bustling Old Quarter alley

Tucked down the narrow winding alleys of Hanoi’s Old Quarter you’ll find several budget guesthouses and hotels. Predominantly a locals’ neighborhood, the Old Quarter is a fantastic spot to hang your hat while visiting Hanoi. Vietnamese bustle about their noisy, hectic daily lives. Just across the road sits Hanaoi’s Hoen Kien Lake. The neighborhood is full of street stalls, small restaurants, arts and crafts’ shops, and chaotic traffic. You’ll never have a dull moment, even on a tight budget, since the area offers loads of free things to do within walking distance, such as:

1. Stroll around picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake.

More like a large pond, Hoan Kiem Lake is a popular park for locals to walk, jog, practice Tai Chi, chat with friends, and sit gazing at the lovely white Ngoc San Pagoda floating in the center of the lake. Take a stroll under shady trees, admire lake views, watch locals, and relax. There’s an outdoor cafe, a small temple, and many benches scattered around the lake.

Hoan Kiem Lake, with Ngoc San Pagoda floating serenely


2. Visit Hanoi’s many uniquely designed temples.


While you’re at the lake, start your temple explorations at Ngoc San Pagoda, accessed by a golden entry gate and a long red wooden bridge on Lake Hoen Kien’s north-eastern shores. The golden gate, many potted plants and quaint halls typify Hanoi’s small temples. Lake waters make a lovely backdrop. Many other temples, with free or minimal entry, are scattered around Hanoi. Each has slightly different detailing, so if you’re into temples, it’s worth visiting several.


temple at Hoam Kien Lake, HANOI, VIETNAM,

entrance gate to Ngoc San Pagoda


3. Chat with locals.


Hoan Kiem Lake is also a great place to strike up conversations with locals who speak English. Older residents who went through the Vietnam war and students are most likely to understand English, though many older Vietnamese speak French, not English. Be aware that many locals who start up conversations with tourists at the lake want to sell something- tours, souvenirs, every day merchandise, guest house rooms. But if you’re not interested in buying, they’re just as happy to talk about themselves, Vietnam, and their lives. Students often just want to practice English. Chatting with locals is a great way to find out about real Vietnamese life.


colorful Vietnamese lanterns


4. Check out beautiful Vietnamese art and handicrafts.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is packed with shops selling paintings, ink drawings, lacquer ware, carved stone and wood objects, chop sticks, silk, colorful lanterns, and other handicrafts. Northern Vietnamese are superb artists, like their Balinese counterparts. You won’t find these exquisite art and handicrafts in southern Vietnam, so take time to see them in Hanoi.


local crossing Long Bien Bridge- Hanoi

local crossing Long Bien Bridge- Hanoi

5. Escape the noisy hectic city on Hanoi’s historic railroad and pedestrian bridge, spanning the Red River. The cantilevered, steel Long Bien Bridge, built in the 1930’s, is a historic landmark in its own right, and quite interesting to examine. However, the main draw for me is silence. Although trains still cross the bridge occasionally, most of the time you’ll encounter only pedestrians and bicycles. Standing in the center of the bridge, the wide muddy Red River flowing below, you’ll be treated to a wonderful experience: utter silence. No cars, no motorbikes, no horns blaring, no shouting or yelling. Just the soothing sounds of flowing water, swooping birds, creaking bicycles and the patter of feet. After getting ‘drowned’ in Hanoi’s deafening traffic and humanity, standing on Long Bien Bridge is an auditory and psychological delight not to be missed.


6. Explore the Old Quarter’s intriguing alleys.

You’ll discover unusual street foods, miniature temples, and locals going about their daily lives. Hanoi’s back alleys are like a living museum. You could easily fill a day or two just watching and digesting all the unusual activities and merchandise.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum


7. Behold the preserved remains of Vietnam’s hero, Ho Chi Minh at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.


Astoundly, visitors to Hanoi are welcomed to gaze upon the preserved corpse of General Ho Chi Minh absolutely for free. Visitation hours are short- just a few hours several hours per week. And the Mausoleum adheres to fairly strict rules on dress code, bags and photography, but that’s on par with many famous landmarks and museums around the world. In addition, the Mausoleum is closed two months of the year. So, before heading over to Da Dinh Square, check on current opening hours and rules. It’s not often in life that you have an opportunity to view a preserved human body, let alone a famous one, so by all means add this to the top of your ‘to do’ list.


Lake at Hanoi’s Botanical Gardens


8. Immerse yourself in nature.

Visiting Hanoi, you’ll quickly appreciate any opportunity to escape noise and chaos. The Botanical Gardens afford another great escape right inside the city. The Gardens are open 7:30 am to 10 pm, so you can visit practically anytime and stay as long as you want. There are two lakes, a sculpture garden, and loads of tropical vegetation and landscaping. Nearby are a few lovely temples as well.


Hanoi Fine Arts Museum

Hanoi Fine Arts Museum

9. Make an architectural tour.


Hanoi is full of grand colonial French buildings such as the Fine Arts Museum, the Presidential Palace and several historic hotels. Grab a city map, plan yourself out a walking tour, and head out for a half-day or day filled with spectacular architecture. Don’t forget to include a few temples and pagodas.


Old Quarter street market


10. Check out an early morning fresh market.

You’ll find all sorts of interesting food for sale: live fish, eels and frogs; tropical fruits and vegetables you’ve probably never seen; spices and teas. It’s equally interesting to watch locals bartering, buying and selling. A great way to start any morning in Hanoi.



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(* photos watermarked are by LashWorldTour. others from Flickr Creative Common authors: joaquiney / the mechanical turk / upyernoz / ashcaf *)



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  1. Suzy

    I can't believe Hanoi has so many free things to do, including the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum! You would think someone would charge entry there. I love finding parks and gardens in cities for some peace and quiet. They also make for great people watching.

  2. LASH

    Hey Suzy,

    Yeah, I was really surprised taht the Mausoleum is free,too! I even double-checked the web to make sure it's still free now, since I was there in 2003. There's really sooo many free things to do all over the world! thanks for stopping by! cheers, Lash


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