After being able to test out the new United Polaris First Class product, I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam for the first stop on a 7-week odyssey throughout Southeast Asia. Ha Long Bay has definitely been a “bucket list” destination for me, but as the base point for most excursions to Ha Long, I decided to spend a few days in Hanoi to explore the history and culture of Vietnam’s capital city. Walking through Hanoi in 2017, it’s hard to believe that just a generation ago, Soviet-era buses were the norm. Today, Hanoi is a vibrant and lively city full of motorbikes, lakes, and amazing food.
I started off my first day by walking through Hanoi’s Old Quarter, admiring the old colonial French architecture.
My first stop was to try a Hanoi speciality: an iced coffee topped with a whipped egg from Cafe Pho Co, with beautiful views of Hoan Kiem lake after walking through their very-Vietnamese courtyard:
Hanoi is a very walkable and compact city, with most sites available within 30 minutes on foot from the Old Quarter. The Ho Chi Minh Museum is definitely a must-visit while in Hanoi, if for no other reason to see the “different” way that the Vietnam War is seen through Vietnamese eyes:
Aside from the history and culture, why does one come to Hanoi? For the food! I decided to be a bit adventurous and go on a walking street food tour, where a guide took us to 6 different places to try local dishes. This was stuff you may not find on your own, and even if you could, there was no English written or spoken anywhere in these places. This tour was a great way to sample many dishes that I may never have found or known to order.
The next day, I saw a chilling piece of history within the Hoa Lo Prison, aka the “Hanoi Hilton”, which also is a must-visit while in Hanoi:
Following the prison was a 20 minute walk to Bun Cha Huong Lien restaurant, made famous by President Obama’s visit with Anthony Bourdain in the spring of 2016, where the former President now has a combo named in his honor. The combo is tasty, filling, and cost just under $4 USD:
And of course, no trip to Hanoi is complete without a steaming hot $1 bowl of pho from a street stall:
On my way back to my hotel on my final night in Hanoi, I caught Hoan Kiem Lake lit up at night:
If you get a chance to spend a couple of days in Hanoi, definitely do so. It’s a very lively city with an extremely interesting history, not to mention 3-star hotels for $25 and full meals for $1. Two or three days in Hanoi will be days well spent!
Michael Prodanovich is a contributor to Point Me to the Plane, and author of The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel