rides, roller coasters, paddle boats etc etc all for about a dollar each. Little Miss was asked to pose for photos with tourists everywhere she went and one Chinese couple asked Souljourneyboy if he would hold their baby for a photograph! Oddly, we saw hardly any western tourists.
Hoa Lo prison
Nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American POWs during the Vietnam War (or the American War as it is called in Vietnam), the prison was initially used by French colonists for Vietnamese political prisoners, and is now a museum.
It details the lives, torture methods and barbaric practices of the French against the Vietnamese and is probably not for young kids. Ours were OK, although I did keep Little Miss out of the room which houses the guillotine used for executions. Picasso and Bookworm were old enough to handle it and again, the visit lead to interesting and important conversations. There is one room dedicated to explaining how the Vietnamese treated their American prisoners which is propaganda at its finest. If you believed the DVD that was playing it would be hard to see why any Americans wanted to go home, as they were treated so well as POWs 🙂
To be honest you can probably get better souvenir type items at the regular day shops but nothing beats the atmosphere of a night market. The kids absolutely loved it and Souljourneyboy even tried some street food.
Even though this is some hours from Hanoi, most people visit Halong from Hanoi as a two-day one night or two-night side-trip. Absolutely spectacular. The limestone caves were amazing, as was sailing around the floating fishing villages in bamboo boats. The cruise ship we were on also had fun things like a cooking class where the kids learned to make Vietnamese spring rolls, and a spa where I had a massage – winner. We were glad though we just did the one-night trip, I think with the kids that was enough. And we also made some really nice friends – a couple of fellow Aussies who were travelling from Melbourne.
All in all, we really enjoyed Hanoi. I think I really liked that it was a nice way to start – you don’t get hassled so much by people trying to sell you things, so you can ease into it slowly. Souljourneyboy and I would have liked to have seen the The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum but travelling with kids sometimes means you have to choose the park over the museum 🙂
If anyone else has travelled to Hanoi, I’d love to hear your favourite spots!