Visiting Hanoi in northern Vietnam is truly an amazing experience. We spent a little over a week exploring Hanoi and taking excursions into the countryside. We also did an overnight cruise in Halong Bay, which was certainly one of the highlights of our trip. We stayed in Hanoi’s old quarter, which has a variety of restaurants, street food, and many different boutique hotels. With so many options of things to do when visiting Hanoi, these are some of our favorite memories of our trip.
Halong Bay – One of the most popular tours to take when visiting Hanoi, Vietnam is to go to Halong Bay. It is certainly one of the most recognizable places in all of Vietnam with the mountains jutting up from the bay, which according to myth is the result of a dragons descending to earth. Halong Bay actually means “descending dragon” and even though the mountains are the result of natural forces over centuries of time, the result is still incredibly beautiful. Halong Bay was recently named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994. Some of the key sights from the tour were Titop Island with the amazing views, Surprise Cave (Sung Sot Cave), and Luan Cave.
Ninh Binh Province – Known as the “Inland Halong Bay”, visiting Ninh Binh Province makes for a perfect day trip from Hanoi, Vietnam. There are several potential locations to visit when doing a tour of Ninh Binh Province and, unless you are planning to spend more than one day, you are going to have to choose which sights you want to see. One of the tours included the Bai Dinh Pagoda, which is the largest pagoda in Vietnam, as well as the caves of Trang An where the movie Kong: Skull Island was filmed. We chose to do what seemed to be the more popular tour that included Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam, the caves of Tam Coc, and the incredible views from the mountains above Mua Cave. It was a full day tour that include lunch with a meal that is representative of the Ninh Binh Province.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter – When visiting Hanoi in Vietnam, most of the hotels and rental properties are located in Hanoi’s old quarter. It is a very busy district with plenty of shops and restaurants making it a perfect location to explore the best of Hanoi. Some of the highlights of the old quarter are “Sword Lake”, Hoan Kiem Lake, the night market, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral. You will find plenty of street food and vendors walking with sweets and fruit for sale. Regardless of the time of day, the old quarter in Hanoi is extremely busy and the streets are packed with motorcycles, cars, and rickshaws. In fact there are so many motorcycles parked on the sidewalks that it is often easier to walk in the street than on the sidewalks.
Perfume Pagoda – The final tour that we took in Vietnam from Hanoi was the Perfume Pagoda tour. It is a day trip that takes you along a river with beautiful scenery to a complex of several different pagodas as well as the actual Perfume Pagoda, which is located in a cave called Huong Tich Cave that is at the top of Perfume Mountain. The tour started with a visit to the Thien Tru Pagoda, which is at the heart of the temple complex. The Thien Tru Pagoda is over 500 years old and is truly spectacular with wonderful architecture, artwork, and cultural features.
Cooking Class in Hanoi – One of our favorite memories of our trip to Vietnam was taking a cooking class in Hanoi. This was a true cooking class, not a demonstration, where we purchased the food from a local market, prepped all of the ingredients, and did the cooking ourselves with our chef’s instruction. There were only five of us in the class, making it very intimate and interactive. We created a four course meal, which we enjoyed eating family-style after cooking everything.