If traveling to Vietnam, where would you like to start your jouney, Ho Chi Minh City or Ha Noi? If Ho Chi Minh City is well-known as a young and dynamic city, Ha Noi, on the other hand, is famous for its beauty of “thousand year of civilization”. In this article, we will share with you more information about Ha Noi, so you can have your own answer. In addition of its interesting history and culture, Ha Noi has many breath-taking landscape, long-standing handicraft villages, unique feature of folk lifestyle, colonial buildings or ancient pagodas,…
Looking over the span of Ha Noi history, in 1010, Ly Cong Uan – the first king of Ly dynasty, decided to established new capital in a new place, and named it Thang Long, which means “Rising Dragon”. Under the dynasties of Ly, Tran, Le Mac, Thang Long capital was the center of trade, culture and education of the North. When Nguyen king took control of power, the capital was transferred to Hue. Thang Long was then renamed for periods of time. Until 1831, it was renamed to Ha Noi (“Between Two Rivers”) by Minh Mang king, Nguyen dynasty. In 1902, Ha Noi became the center of Indochinese Federation and the French started to redeveloped this land. Through many years of war, Ha Noi was chose to be the capital of the North, and of the whole country after reunification up to this time.
Ha Noi is located in the Northwest of Red River Delta, sharing its border with Thai Nguyen and Vinh Phuc provinces in the North; Ha Nam and Hoa Binh provinces in the South; Bac Giang, Bac Ninh and Hung Yen provinces in the East; Phu Tho and Hoa Binh provinces in the West. After the expansion in 2008, the capital has the total area of 3,324.92 square kilometers, including 12 districts, 1 town and 17 wards.
The typical climate of Ha Noi is humid subtropical, which will be hot and rainy in summer, cold and drizzly in winter. However, compared with Ho Chi Minh City that there are only dry and rainy seasons distinctly, in Ha Noi, we can experience four seasons more clearly.
As of early 2019, the population of Ha Noi is aproximately more than 8 million people. The majority is King ethnic with more than 90 percent, and the other minor ethnic groups are Dao, Muong, Tay, etc. Similar to Ho Chi Minh City, most of people living in the capital are not native inhabitants. Because in a very long time ago when this place was still Thang Long, there were people from different regions emigrated to here for studying and living. That cultural habit is remained until now as Ha Noi is one of the largest hubs of commerce, education, culture and polity.
From other cities or countries, if you wish to travel to Ha Noi, the most convenient method is by plane. Ha Noi hosts Noi Bai International Airport. The distance from central capital to the airport is estimated 30 kilometers, hence you had better arrange vehicle to transfer to the downtown in advance. Below is means of transport list for you reference.
Mini Bus: almost domestic airlines operate buses from Noi Bai airport to central Hanoi and vice versa. The advantage of using the mini bus is to save money, but not active about the route as well as time because the bus only stops at assigned stations. In addition, sometimes you will have to wait because it must wait to have enough passengers for departure. Both Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet and Pacific Airlines sell the ticket at 40,000VND/person. You can get on the bus at T1 terminal.
Public Bus or Line Switching Bus: an undeniable advantage of this vehicle is cost saving. You may think of this way if you are not in a hurry or really know the route to the destination. Notice that during rush hour, the bus is quite crowded, no available seat, long travel time and you should be careful with your belongings.
Taxi: one of the most popular means of tranport. To take a taxi, you need to move to terminals T1 and T2. All companies operate 24/24. The fare from the airport to the center is about 350,000 – 400,000VND, from the center to the airport is about 200,000 – 250,000VND depending on pick up and drop off location.
Private Car: after getting out of the airport, you may receive an invitation from some drivers, as they have just driven passengers to the airport, and their cars have vacant seats on the way back to Ha Noi. By this way, you can deal a better price compared to regular taxis. However, this makes many people feel uncomfortable because the car is not under the control of any service company and you do not know anything about the driver or the route.
Grab Taxi: “technological taxi” is also an option for you, the outstanding advantage of this type is the convenience of using the quick and easy booking application. However, there are only few drivers choose this route, so you will have a little difficulty when booking a car, especially at night.
WHERE TO STAY
What is your purpose when coming to Ha Noi? Either for experience, business or relaxing, Ha Noi has variety of accommodations that suit your demand. If you like dynamic and bustling atmosphere, you can choose hotels in the center of the Old Quarter. If you are on business and prefer central hotels to conveniently going around, those located near Hoan Kiem Lake would be quite approriate. Hotels in the Ba Dinh district are very suitable for those who love to have their own space, quiet and peaceful; the nightlife activities in this area are not as busy as the Old Quarter area. Tay Ho District gathers range of comfort lux hotels which are suitable for relaxation.
JW Marriott Hotel Ha Noi
Sofitel Legend Metropole Ha Noi
Intercontinental Ha Noi Landmark 72
Lotte Hotel Ha Noi
Pullman Ha Noi Hotel
Sheraton Ha Noi Hotel
Moreover, there are thousand of moderate hotels, guest houses and homestays with reasonable price and suitable for anyone’s budget.
TO DO AND SEE
With a long history of development, Ha Noi has a huge amount of places for tourists to visit. Among them, there are some highlight spots that appear in must-visit attrations. If you are still wondering where to go, you can check this list of recommended destinations in Ha Noi.
Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the returned Sword): also known as Guom Lake (Sword Lake), it is located between the Old Quarter and the Western-style area. Legend has it that Le King defeated the Northern invaders by using the sword that golden turtle in the lake gave him. After defeating the enemy, the king returned the sword to the golden turtle. Hoan Kiem Lake got its name from there, you can also see the Turtle Tower in the heart of the lake. The breeze and fresh air has made the lake become an attractive place for not only tourists but also local people to come and enjoy, take wedding photos or do exercises in the morning.
Pedestrian Zone: lying right next to Hoan Kiem Lake, this area is most lively on weekend evenings. There are several free bands or dancing groups that have attract people to linger and enjoy street art with all genres such as Vietnamese folk music, popular music, hip hop, latin dances or choreography dance.
Van mieu Quoc Tu Giam (The Temple of Literature – Imperial Academy): metioning about the tradition of thousand-year of civilization, this temple is a pride of Hanoians (we often use this word to call local people). In here, they worship the Confucian masters and Chu Van An – a symbolic teacher of morality and virtue in Vietnamese education. The temple is also known as the first university in Vietnam. Nowadays, Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giam is the place to organize poetry festivals, a place to commend and reward excellent students, and a famous tourist attraction.
Address: 58 Quoc Tu Giam, Van Mieu, Dong Da, Ha Noi
The opening time and entrance fee are flexible depending on season. You can consult on the website at http://vanmieu.gov.vn/vi
St. Joseph’s Cathedral: located at 40 Nha Chung, Hoan Kiem district, the cathedral is a favorite place not only for the Catholic but also young people and visitors. It is designed in the style of European classical Gothic architecture with high walls, domes and many windows. Inside, the wooden sanctuary is carved with patterns combined with the system of colored glass paintings. The whole space gives you the feeling of being in an ancient castle.
Ha Noi Old Quarter: located next to Hoan Kiem lake, this is an interesting place for travelers who want to learn about Trang An culture and lifestyle. There is a large concentration of people living on 36 streets. Each street here mainly focuses on selling a certain type of goods. Talking about Ha Noi, people will immediately think of the Old Quarter. It is so famous that there is a poem written to describe the entire scenery and beauty of this area.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Ba Dinh Square: this is the place to keep the remains of the first president of Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh president. The mausoleum is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. When entering the mausoleum, you should dress neatly, do not bring electronic devices to record and maintain order. Ba Dinh is the largest square in Vietnam, located in front of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It is where Ho Chi Minh president pronouce the birth of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. This is also the place where parades take place on major Vietnamese holidays. The square is very wide, windy and airy, so it is a cool place for Hanoians. Especially on weekends, if you're lucky, you'll see the troops conducting the flag-lowering ritual at 9pm in a very formal and serious way.
Chua Mot Cot (One-Pillar Pagoda): the pagoda built in 1049 during the Ly dynasty is one of the symbol of Ha Noi along with Turtle Tower and Constellation of Literature Pavilion. Beside spiritual meaning, Chua Mot Cot is a unique architectural work that reflects ancient cultural values as well as nationality. The image of pagoda situates in the middle of the pond make us think of a beautiful lotus flourishing on the water surface. The pagoda is located in the park behind Ong Ich Khiem street, right next to Ba Dinh Square and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Long Bien Bridge: it was built by the French in 1898. Long Bien is the first steel bridge spanning the Red River, connecting Hoan Kiem and Long Bien districts. It, together with Hanoians, has witnessed the rise and fall of country during two war of resistance against the French colonialist and American imperialist. You can have the view of Long Bien bridge from nearby coffee shops. Sipping a cup of coffee and watching the flow of people passing by is also an interesting experience.
Ho Tay (West Lake) – Chua Tran Quoc (Tran Quoc Pagoda): Ho Tay is considered “a giant stage reflecting the cloud, sky and capital landscape”. It has pure beautiful at dawn, peace at noon and romantic scene at dusk. There are green trees along the lakeshore with flower blooming colourfully each season. Located on a southern peninsula of West Lake, near the end of Thanh Nien Street is Tran Quoc Pagoda – one of the oldest temples in Hanoi and Vietnam with more than 1500 years old. It used to be the center of Buddhism during Ly and Tran dynasties. This sacred pagoda has attracted a lot of buddists as well as tourists every year. In early 2021, Tran Quoc Pagoda was included in the list of 16 most beautiful temples in the world voted by Daily Mail.
Hoang thanh Thang Long (Imperial Citadel of Thang Long): this is a complex of relics associated with the history of Thang Long citadel. It has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. Despite of its simpleness, the citadel has a great value of thousand-year culture and history. The most attractive point is Ky Dai, also known as Ha Noi flagpole, which is a common check-in spot of visitors. There are other prominent places such as archaeological area 18 Hoang Dieu, Doan Mon, Kinh Kinh Thien, Bac Mon, ect. To get here, the easiest address can be found on the map is 19C Hoang Dieu Street – the main entrance of the citadel.
Hoa Lo Prison: it was established by the French colonialist in 1896 and named “Maison Central”, is a place to detain revolutionary soldiers who against colonialism. After completion, it was one of the most solid works in Indochina at that time. Nowadays, Hoa Lo prison has become a historical relic, preserving many valuable materials, appealing to both domestic and foreign tourists annually. Address: 1 Hoa Lo, Tran Hung Dao Ward, Hoan Kiem District. The entrance fee is 30,000VND/person. If you bring along your student card, you can get the offer 50% off.
Dong Xuan Market: located in the Old Quarter area, this is one of the biggest market in Ha Noi. As a whosale market, the goods here is cheaper in compared with some other markets. There is a variety of products here from foodstuff, clothings to consumer goods, etc. Coming here, you can indulge in shopping, buying souvenirs, specialities as well as enjoying local cuisine.
There are categories of souvenirs for tourists to bring home in Ha Noi. If you prefer something more traditional and local, you may consider embroidered paintings, silk fabrics, ceramics, handicrafts, bamboo and rattan products or Dong Ho paintings.
HA NOI CUISINE – WHAT TO EAT
Not only the scenic attractions appeal tourists to come to Ha Noi, but also the variety of cuisine makes people unforget it.
Pho Ha Noi (Ha Noi Beef Noodles): pho is a popular dish in Vietnam. However, each region has its own flavor of pho. So does Ha Noi. The most noticeable difference between pho Ha Noi and other places is the larger and flat-sized noodles, and less accompanied vegetables.
Pho cuon Ha Noi (Ha Noi Rolling Noodles): the highlights of this dish are the beef and dipping sauce. Beef is tender, fragrant, sweet, seasoned with very criterial recipe, together with lettuce, wrapped in a slide of pho. The sauce is sweet and sour fish sauce, with a few pieces of pickled carrot and papaya. The amazing combination of ingredients has made this dish become a favorite snack of Hanoians.
Bun thang (Ha Noi Vermicelli Soup): this kind of vermicelli noodles should not be missed when mentioning about Ha Noi cuisine. In order to have a standard bowl of bun thang, people have to use up to twenty materials. The broth is simmered with chicken bones and dried squid, creating a unique flavor for the dish. While serving, it is added on top fried eggs, chicken breast, pork bologna, dried shrimp, squid, mushroom,… making an eye-catching bowl of bun thang. The is no vegetables eaten together so people can feel it specific taste.
Bun cha Ha Noi (Ha Noi Grilled Pork Vermicelli): at first sight, you may think it is like bun thit nuong in the South, but the dipping sauce is different. By added a bit white vinegar, the fish sauce is milder compared with the sauce of bun thit nuong. A portion of bun cha includes: vermicelli, sweet and sour dipping sauce with pickled kohlrabi and carrot, grilled pork and meat ball, accompanied with vegetables. All blend in your mouth, creating an irresistible taste. Bun cha Ha Noi can be considered an iconic dish of Ha Noi cuisine that the US President Obama also tried it in his trip to Vietnam.
Bun rieu cua (Crab Paste Vermicelli Soup): the name says it all. The main ingredient of the dish is paddy crab. After cleaned, they are crushed and filtered to get the water. Continue simmering the water, the crab meat will form into blocks and emerge. Adding tomatoes, fermented shrimp paste, green onions, fried tofus and greens, we will have a delicious bowl of bun rieu.
Bun dau mam tom (Vermicelli with Fried Tofu and Shrimp Paste): it is a budget and common dish for many people. A plate of bun dau mam tom includes vermicelli, fried tofu, pork and herbs, dipped in fermented shrimp paste. For those who first try this dish, it may be a real challenge because of the stinky smell of the paste. Nevertheless, once you have adapted with its smell, surely it would become one of your favorite dishes.
Cha ca La Vong (La Vong Grilled Chopped Fish): this is a Hanoi specialty dish made from naked catfish which is a nutritious fish. The chef cuts the fish into chunks and fries it in oil, then carries both the stove and the pan and sets it on the table. The eaters add green onions, fennel into the pan and stir well. Put some vermicelli in a bowl, add a few peanuts, herbs, a piece of fish and few onions into the bowl, pour on top a small spoonful of shrimp paste and you can start enjoying.
Com lang Vong (Vong Village Green Rice Flakes): to enjoy its authentic flavor, you had better visit Vong village which is near Cau Giay area nowadays. In the past, Cau Giay was a low-lying land. When the harvest season was about to ripen, a flood came and water overflowed the whole village, resulting villagers had no food. They then had to collect green rice to eat. Surprisingly, the green rice had a unique and attractive flavor that will make you want to eat more and more.
Banh cuon Thanh Tri (Thanh Tri Stuffed Pancake): the pancake is made of rice flour. The batter is steamed to get thin, chewy, soft pancake. It is filled with chopped wood ear and minced meat. The pancake is usually served with pork bologna and dipped in light fish sauce. You would love its tender texture and yummy taste. Banh cuon can be eaten at any time in a day, even early morning, at noon or in the evening.
Xoi xeo (Steamed Glutinous Rice): for those who are born and grow up in Ha Noi, they defenitely get used to having xoi xeo for breakfast. There are many questions about its strange name. Perhaps the most approriate explanation is that the topping is cut in bevel shape. The soft sticky glutinous rice is added on top fried shallot and salted shredded pork, creating a delicious dish. You can easily buy this food at any corner in Ha Noi and take away.
Kem Trang Tien (Trang Tien Icecream): this is a long-standing brand, connecting closely with Hanoians. Located near Sword Lake, there is no table or chair in the store, yet it still attracts many people to come and buy. There are categories of flavors such as vanila, green rice, mungbean, coconut, etc. Standing at the lakeshore, watching people and enjoying a cool icecream is such a fantastic feeling.
Address: 35 Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem District
If you wish to buy Ha Noi specialities as presents, you can consider green rice, sugared/salted dry fruits (plum, dracontomelon, peach, apricot…), lotus tea, Dien pomelo or different types of cake.
If you luckily travel in holidays, you will have the opportunity to experience the local custom and culture. In addition to several minor festival in some handicraft villages, there are some big and noticeable ones such as:
New Year Festival: this is the biggest holiday in Ha Noi as well as the whole country, starting from the 1st January Lunar Calendar. If in Saigon, the streets are covered in yellow color of apricot blossom, Ha Noi is in pink color of peach blossom. This is time for people to celabrate new year, visit their relatives and share all best wishes to each other.
Huong Pagoda Festival: the festival takes place in Huong Son Commune, My Duc Ward, from the 6th January Lunar Calendar. Going to Huong pagoda festival, you will have the opportunity to immerse in the atmosphere of traditional village festival. Huong pagoda festival is the convergence of unique ethnic cultural activities such as boating, mountain climbing and singing… The interesting feature of this festival is the pleasure of sitting on a boat, floating downstream Yen river to enjoy landscape, cave visiting and enjoying the artistic performances on the boat. This is a big festival in Hanoi that has attracted thousand of tourists every year.
Co Loa Festival: it is held annually starting from the 6th to 16th of January Lunar Calendar in Co Loa Village, Dong Anh District. Co Loa Festival aims to educate the tradition that has a deep meaning among the people, the ethic of "When drinking water, remember its source". It also maintains, preserve and display the traditional cultural activities, the value of physical and inality heritages of Co Loa relics.
Giong Festival – Soc Son: this has been recognized by UNESCO as the intangible cultural heritage of mankind. This is one of the unique and typical festivals of Hanoi because of the ancient rituals to commemorate and praise the legendary hero Thanh Giong, one of the four immortals of Vietnamese folk beliefs. There are two Giong festivals in Hanoi, one is at Soc Temple, Phu Linh Commune, Soc Son District and the other is Giong Phu Dong festival at Phu Dong Temple, Phu Dong Commune, Gia Lam District. The Giong Festival is held on January 6 Lunar Calendar and takes place over three days with full of traditional ceremonies.
Ha Noi is the center of Red River Delta region, hence you can easily travel to near by area:
Ha Noi – Sa Pa: the distance between them is nearly 400 kilometers. There are many companies operate bus from Ha Noi to Sapa and vice versa. The ideal occasion to visit Sapa is winter time, you may see the snow if lucky.
Ha Noi – Ha Long Bay: located around 165 kilometers, there are several ways from Ha Noi to Ha Long Bay. If you are an adventurous traveler, you can experience driving motorbike, just make sure that you have enough licences and drive carefully. You can also travel by bus, it takes roughly 4 hours to reach Ha Long Bay. Traveling by train should be considered as it will take 7 hour. Another mean of transport is helicopter, you can see the entire Ha Long from the air. However, this way is quite new and the price is not conformable to everyone.
Ha Noi – Ninh Binh: only 1 – 1,5 hour on the bus from Ha Noi, Ninh Binh is a destination that you should not miss. Ninh Binh is a province with rich natural resources such as majestic limestone mountains, interesting caves, Cuc Phuong primitive forest, Van Long wetland nature reserve and thousands of famous historical and cultural relics. It also hosts the place to shoot the film Kong: Skull Island.
Ha Noi – Moc Chau: Moc Chau is a highland which is about 200 kilometers from Ha Noi. You can choose either motorbike or bus to get there. However, we safest way is to travel by bus as many parts of the road are rough and bendy. It has long been famous for its interminable tea hills and poetic flower fields blooming all year. The climate is extremely cool and pleasant year round, so it seems to have become a place for city dwellers to escape from the heat and discomfort of the noisy urban environment.
Through many ups and downs in history, Hanoi today has become more dynamic and modern than before. However, the capital has always maintained its ancient beauty, educational and cultural traditions for thousands of generations. Anyone who once visited here will surely be in love with Ha Noi. Anyone who has never experienced it should enlist to visit this beautiful capital.
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