Tag Archives: culture

Weekend At Hanoi

The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi lies in the Red River Delta in the north of the country. Hanoi would typically be the starting point (or end, if you do it in reverse) of your itinerary. The city went by the names Long Biên (which is also the name of a famous bridge in the city) and Thăng Long (another bridge now), till it was called Hà Nội in 1831. The city is the second largest in Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh City. Where we are headed is a specific part of this city – the Old Quarter.

We spent a weekend in Hanoi (check out our complete itinerary here). Weekends are the best time to be here for an unforgettable experience. In the evening, roads around Hoan Kiem Lake are closed for traffic and you can see people come out, walking, jogging, kids playing, drawing, painting, street performers in action and some people just sitting on benches and looking at the brightly lit Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) in the middle of the lake.

There was an entire road dedicated to remote controlled cars with kids driving them around!

We walked around the lake atleast 3-4 times and kept finding new stuff on each round. We were lucky to be there on the weekend when a South Korea-Vietnam cultural festival was ongoing – there were concerts, food stalls and a lot more. It was a bonus on our food list!

Weekend or not, here is a list of must-dos when you are in Hanoi:

Walk around Hoàn Kiếm Lake: The Hoan Kiem Lake is a beautiful lake right in the middle of the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Visit the Ngoc Son Temple which is on a tiny island in the northern part of the lake (try going early in the morning).

Explore the Old Quarter: The Old Quarter is a bustling centre of activity and most of the nightlife revolves around it. Make sure you get your hotel/Airbnb close enough so that you can save on the commute while making the most of your time in Hanoi.

Each street is dedicated to a certain type of shops (a street full of kitchen utensils, one for mechanical parts etc) and you get a real taste of the life and culture of Hanoi while you are walking around. There are certain places-to-see like temples which you can visit. You can also find amazing eateries with some of the best Vietnamese food here.

Ta Hien Street: This is the beer street of the Old Quarter – the place to head to for the nightlife! You will find dozens of bars on both sides along with the many signature street-side vendors. Grab a tiny table and a couple of tiny stools and get started!

Water Puppet Show: The water puppet show is an experience which you should definitely add to your list. Complete with traditional Vietnamese instruments, the show takes you through a set of stories set in the countryside.

We visited the famous Thang Long Puppet Show which is on the northern bank of Hoan Kiem Lake. For tickets, you can head to the ticket counter a few hours before the show and collect them in advance. It’s best to get seats in the front for a clear view!

Temple of Literature: Now, we take you away from the Old Quarter towards the Temple of Literature. We walked about 2.5 kms to get here from the Old Quarter (the amazing bowl of Bun Bo Nam Bo fuelled us!). Along the way, you can spot the infamous Hanoi Train Street which you would have seen in pics. The street was closed to visitors due to the risk it posed while trains crossed.

The Temple of Literature (featured behind the 100,000 VND note) is dedicated to Confucius and housed Vietnam’s first university, the Imperial Academy.

There are five courtyards with beautiful gardens. Even today, students visit this academy and temple as it signifies a milestone in the Vietnamese education system. So, don’t be alarmed if you see kids roaming around in graduation robes!

One Pillar Pagoda and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: A short walk from the Temple of Literature will take you to the historical place where Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France – the Ba Dinh Square. There is an entire complex here which contain a museum, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the One Pillar Pagoda and Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt house.

We would recommend this only for people who love history – others can do a quick walk-through.

Tran Quoc Pagoda: This is the oldest pagoda in the city, and it sits on a small islet in the West Lake. You can spot a lot of Buddhist symbols in and around the pagoda. We spent some time sitting along the banks of the lake enjoying the breeze and watching people fish.

We would recommend taking a bus or Grab taxi as the walk back to the Old Quarter can be really long and tiring.

Weekend Night Market: The weekend night market is an amazing place for shopping as well as picking up souvenirs. It is basically a street which is closed and stalls come up right in the middle.

It stretches along Hang Dao street starting at the square near the Hoan Kiem Lake. The one key to shopping in Vietnam is “Bargain-bargain-bargain” – this comes rather easily if you are Indian. Oh, and by the way, the street is unrecognizable during the day with all the scooters zipping past!

Food: No story about Hanoi is even remotely complete without mentioning the food! Pho (Beef Noodle Soup), Bun Bo Nam Bo (Beef Noodle Salad), Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich), Bun Cha (meatballs with noodles), Xoi Xeo (turmeric rice), Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancake), Egg coffee – makes our mouths water just by thinking about them!

So, we decided to write an entire blog on the Fantastic Vietnamese Food and Where You Can Find Them!

While these places give you a real taste of north Vietnamese culture, there are other places you can visit if time permits. Our recommendation is to use the extra time to go on some short trips as Hanoi is a good base location. You can head north to Sapa or go south to Halong Bay (read about it here). After Hanoi, our itinerary took us to the magical town of Hoi An in Central Vietnam.

If you have any questions, feel free to shoot them in the comments below. To catch all our latest travel stories, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

Vietnam Voyage

If you have the option to visit only 1 country in South-East Asia, it must be Vietnam! A diverse country with landscapes ranging from tea plantations to dense forests to lush mountains to bustling cities and amazing beaches, Vietnam has something for everyone.

