A short taxi or motorbike ride outside of Hanoi's center brings you to the Museum of Ethnology. The French-designed building and surrounding grounds, which simulate life in the provinces, warrant the trip even before you step inside. The museum displays a dizzying array of artifacts from all over Vietnam. Brief descriptions in French, English and Vietnamese of tools, clothing and recreated homes provide a sketch of several Vietnamese ethnic minorities. A craft shop sells books, bags and other items from various ethnic communities at reasonable prices.
This small lake between the Old Quarter and the French Quarter is central to Hanoian folklore. A ghostly shrine (the Turtle Pagoda) standing on an islet at its center pays homage to a golden turtle. In the 15th century, this heroic reptile is said to have returned a magic sword to its home in the lake after it had been taken. These days, the sculptured park along the banks plays host to postcard sellers, hawkers, elder men playing chess, llone photographers looking for a snap among others.
In 1070, King Ly Thanh Tong founded the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) as a Temple of Confucius, to pay tribute to education and to those of high academic achievement. Centuries later, it became home to Hanoi's first university. Even now, more than 200 years after the last national examination, the site's five courtyards still enjoy an atmosphere of higher learning. Today, art students sit on the grass and try to reproduce the traditional Vietnamese architecture on paper. Stone stelae record the names of successful doctorates of the past at this quiet retreat, into Vietnamese educational history. Touted to be one of the most revered places in the country, this erstwhile university has a certain kind of a palatial aura attached to it. It is as if the ancient regal allure yet lingers over its present-day courtyards, the majestic main entrance, pavilions and verdant trees arching over winding walkways. Complete with beautifully-carved sculptures and traditional artifacts, this temple also bears attractions like the Văn lake and the Well of Heavenly Clarity.
There is nothing more striking in Hanoi than looking down Trang Tien Street and seeing the Hanoi Opera House standing strong at the end. Built by the French in 1911, and renovated in the late 1990s, this is an incredible building. The facade is colonial French with pillars and balconies overlooking the city center. The opera house plays host to visiting foreign performances as well as Vietnamese symphonies.
The resting place of the remarkable revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, this monumental mausoleum stands at the same place where the then-President read the Declaration of Independence. The glorious centerpiece of Ba Dinh Square, the mausoleum boasts an architecture which is a skillful melange of both modernist as well as traditional Vietnamese styles. Inside, the mortal remains of the great politician are placed in a glass case amidst much protection. One of the most precious landmarks of Hanoi, this mausoleum proffers a somber experience, lending deep insights into the legacy the man has left behind, setting a striking example, not just for the country, but for the entire world. Cradled in the spiritual center of Vietnamese Independence, the mausoleum features a quiet line that forms to view 'Uncle Ho's' body, which is a vision of sheer respect and dignity. Sitting in front of Ho's stilt house, this moving mausoleum is one of the priceless possessions of the city.
St. Joseph's Cathedral, which anchors one of Hanoi's most touristy streets, offers a glimpse into a bygone era. Speckles of light still dance through stained glass work, leaving a kaleidoscope of color on the towers, which stretch toward the sky. Its doors first swung open in 1886, during the earliest days of colonial rule, and the cathedral still holds mass twice daily. During other hours, visitors can enter through a door on the side of the cathedral.
Wide Eyed Tours are a tour company that specialize in South East Asia and try to offer their customers as much variety as they can. If you want to sample the different sights, sounds and smells of Asia, this is the tourism boutique to go to. Choose a special custom designed tour like the Adventurous Tour, the Special Interest Tour, the Deluxe Tour or the Corporate Tour, for one that suits your requirements and time frame. All the staff members at Hanoi are ex tour leaders so the tours are handled professionally. Head to Culi Café and let them give you all the free advice you need to find your way around, while you enjoy the cool comforts of the cafe of course!
In the ninth century, King Ly Thai To was trying to build the Hanoi Citadel, but the walls kept collapsing. Bach Ma (White Horse), who was the spirit of Thang Long (Ancient Hanoi), posed as a builder to help the King. This temple was then founded in honor of the spirit. A statue of the horse stands beside the altar. The current structure is typical of Hanoi pagodas and was built in the 18th century. It blends in well with the bustling streets and there is even a shop built into the walls to the left of the entrance.
Remarkably frozen in time, Hanoi's Old Quarter offers a stark contrast to the frenetic pace of the main city. The district takes sprout from near the shore of the Hoan Kiem Lake, radiating in streaks of alleyways and age-old thoroughfares that still grapple with the quarter's 13th-century spirit. Earlier a heavily walled unit that was connected to the main city after the 19th Century, the Hanoi Old Quarter pretzels itself into a modest space, a place where enthused activity ensues. Here, the old quarter mirrors its erstwhile atmosphere, when streets were dotted with silk merchants, artisans, bamboo carpenters, tinsmiths, and other specialized vendors who peddled their humble wares to meandering visitors. A night market tries to keep up with the promising vestiges of this economic legacy, a retail wonderland that reveals a variety of souvenirs, handicrafts, clothing and food. This face of Vietnam's timeless heritage is also home to an exalted architectural treasure, which includes the Temple of Literature, the One Pillar Pagoda, and the Flag Tower of Hanoi.
Nestled between silk shops and handicraft peddlers, the Apricot Gallery highlights the works of both new- and old-generation Vietnamese artists. A stone waterfall trickles into a small pool on the ground floor of the serene three-story space. Items on display rotate and feature several mediums and styles, from the more traditional lacquer scenes to abstract oil paintings. The gallery has a reputation for attracting foreign dignitaries in search of a souvenir.
Looking for some vigorous adventure sport on your vacation? Handspan offers you some great chances to live life on the edge! Sea-kayaking, mountain biking, sailing and even jeep adventures are available for those who want a piece of the action. The marine excursions are most enjoyable, for Vietnam has some awe-inspiring land and seascapes. Paddle around Ha Long Bay's 3000 islands if you enjoy nature, and explore some ethereal caves and calm lagoons. The crew at Handspan is very meticulous when it comes to safety; the equipment is subjected to regular inspections and tourists are provided with skilful and good-natured guides and instructors. Daily excursions can be prolonged by a couple of days, and longer packages for 10 and 20 days are also available.
Easily one of the greatest highlights of Vietnam, the Thang Long Puppet Theater features an ancient art form which goes back to the 11th Century. This water puppet theater features an ornamental stage bearing vibrant puppets which perform in deep waters. The original location of this kind of art form, this theater features beautifully-designed sets, musical instruments and a bamboo screen used by puppeteers to conceal themselves. The puppets, typically designed to look like the characters in Vietnamese fables, are controlled by 11 puppeteers, who launch fire-breathing dragons, acrobats and dancing maidens across the watery stage. Having originally hailed form Northern Vietnam, the theater has largely framed the cultural landscape of the country. Also sheltering an invigorating line-up of traditional, Vietnamese operatic vocal performances, the theater houses performances which are weaved with stories of ancient villagers, harvest time as well as enigmatic Vietnamese mythology. The band is just as important and impressive, providing the music that keeps the legends alive, giving tourists a taste of the beauty of Vietnamese sounds.