Hanoi has been on my bucket list for years. Having never travelled to Asia before, I had no idea what to expect…except for the food!  My working knowledge of Hanoi came from watching Anthony Bourdain (still heartbroken!) on “Parts Unknown.” I was especially inspired by the episode where he’s eating with Obama in a tiny restaurant in Hanoi. So inspired in fact, I travelled (22 hours in the air to be exact) to Vietnam….just to eat. I was not disappointed.

I was delighted to find that the ancient city of Hanoi had so much to offer….a thriving arts scene, tree-lined boulevards, ancient architecture left behind by the French and the Chinese, and -of course- amazing food!  Here are a few must-do’s when visiting Hanoi:

Explore The Old Quarter

Wandering through the cobbled streets of the Old Quarter is an absolute must in Hanoi. With its 36 streets of crumbling colonial French architecture, you’ll want to make a walking tour, (either with a tour group or self-guided) a priority. Check out the Don Xuan market for crafts, fresh fruits and veggies, and scented flowers for the décor. Ask your hotel concierge for a map of the Old Quarter to take with you on your excursion. Most hotels keep them on hand to provide to their guests 

Sip Vietnamese Coffee

It is said that sipping Vietnamese coffee can make you feel the soul of Hanoi. Cà phê trng is a local favorite which is made by beating egg whites over an espresso, resulting in a sweet mousse. It’s soul sipping good!

Visit The Quang Ba Flower Market

Located in the Tay Ho district in Hanoi, Quang Ba Flower Market is a night market not to be missed. Opening at the unlikely time of 2 am and running way until after the sun rises, this overnight sensation is something that has to be seen to be believed.  The sheer volume and variety are impressive. Here you will see mo-peds, overflowing with floral delights, give a new meaning to the term “delivering flowers.”

Sample The Street Food

Hands down, Vietnam is one of my most beloved countries to visit for the cuisine. Don’t let the ridiculously low prices fool you. The food is as good or better than you’ll find in some of the gourmet joints in the US! You haven’t officially been to Hanoi until you’ve visited one of its food carts. There is always one within sniffing distance.  Don’t leave without trying the bun cha, pho and Cha Ca.

Stroll Around Hoàn Kiem Lake

Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword) was named after a legend from the mid-15th century involving Kim Qi, “the Golden Turtle God” and a revolt against the Ming Dynasty. These days, it serves as one of the major scenic spots in the city and a focal point for its public life. Go for a stroll in the morning and watch the locals practice Tai Chi.

Get A Massage

Need a break from the Hanoi bustle? Get a traditional Vietnamese massage. They are ridiculously inexpensive and quite heavenly indeed.  Most hotels have spas with massage services. For a list of the top 10 spa’s recommended by Trip Advisor, click here.

Visit The Enchanting Halong Bay

If you’re up for the 3-hour van ride, visiting the enchanting Halong Bay from Hanoi is definitely worth the schlep! One of Vietnam’s most magical and revered sights, Halong Bay has over 1,500 islands of limestone pillars and tiny islets. Reserve a room on a luxury junk boat which moors overnight in blissful waters of Halong Bay. Here is a guide to 13 of the best Halong Bay cruises..

Watch A Water Puppet Theatre Performance

Vietnam is a land rich in traditional legend, but seeing it brought to life through the beautifully crafted puppets of the Water Puppet Theater brings it to a whole new level of wonder. In Vietnam, water puppetry is considered a work of art, so expect no child’s play here. Water puppetry in Vietnam is full of profound meaning. Visit the world-famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre for an evening performance and see if you have any epiphanies. 

Visit the Perfume Pagoda

Just outside of Hanoi, a maze of Buddhist temples are built into a limestone mountain range with rich forests and flowing streams all around. Built in the 15th century, the Perfume Pagoda is at the centre of this revered and sacred site. For only $34 you book a small group tour and travel by boat to the temple through a  scenic landscape of temples, pagodas, mountains and forest.

Written by guest blogger Kelly Kerwick

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