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Walking around Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi may not look friendly at first due to motorcycle-infested streets, but I’m pretty sure that spending a day walking around this vibrant and culture-embracing city might be more fun and informative as you thought it would be – and oh, filling too!


When I planned this trip, I promised to myself to travel by foot to get the feel of the city. Not that I don’t want to spend on car services, but rather I find the old buildings insanely captivating, clean streets lined-up with tall and glorious trees so refreshing, and sidewalk eateries simply inviting.

For Vietnamese, lotus is an exquisite flower that symbolizes the purity, serenity, commitment and optimism of the future as it is a flower which grows in muddy water and rises above the surface to bloom with such captivating beauty. 

Đền Bà Kiệu

Travelling solo in this beautiful city without a Wi-Fi connection and not knowing even a single Vietnamese word could be a real challenge, but once you conquered all those fears and managed to think it all through, this trip will definitely one fulfilling and relaxing adventure. 

Some ideas I had in mind before exploring Hanoi was to find an accommodation at the Old Quarter, which is at the heart of the city, and prepare a virtual map that will help me go around. So, I mapped out the places that I want to visit and made sure that it’ll be available on my Google Map even when I’m offline. (See my map below)


If you will notice, majority of the spots that I visited were pretty walkable, so without further ado, let me walk you around Hanoi!

If you have a lot of time or days like I had, there’s really no rush to do all of these in one day. In fact, there are more places to see and visit around the city, which were not included in this post, but for those first-timers who have limited time and want to maximize their visit in Hanoi, I hope this blog inspires you.

Coming from my hotel at the Old Quarter District, I first indulged to some Harry Potter love by grabbing a glass of Butterbeer at Always Coffee and Butterbeer, which is just across my hotel, the Hanoi Panda Hotel.

My room at Hanoi Panda Hotel

Harry Potter inspired café – Always’ Coffee & Butterbeer

On to my adventure: first on my list was the famous bridge, which was created by the French Architect Gustave Eiffel, the man behind the Eiffel Tower of Paris, France. French influence is very much visible in the city, most especially in the Old Quarter, so don’t be surprise to get a European feel from time to time as you go around the city.

I started my journey traversing the northern part of the city to reach Ga Long Bien Railway Station, which is the end line of the railway station connected to the Long Biên Bridge.

Ga Long Bien Railway Station

On my way to Long Biên Bridge

This railway system is still working and taking passengers in and out of Hanoi City to the southern part of the country. This place is said to be popular for street photographers and videographers because of is rustic appeal and truly capturing structural design. No entrance fee is need to visit this spot, but you have to be very careful since, as mentioned, this is still a function railway system.  It took me 11 minutes by foot to get here from Hanoi Panda Hotel.


After some minutes adoring the outstanding creation of Architect Gustave Eiffel, I went next to one of Hanoi’s most visited places, the Tran Quoc Pagoda, which is located far north of the city. 


Standing magnificently for almost 1,450 years, the Trấn Quốc Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi City. To get here, you need to walk for almost 30 minutes from Long Bien Railway Station. You’ll pass along some public markets and residential areas, but no need to worry, because vehicles often take this route, so you’ll expect less motorcycles, which seems like the common mode of transportation of the locals here.

Cua Bac Catholic Church


But before reaching Tran Quoc Pagoda, I passed by Cua Bac Catholic Church, which is the first Catholic Church I’ve seen in Hanoi. It’s yellow golden color speaks so much of Hanoi, which resembles to most government-owned structures I’ve seen during this trip, including the Presidential Palace.

Trấn Quốc Pagoda

It is important to note that Tran Quoc Pagoda closes during lunchtime, so it is best to come here between 7:30am to 11:30 am and 1:30pm to 6:30pm.
Upon entering, guests are welcomed by a Bodhi tree, which is said to be from the original tree in Bodh Gaya, India, where the Buddha sat and achieved enlightenment. There’s a main shrine where visitors can light incense and around the courtyard, you can see female Buddhas, who they call “Mothers.”

Outside this place are sidewalk vendors who sell refreshment. I suggest that you grab a bottle or two of water or coconut juice first before heading to the next destination, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.


On my way to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, I saw this Taoist Temple and the Presidential Palace. But since I have more places on my list, I opt not to get inside anymore.

Quan Thanh Temple

After 18 minutes of walking from Tran Quoc Pagoda, I reached the sacred grounds of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This is the final resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. If the Philippines has Rizal Park for its National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, here in Vietnam, Ba Dinh Square revolves around the mausoleum of President Ho, who is the first President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

It was here in Ba Dinh Square where he read the Declaration of Independence of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. The Mausoleum holds the embalmed remains of Ho Chi Minh and the doors facing Ba Dinh Square are guarded by two armored honor guards.

If you wish to go inside President Ho’s museum, you have to wear appropriate clothes.

A few steps from Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, you’ll find the Ho Chi Minh Museum. If you want to know more about Vietnam’s Father of Democracy, this is the best place to visit. The museum shares President Ho’s life in eight chronological topics. Entrance fee for the museum is VND 40,000.

Ho Chi Minh Museum

This next destination is The Temple of Literature. This is one of the farthest that I had on my list, so I’d suggest, if you are already tired, to take a rest first at the Ba Dinh Square, or if you are out of time, you can hail a cab or take a grab car ox taxi by this time, and ask the driver to take you there.


When I created my itinerary for this walking tour, The Temple of Literature is a top priority in my Must-Visit List. Aside from the fact that it is a Confucian temple, whom interests me since I’ve read a learned a lot about Confucius back in high school, it’s vibrant red color and lovely landscaped courtyards, were also a factor that I see this site.

The Temple of Literature

There’s an entrance fee for this site. Each person has to pay VND 30,000, this includes a map to the whole temple, with some description as you go along. If I’m not mistaken, this is the biggest temple I’ve visited for this Hanoi Trip, so yeah, be ready to spend a whole lot time in here as ever courtyard is simply picturesque.
 

The Temple of Literature was originally built as a university, dedicated to Confucius. It is told that during those old times, the university only accepts royal family member, aristocrats and elites as students. But as the years go by, it finally opened its doors to “commoners”, who can prove their intelligence. I saw in the turtles steles that we aligned in one side of the temple the engraved names of the successful graduates.

There are also some souvenir items being sold inside, and these are mostly trinkets and other Chinese charms. As much as I want to stay here longer, I have another destination to see, and I want to see it in daylight with locals performing different activities that really entices visitor to come back here in Hanoi.

Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square

I’m talking about, the Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square and center of the district, the Hoàn Kiếm Lake.

Hoàn Kiếm Lake

I won’t deny it, I was amused by how the locals embrace their culture and arts. When I arrived at Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square the place was packed with students, performers and spectators who are excited for the weekend. There are number of students who are performing different presentation and games that invite tourists to join the fun. There are some locals in their national costume singing and dancing some local music, and there are those who are selling refreshment and other souvenir items that we could bring home.

And despite of the being crowded, you’d feel how safe and entertaining everything is– a local immersion that I would love to feel and enjoy again. The best and funny thing is, there’s a free Wi-Fi in the area and the young kids are not on their gadgets to check out Facebook, Instagram or other social media networks. Instead, they are all there to enjoy different street games and entertain the tourists and maybe to learn to speak English.

Cầu Thê Húc

It was here that I felt the hunger after all the walking I did the whole day, so I bid goodbye after some minutes of going around the lake to grab something nice and comforting. 

Tạ Hiện


Phở

I found my self in one of Old Quarter’s sidewalk restaurant sipping  and enjoying a warm bowl of authentic Vietnamese’s Phở. Ooooh, heaven! After finishing that sumptuous bowl, I tried to walk around again, and to my luck, there’s a night market that evening.
 
Hàng Đào Night Market

This night market is located along the stretch of Hàng Đào Street, and available from Friday until Sunday. I was able to grab some really affordable souvenir items in here and try some more Hanoi’s street food that really filled me up good.

In one of the stalls where I bought some ref magnets, upon knowing that I’m a Filipino, the seller gave me better discount as along as I buy more. It seems like Filipinos are notorious in Hanoi for hoarding souvenir items, so yeah, I gave her the luxury to earm some more from me by buying some more stuff. Haha.

In just one sweep, I was able to complete my “pasalubong list”, and without even breaking my budget. Thank you, Hanoi! Haha!
 
Old Quarter Street Food

I capped the day by indulging to some Hanoi Street Food that are equally filling and delicious.

For those who are eyeing to do a walking tour in Hanoi, I have some tips for you:
  • Apply Sunblock / Sun Screen – most specially if you are coming during their summer season, which is from March to around middle of June
  • Bring an umbrella just in case it rains – in my 5 days here in Hanoi, I experienced heavy rains in the afternoon.
  • Use your mobile phone for navigating only – if you can’t avoid, make sure that you have a powerbank with you
  • Some tourist spots have free and fast Wi-Fi
  • I suggest that you wear pants since some places like temple and mausoleum and museum are strict about attires
  • Bring water with you and maybe fan
  • It’s cold from November to around middle of February, so bring extra thick clothes
  • I suggest that you take reputable taxi or better yet use Grab for car services
  • Old Quarter is pretty enticing, so watch out for the motorcycles and you bags and other belongings as well
  • Know how to bargain, seller are pretty nice to give better discount, especially those at the Night Market
  • Always know the complete address of your hotel just in case you got lost
  • There are some FREE city tours such as Hanoi e-buddies here in Hanoi, just Google them and you’ll find one that suit to your schedule. These are students who wants to learn English, so be gentle and nice to them
  • Lastly, make sure that you have Vietnam Dong with as most the stores here only accept local currency.
I’ll try to update this post if I remember something else, for now. I hope this post helps you in you next adventure in Hanoi, Vietnam!



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