My peculiar Hanoi bucket list will take you to one of the most unusual cities on the planet and guarantee that you make the best of it. Being more than 1000 years old, Vietnam’s capital is a unique blend of eastern traditions and soviet communism. It’s a place where you can find a well-maintained Lenin monument right next to an authentic Confucius temple, that if you can cross the street of course.
I’m not making much sense, am I? Well, neither is this city of craziness.
Here is the most peculiar Hanoi bucket list:
Cross the street
We start our journey with something simple. As simple as crossing the street. Nah, I’m just kidding – crossing the street in Hanoi is anything but simple. Due to the never-stopping flow of motorbikes, getting on the other side of the road has become an art in Hanoi.
The secret is not to wait for the traffic to stop (because it won’t) but to go with a steady tempo. The drivers are used to this kind of crossing and won’t have any problems to go around you. Easy to say, but quite frightening to do.
Drink egg coffee
-Large coffee with milk, please.
-Sorry, mister, we only have coffee with egg.
-Coffee with what, now?!
Yes, this is a real story, and I’m pretty sure it happens to a lot of unprepared Hanoi visitors. Can you imagine that? The city is so odd they drink their coffee with a raw egg instead of milk!
I tried it, and honestly – it’s delicious. Incredibly creamy and sweet, you’d never guess there’s a gross raw egg inside.
The legend says that during the Vietnam War (known as the American War there), all the milk was taken for the weapon factories, so one bold coffee shop-owner tried using an egg instead. It turned out great, and the most peculiar Hanoi bucket list adventure was born.
Get a photo on the train street
Many cities in the world have a street close to the train rails. Hanoi is once again on the next level. There is a tiny road where the 117-year-old railway track goes right between the houses. No joke here; the train passes with a couple of meters of clearance at most on each side.
The street gained a lot of fame on Instagram, becoming one of the most touristic places in Hanoi. The road became so crowded that at times the train had to stop and change its route, therefore at the end of 2019, the government decided to close down all cafes on the train street.
Try the authentic Bun Cha Hanoi
This Hanoi bucket list idea used to be – ‘Try an authentic Vietnamese Pho’, but after trying both of those, well, Bun Cha is miles better. It’s also believed to have originated in Hanoi, so it fits the list perfectly.
Go to Halong Bay
Halong Bay is the biggest bucket-list attraction in the country. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1994, the bay includes more than 1,600 limestone islands and islets, offering one of the most scenic cruises globally.
Halong Bay is not precisely in Hanoi, but Vietnam’s capital is the closest big city, so I couldn’t leave it out of the list. I recommend skipping the day-tour option and get a one or even a two-night cruise.
Countless Hanoi tour operators will race to offer you ‘the best deal there is’. Finding the real best deal, however, is not that easy. If you’re planning a trip to Hanoi soon, I strongly recommend checking my detailed Halong Bay post.
Visit Tran Quoc Pagoda
The Trấn Quốc Pagoda is the oldest and also the most picturesque in Hanoi. It’s believed to be constructed in the middle of the sixth century, making it more than 1400 years old!
Made up of 11 levels, this ancient Buddhist shrine stands 15 meters high, and it’s easy to spot from afar. The Tran Quoc Pagoda is still in use, so if you plan to visit it, make sure you’re dressed respectfully.
Try the street food
The street food does not get more street than it is in Hanoi.
What do I mean? Well, The chefs literally put their cauldrons on the sidewalk while chopping the ingredients in the back alley. If you dare to order a plate, you are welcomed to sit on a tiny blue plastic chair (again on the sidewalk) where you can enjoy your lunch.
A bit annoying for pedestrians, but certainly a must-have Hanoi bucket list activity.
Watch a water puppet show
The water puppetry is an ancient Vietnamese tradition dating almost 1000 years. It’s a puppet theater, but instead of a traditional stage, the puppets float over a water basin. The performances tell traditional Vietnamese stories, and the whole thing is incredibly enchanting, so make sure you include it in your Hanoi itinerary.
Try the cheapest beer in the world on Ta Hien Street
Hanoi proud itself of having the cheapest beer in the world. Named Bia Hoi, a pint of the amber beverage can be found for as little as 10,000 VND (0.45 USD). While I wouldn’t expect something that cheap to be even remotely good, the Bia Hoi is really not bad. Its distinctive taste combines well with the city’s pavement culture to create a genuinely Hanoi-esque experience.
While you can find Bia Hoi everywhere, I recommend going to the famous Ta Hien Street. Known as the Beer Street, the narrow alley is full of beer bars and cheering mugs.
See the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh in the mausoleum
And because Hanoi is not your regular city, another peculiar city attraction is…a mummy. Guarded around the clock, the embalmed body of the nation’s father – Ho Chi Minh, is laying in his mausoleum in the center of the city and is open for tourists five days a week.
Enroll in a cooking class
Enrolling in a cooking class is always a great way to discover the local food culture and customs. When we’re talking about Hanoi and the world-renounced Vietnamese food scene, the cooking class becomes a bucket list adventure!
Learn how to cook Bun Cha, Pho, spring rolls, and of course, learn how to differentiate the authentic food joints from the overpriced touristy ones.
This class is a great option that includes a guided market visit and transportation.
Check out the Temple of Literature
Build over a thousand years ago, the Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucious and is one of Hanoi’s biggest tourist attractions.
The temple is famous for being the place where the first Vietnamese university was established (in 1076!). It’s also featured on the back of the 100,000 Dong banknote.
Discover the Old Quarter
Hanoi’s old quarter is the most captivating area in the city. Greeting all visitors with haptic chaos, bustly streets, and exotic smells, the most touristic part of Hanoi is sure to be the most remembered part of your journey.
Explore the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Also known as the Hanoi Citadel, this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most culturally and historically significant landmarks in Vietnam.
Being a political center of the country for 13 consecutive centuries, the Imperial citadel is (literally) a treasure trove for the archeologists who managed to excavate artifacts dating back to between the 6th and 20th centuries.
Visit Hoa Lo Prison
The most infamous attraction in Hanoi is also one of the most visited. Nicknamed ‘Hanoi Hilton‘ by US prisoners of war (POWs), the once horrific site offers a glimpse of the troubled Vietnamese history.
A curious thing about the prison is that it has never been very successful, with hundreds of inmates escaping its walls during the years.
A great way to explore the prison is via US military Jeep. That way, a knowledgeable guide will show all the hidden spots and teach you more about the famous prisoners who lived there.
Be amazed by Hanoi’s Notre Dame
I admit, the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, also known as the Hanoi’s Notre Dame, really surprised me. Here I am, strolling around the bustling streets of this Southeast Asian megapolis, and out of nothing, right in front of me – a vintage french cathedral! Giving this a second thought, Vietnam was a French colony for quite some time, so it’s not that odd having a cathedral in the middle of the old quarter.
St. Joseph may look incredibly out of place there but is undoubtedly a prime Hanoi bucket list material.
Get lost at Hanoi’s Night Market
If you happen to visit Hanoi during the weekend, the famous Hanoi Night Market is a definite must-see. Running through the Old Quarter district from 7:00 PM onwards, this chaotic market offers everything – from tasty street food to cheap Adibas snickers. The Night Market is a favorite place for pickpockets, so make sure you’re vigilant at all times.
Unwind at Hoan Kiem Lake
Situated in Hanoi’s historical center, Hoàn Kiếm Lake translates to ‘Lake of the Returned Sword’. According to the legend, more than 500 years ago, Emperor Le Loi returned the magic sword he used to defeat Ming China to a turtle from the lake. Later, the emperor himself renamed the lake to commemorate the event.
Today there are hardly any magic turtles in the lake, but the area is a favorite among locals and tourists to unwind from the bustling Hanoi chaos.
Check out Ngoc Son Pagoda
And speaking of Hoan Kiem Lake, you can’t visit it and skip its temple – Ngoc Son. Translating to ‘Temple of the Jade Mountain’, the shrine is so perfectly located that it became the most visited temple in the whole of Hanoi. Situated on a small islet inside the lake, the Ngoc Son Pagoda is constructed in classical Vietnamese style and connected to the lakeshore via a picturesque red bridge.
Get a souvenir from Dong Xuan Market
Located in the central district of Hoàn Kiếm, the Dong Xuan Market is the most popular marketplace in Hanoi. But don’t imagine Dong Xuan as the other Southeast Asian marketplaces because it’s anything but. Housed in a four-story communist-style building, the peculiar marketplace was constructed all the way back in 1889 and, to this day, is the best place to hunt for an authentic Vietnam souvenir.
Visit the Vietnamese Women’s Museum
We cap the peculiar Hanoi bucket list with a museum visit, which will be more attractive to the ladies. The Vietnamese Women’s Museum is a highly informative place that showcases the role of the Vietnamese women during the centuries. It covers everything – from marriage customs to tribal costumes, and I’m sure most of the ladies will find it captivating.
As for the gentleman…well, you had your time in the Hoa Lo prison and its Vietnamese war machines; it’s time to return the favor.
That’s all from me, I hope you enjoyed the peculiar Hanoi bucket list.
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