Vietnam is quite large in terms of area (4th biggest in South-east Asia) and forms a significant part of the historical region of Indochina (consisting of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). The erstwhile French colony was named Indochina because of the strong influence of Indian and Chinese cultures in the region – Vietnam takes more from the Chinese culture while the Indian cultural heritage can be seen at large in Cambodia (which is a story for another blog). Modern culture is also shaped by political ideology which varies as you move from north Vietnam to the south. What does all this mean? Well, for one, it makes Vietnam an amazing place to visit with a lot of history. And don’t even get us started on the food! Vietnam is cheap, safe and great to visit at any time of the year – you can plan your itinerary based on which month you are planning to visit.

Best Time to Visit

Vietnam can be divided into 3 regions – North, Central and South and the weather in each region varies largely in different times of the year.

North Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa): This part of Vietnam has 4 distinct seasons and the winters can get cold. October-November is a very good time to visit as the weather is cool and dry. You get clear blue skies and you can really enjoy your cruise on the Ha Long Bay. Another period which is good is March-May (Spring). The mid months of May-September have scorching summers as well as monsoon rains which can dampen your plans – most of the Vietnam experience is outdoors.

Central Vietnam (Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue): This is a narrow region squeezed between the sea on one side and mountains on the other. January-June is the best time to visit. June-August has hot summers with plenty of humidity while November-December typically sees a lot of rain and typhoons.

South Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta): This region experiences a tropical climate which means the best time visit is November-April. There are options for a lot of day tours from Ho Chi Minh City and having pleasant weather really helps!

Given these windows, the best option to cover Vietnam from North to South would be in the Spring window of March-May. As it was impossible for us to get long leaves from work in those months, we decided to go in November (keeping fingers crossed that we wouldn’t get bad weather in Central Vietnam).

Getting around Vietnam, Visa and Currency

To plan your travel in detail, check out our blog on Travelling in Vietnam made easy. Here is a snapshot to get you started.

You can enter the country from one of the international airports – usually the points of entry are Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. All the major cities are very well connected by flights, train and bus. The flights are quite cheap and make it a viable option even if you are travelling on a budget! We managed to get a flight from Hanoi to Da Nang for $30 (more on that here).

To get the Visa, you can go for one of these three methods:

  1. The old-fashioned way of getting it done through the embassy – this is also the most expensive option.
  2. Get a Visa Approval Letter – this is the cheapest option. There are many websites which offer you an approval letter for as low as $6. Do check online reviews to verify the legitimacy of these portals to avoid getting into a scam! We used Vietnam E-Visa which charged us $12 per person for a single-entry visa. Just make sure your name matches exactly on the approval letter as your passport so that you are not denied entry. On arrival at Vietnam, you need to pay the stamping fees of $25 (cash) per person.
  3. E-Visa – This option is available for a selected list of countries where you can apply online and get your e-visa for $25.

Currency: Vietnamese Dong (VND) is the currency here and 1 USD can get you ~23,000 VND. So, make sure you convert in parts or risk carrying around huge bundles of currency! Currency exchanges are available everywhere and you won’t face any problems in getting a good rate. As always, convert a small amount at the airport where you are entering which can get you to the city centre (you will get better exchange rates here).

How many days to spend in Vietnam?

This depends on which parts of the country you would like to explore. You can easily budget 5-6 days for each of North, Central and South Vietnam. We spent 10 days in Vietnam and feel this is a good enough time to explore the highlights of the country. You can easily extend this by another 5-6 days without feeling too stretched.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive at Hanoi by flight. Check-in and relax for the day.

Day 2: Morning bus to Ha Long Bay. 2D/1N cruise package – enjoy kayaking, swimming in the bay and enjoy the beautiful karst landscape.

Day 3: Morning Tai Chi class at sunrise on the boat. Transfer back to Hanoi and explore the city around Hoan Kiem lake.

Day 4: Local sightseeing at Hanoi. Hanoi is one of the best cities we’ve been to in terms of the culture, food and overall vibe – here is how we spent our weekend at Hanoi and our guide on how to make the most of it.

Day 5: Spend the morning exploring more of Hanoi and its foods. Bus to airport for our flight to Da Nang. Cab from Da Nang airport to Hoi An – explore Hoi An at night.

Day 6: Spend the day exploring the UNESCO Heritage Town of Hoi An experiencing the culture and amazing food! Read more about the magical town of Hoi An here.

Day 7: Early morning cab to Da Nang and flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Spend the day relaxing and exploring the Ben Thanh Market.

Day 8: Day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai temple. In the evening, explore the area near the Skydeck in Ho Chi Minh City. The city itself does not have too much to see but is a great base location for many day trips – here’s our guide on day trips from Ho Chi Minh City.

Day 9: Day trip to the Mekong Delta – exploring the delta and some snake wine! Explore more of Ho Chi Minh City in the evening.

Day 10: Flight to Cambodia.

The “Time-is-not-a-constraint” adventurer: as mentioned before, you can spend up to 5-6 days in each region. While in Hanoi, you can add a couple of days to visit the plantations in Sapa valley in the north. You can visit Tam Coc, which is also called the “Ha Long Bay on land”. You can also add a couple of days in Da Nang exploring the city and go on an excursion to the Ba Na hills where you can spot the Golden Bridge.

History Buffs: You can add Hue to your itinerary – this town used to be the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty empire.

Foodies: Vietnam is a heaven for foodies and is the main reason why we would go back in the blink of an eye. Here is our Vietnam food guide.

Hope this post helped you kick-start your plan to visit Vietnam. We have detailed our experience at each of the places in our blogs which you can find here.

If you have any questions on how to plan your trip, please leave a comment below and we’d love to help! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales