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Hanoi with Kids

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Hanoi has consistently ranked in the planet’s top ten tourist destinations for years, but it manages to remain uncommercialised and full of local character.  

The city is beautiful, quirky, lively, and with all sorts of things to discover, both historical and living.  The food is sublime. Staying here is inexpensive and the people are friendly. We love it.

Read on for our advice about how to get the most out of your stay in Hanoi with Kids (or even without)

Table of Contents

About this Article

The article is grouped into fairly logical arrangements, but do use the links in the list above, and jump to whatever you find of interest.

For each attraction: we describe it, tell you what we liked about it, then we also give locations and website links. Indicative prices are in both local currency and rounded to the nearest US dollar.  At the time of writing, 25,000 Vietnamese Dong are worth about one US Dollar or 30,000 Dong about one GB Pound Sterling

You can find Food, Accommodation and Travel advice at the end of the article.

Tips and Wrinkles for Each Attraction

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Please read general disclaimers at the foot of the article.

Singapore is a perfect and safe place for a family holiday. When planning your visit, know about things to do in Singapore with kids or without. – Read our guide.

Overview of the City

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Established more than a thousand years ago, Hanoi was Vietnam’s capital until the beginning of the nineteenth century when the royal court moved to Hué and then it was revived as Indochine’s administrative centre by the French eighty years later. During the war against the United States in the 1960s, it was the capital of North Vietnam and following victory it was established again as the national capital.

We think that the Old and French Quarters of Hanoi are about the loveliest and liveliest urban places on the planet, full of colour and interest for children and adults alike. Wherever you wander, there is interest to see, from the tangled roots of an ancient tree growing out of the pavement to multicoloured flags flapping from the picturesque overhead balcony of a tiny cafe.

The food here is at once healthy and delicious for both adults and children

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Crossing the road in Hanoi is a gentle artform and a learned skill. There will never be a break in the traffic and if you were to wait for one you would never get across. The secret is to avoid eye contact with the drivers as this may lead to misunderstandings. Proceed into the throng of mopeds with an air of confidence and faith. The traffic will flow around you on both sides like a benign stream.

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The unusual thing for Hanoi – no traffic

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If you find Hanoi too hectic or need sun, beach and bit of family fun and want to see the largest Vietnamese Island visit Phu Quoc Island with kids.

 

Must-See Sights in Hanoi

Our love for Hanoi is all about the vibe of the city itself, walking the streets especially in the Old Quarter, and discovering the character of the place and its people rather than in visiting landmarks. Having said that, it’s always a joy to see that our kids really do like to explore the formal tourist attractions too, so here are a few of the essential Must-See sights of the City

Temple of Literature

This monument, dedicated to Confucius almost a thousand years ago, is still in pretty perfect shape now.  It covers a substantial area, formed of a series of walled courtyards, each with its own characteristics, whether paved, set out with ponds or as formal gardens. Each has different buildings and smaller architectural features.  You will also find various talks and events going on in some of the areas.  The Temple of Literature has been used historically as a university, and when we were there, there was a graduation ceremony taking place, so it clearly still has a living academic culture.

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We found it a serene contrast to the intensity of the city, with lots of interest and character.

Temple of Literature – useful info

Hoan Kiem Lake & Ngoc Son Temple

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A walk around this little lake in the city makes for a very pleasant half hour, and you can stop off at any number of cafes on the surrounding streets.

Giant turtles lived in this lake until at least 2016 when the body of the last known one was found dead. These turtles were described as Gods of the Lake in ancient magical sword myths similar to the British story of Excalibur, but they were not known to exist in recent history until the 1960s when a 1.9m (6ft 3in) specimen was caught and killed.

As you make it around the water you can’t fail to notice the pretty little island temple with its red wooden bridge. For the small entry fee, the Ngoc Son Temple, aka Temple of the Jade Mountain is well worth crossing the bridge to visit.

Although the temple is pretty at night time, illuminated with coloured floodlamps, come to visit early in the morning when the lake is at its most peaceful and the temple less crowded.

Ngoc Son Temple – useful information

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The Obvious – Visit the Temples. Things to do in Siem Reap with Kids or Without – Read More.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum Complex

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Ho Chi Minh is known as “Uncle” to the people of Vietnam, having led them to independence from France in 1945 and to the defeat of the Americans in 1969 followed by reunification of the North and South, although he died before the outcome of the war was concluded. His biography is not clear, with conflicting threads including time spent in both the USA and the UK.

Ho’s body lies in a glass case within the grey granite Mausoleum, flanked by guards and available to those who wish to pay their respects. The Mausoleum was built in the 1970s and its design was inspired by that of Lenin in Moscow.

It sits in the same park complex as one of several museums in Vietnam dedicated to Ho Chi Minh and his story.

Request a Free English Language Tour Guide at the Museum reception desk. This service is fairly essential if you don’t speak Vietnamese. The guides speak good English and are well informed, they add great value to the museum visit which is otherwise largely a succession of unintelligible images.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum – useful information

  • Website
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • Museum
    • The complex is a half-hour walk from the middle of the Old Quarter. See also the section on Botanical Gardens below
  • Opening hours
    • Museum Daily 08:00 – 12:00, and also 14:00 – 16:30 Daily except for Mondays and Fridays
  • Typical Entry and Other Prices
    • Foreign Visitors 40,000 Dong ($2) English Guide: Free (plus voluntary tip)
    • Vietnamese and Disabled Visitors: Free

Hanoi Citadel (Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long)

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Unlike most of historic Hanoi, this is an archaeological site rather than a group of ancient buildings. A Chinese fortress stood here until the eleventh century and then the Citadel became and remained the seat of the Vietnamese royal court until they moved to Hué in 1810.  The nineteenth and twentieth centuries largely disregarded the Citadel until its rediscovery under the present excavations. The site is included on the UNESCO world heritage list. 

We explored several galleries here. Our favourite was the museum, where objects from the archaeological excavations are exhibited alongside film presentations. As a home-schooler, I’m glad to say my children loved this museum and the stories it told. There is also a scary war bunker to visit, right in the middle of the site.

Hanoi Citadel – useful information

  • Website
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • Hanoi Citadel is in the middle of the city, within walking distance of the old town.
  • Opening hours
    • Daily from 8:00 to 17:00 except Mondays
  • Typical Entry and Other Prices
    • Adult: 30,000 Dong ($1+)
    • Children under 15 free
    • Half price for over-60’s
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You can easily get from Hanoi to Laos, Luang Prabang – either by bus or by plane.Read about things to do in Luang Prabang with kids or without

 

Hanoi Museums and Galleries

Our kids love museums and galleries. . . this always comes as a bit of a surprise because I think of museums as being grown-up entertainment, rather like eating broccoli. However, if it works: then let it work, and there is a good variety in Hanoi.

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Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

Believe it or not, Vietnam is home to no fewer than 54 ethnic groups, so this new museum has plenty to explore and it does it very imaginatively. There are displays of everyday objects, alongside valuable works of craftsmanship, together with photo displays and audio exhibits. Outside in the museum grounds, there are ten different types of houses and even a boat, all set out in landscaped gardens.

The external displays were our favourite part so we would classify this museum as not a rainy day activity. Although the museum is accessible for disabled people, entry to the houses is by stairs and ladders, so be prepared for a bit of climbing.

It is about twice as far from the old town in the same direction beyond the Mausoleum and Ho Chi Minh Museum so consider combining your visits.

Museum of Ethnology – useful information

  • Website
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • Probably too far to walk, so get a taxi, or if you are feeling adventurous, catch a No14 Minibus from Dinh Tien Hoang St and alight at Nghai Tan, which is about 2 blocks from the museum.
  • Opening hours
    • Daily 08:30 – 17:30 except closed on Mondays.
  • Typical Entry and Other Prices
    • Adult: 40,000 Dong (under $2)
    • Students 6-18 10,000 (40c)
    • Children under 6 Free
    • There is a camera fee for tourists. Photography is permitted but not flash.

Vietnam Women’s Museum

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This place gives an excellent angle on Vietnamese culture and history from the viewpoint of women’s role in the Vietnamese economy and society.

We spent a few hours learning about Vietnamese weddings – (the bride wears red), children’s upbringing, making rice flour, the war against the US and much more including fashion. We loved it. I had to drag my girls out of this place. 

Rent an audioguide. You have to pay for them but it was well worth it. I reckon it kept us enthralled and happily fascinated for a couple of hours longer than we would have been otherwise.

Vietnam Women Museum – useful information

  • Website
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • It is within easy walking distance of the old town, just south of the Hoan Kiem Lake.
  • Opening hours
    • Daily 08:00 – 17:00
  • Typical Entry and Other Prices
    • Adult:
    • Child (xxx years old): $

Vietnam is exotic and desirable. Saigon: Ho Chi Min City – Know More.

National Museum of Vietnamese History

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This is quite a simple little old fashioned museum. By old fashioned, I mean real things on display rather than either video screens or too many immersive stage sets. We loved it especially for the prehistoric exhibits beautiful inlaid furniture and some quirky sculptures including a gorgeous three-headed monster in armour.

The museum sits in a small garden which has some great bonsai trees including some growing in stone tubs resting on the backs of some long-suffering (stone) turtles.

National Museum of Vietnamese History Useful Info

Know more about Laos. Bugs, rain and floods

Commercial Art Galleries

Lots of holiday places worldwide have small commercial art galleries aimed at the tourist, and we always spend time in them, usually feeling either disappointed by low quality or high price. But Vietnam (Both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh) is one of the few countries where we have actually bought pictures. Two of these are hanging on the wall as I write this and we still love them. The small streetside galleries in Hanoi Old Quarter have a vast range of paintings on canvas and board. The quality is higher and prices lower than you get in most tourist traps.

Don’t be shy of buying a fairly large canvas, they will dismantle the stretcher and roll the canvas before you can blink.

The website of the gallery where I bought one of our pictures is here, but don’t buy online, better to wander browse and enjoy!

Food and Coffee in Hanoi! 

Vietnamese food is tasty healthy and fresh.  One of the joys of exploring Hanoi is that you can go into a cheap cafe, order salad and soup, or into a formal restaurant for more complex dishes and each will be the best examples of their kind that you can remember eating. 

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Take a Cooking Class

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My kids could eat pho and spring rolls every day. We found ourselves one day in a restaurant run by Mr Duong – winner of Top Chef, so we signed up for a cooking class run by the man himself. We started with a trip to the local market to buy fresh ingredients, came back and chopped and sauteed and boiled and rolled. Whatever you cook you can eat. The whole thing took about four hours, was great fun and we still practice some of the skills we learned that day. For us, this cooking class was the best family activity in Hanoi, and one of the most memorable worldwide.

Hanoi Cooking Class – useful information

  • Website
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • The class is in a different location from the restaurant, but they will pick you up and take you there.
  • Opening hours
    • Check the website for timings for your chosen class
  • Typical Entry and Other Prices
    • You pay 1.3M Dong ($55) for the group. There were four of us so it worked out as under $15 each.

Hanoi Street Food Tour

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It’s hard to buy food in a foreign country where you neither know the language nor the local recipes. We were in Ho Chi Minh City before Hanoi and I was bewildered there when I received one big plate of green weed, and another of cold cuts and rice paper – yes it was do-it-yourself fresh spring roll. Now I know it, but then I was just puzzled. A food tour around Hanoi will teach you what are you eating and the best places to try it.

Hanoi Food Tour – useful information

  • Website
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • different tours start in different locations
  • Typical Entry and Other Prices
    • Adult: from 500,000 Dong ($20)

For us an additional benefit was that we learnt what foods contain dairy or wheat products – as the girls are intolerant to both – luckily most Vietnamese food is gluten and dairy-free – besides coffee which usually full of sweet condensed milk. . . .

Visit The Note Coffee

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The Vietnamese are crazy about coffee – you can buy coffee everywhere at any time of the day. In the past few years, I have had times with no coffee and times when I have had one or two a day, but in Hanoi, I think I was averaging around 4 or 5 cups. Our favourite cafe was The Note Coffee. The name refers to the post-it notes stuck everywhere all over the walls, ceilings stairs . . . and there are pads of blanks lying about to encourage you to add your contribution. When your coffee arrives, it will probably have a cute note from the staff stuck on the cup.

While we were enjoying our coffee, the girls would be writing and drawing on post-it notes and sticking them up all over the place. It felt as if everything you would forbid your child – like writing on the walls was Ok here. We visited it almost every day – trying great coffee, freshly squeezed juices and yummy pastries.

The Note Coffee – useful information

  • Website
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • It’s right in the middle of the Old Quarter
  • Opening hours
    • Daily 06:30 – 23:00

Exploring Laos on boat. Cruising Mekong on a slow boat – Read More

Other Tours in Hanoi 

Hanoi Free Walking Tours

We love these free tours, for almost any city and the guides are usually great (they have to be as they only earn from tips) Here are links to a couple of companies who both get excellent ratings on TripAdvisor

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Hanoi Free Walking Tours Useful Info

Cyclo Tour of Hanoi Old Quarter

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The cooking class we took included a cyclo ride which was fun, but we enjoyed the parts where we explored on foot even more. If you want to try a dedicated cyclo tour then those provided by Free Local Tours seem to receive the best reviews.

Cyclo Tour of Hanoi Old Quarter – useful info

Hanoi Sightseeing Motorbike tour

We didn’t do this one because our kids are too young, but those who did seemed to be having fun. Checking on Trip Advisor and the company website, they seem to tick the ethical and safety-conscious boxes too.

Motorbike Tours – useful information

Fun Attractions in Hanoi 

Hanoi has a range of both traditional local cultural attractions such as the Thang Long water puppets and international attractions like adventure parks . . .

Traditional Water Puppet Show in Hanoi

Here’s another “must-see” which regularly appears in lists of top things to do in Hanoi. The waist-deep water both hides the puppet mechanism and acts as the stage sometimes representing water and sometimes dry land. The puppeteers hide behind a screen at the back of the stage and the play is accompanied by live music performed on traditional instruments.

The tradition comes from shows put on in the flooded paddy fields and comprises short humorous skits, based on traditional life, many centred about a smiling Mr Tễu who makes a fool of himself or is made a fool of.

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Water Puppet Show – useful information

  • Website
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • In the Old Town at the top of Hoan Kiem Lake near the Ngoc Son Temple
  • Opening hours
    • Daily: there are five shows times from 15:00 to 20:00
  • Typical Prices
    • Seat prices from 100-200,000 Dong ($4.50 to $9)

Ionah Show Hanoi

At the other end of the scale from the traditional water puppets, Ionah is Vietnam’s answer to Cirque du Soleil, in a wow-effect spectacular, combining acrobatics, modern costumes, lighting and high-tech circus. Language is Vietnamese but the stunning visuals more than compensate for any difficulty in understanding the subtleties of the drama.

Its Presently closed for training and renovation. Due to open Sept 2019. Please let me know if you have up to date information.

Ionah Show – useful information

Botanical Garden Hanoi

We always find botanical gardens to be a welcome respite from almost any city, and this one is no exception, though the proportion of tarmac paving to lawns is pretty harsh and there is a sad little menagerie with caged animals.

Still, it’s a nice little park with a children’s play area and the trees are magnificent.

The Botanical Garden is back-to-back with the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum, and also on the same campus as Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house and the impressive French Colonial Style Presidential Palace – the latter only visible externally. So plan a half-day walkabout for all this area together, then perhaps go on to the Museum of Ethnology which is farther out in the same direction.

Botanic Gardens – useful information

  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • Near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum, a half-hour walk from the middle of the old quarter.
  • Opening hours
    • Daily 06:00 – 21:00
  • Typical Entry
    • 3,000 Dong (15cents)

Vinpearl Land Water Park Royal City Hanoi

We visited Vinpearl Land on Phu Quoc Island and thought it was great, but the one in Hanoi seems to be closed now. Please let me know if you find it open again and what you think of it.

Vinpearl Land Water Park Hanoi – useful information

  • Google Map Location
  • Opening hours
    • apparently closed?

Hồ Tây Water Park

This Water Park is not enormous but the layout is super with lots of trees and shade, lots of pools and places to walk or sunbathe and there’s a lazy river which our kids (and we) love.

It’s old-school in that the emphasis is on pools and water slides rather than themed rides and the place is clearly aimed at the local rather than the tourist market, but don’t let that put you off. Our girls love this stuff – any kids worth their salt are quite capable of making their own make-believe in such a place with its tangle of pools and pathways.

Go during the week. Ho Tay gets much more full at weekends. It is open Summer time only. If in doubt about the season get your hotel to call +84 24 3718 4222 and check it is open before you go.

The place is all cash only and there is no ATM. No outside food allowed, so you have to buy any food and beverages from the concessions inside the compound.

There is also a funfair section, but other reviewers confirm what is pretty obvious to the eye. The machinery is old and ropey and these rides are not ones to which I would trust the precious flesh of my family. I don’t recommend these – go for the water or not at all.

Hồ Tây Water Park – useful information

  • Website
    • In Vietnamese, I can’t see an English version. Please let me know if you find one.
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • It’s a long way out. Take a taxi and expect to pay about 100,000 Dong ($4 or 5)
  • Opening hours
    • Summer only. 08:30 – 19:00 Daily except Sat and Sun when it opens half an hour earlier at 08:00
  • Typical Entry and Other Prices
    • 135,000 Dong ($6) gives access to the water park and unlimited used of flumes. Fairground rides are extra but you don’t want to go on those, do you?

Jump Arena Trampoline Park

This is an indoor recreation park with trampolines climbing walls and some other obstacle-course type activities. I have said this before, but my kids love to climb and to bounce, and this place is a good one. The staff are friendly and efficient with good English, the equipment seems to be well maintained with a great little cafeteria. Go bounce!

This park is under cover and the food is good, so it ticks my box for a rainy day activity in Hanoi with Kids, but the downside is that it gets very hot in summer and crowded at weekends, so pick your day carefully and/or go early.

Jump Arena Trampoline Park – useful information

  • Website
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • It’s a 25-minute walk south from the Water Puppet theatre through the French Quarter – quite a pleasant walk.
  • Opening hours
    • Daily 09:00 – 21:00
  • Typical Entry and Other Prices
    • On a weekday you will pay about 110,000 Dong for an hour plus 50,000 for a pair of special socks. ($5 plus $2)
    • Full Pricing menu is complicated click here

Bouldering at VietClimb 

The walls in VietClimb are for bouldering – climbing without ropes above a soft floor. And there are no trampolines here, in other words, this is a bit more hardcore than Jump Arena. It’s a small gym with friendly staff.

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Consider going here rather than Jump Arena if you want to get away from bouncing kids, especially if you want to combine a day with the Water Park and/or the Ho Chi Minh Museum. which are roughly in the same direction (North Westish from the Old Quarter)

VietClimb – useful information

  • Website
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • It’s more or less on the way from the waterpark if you want to share the day.
  • Opening hours
    • Daily 09:00 – 22:00. Prices increase after 5pm
  • Typical Entry and Other Prices
    • Adult: one time pass 09:00 to 17:00 weekdays 120,000 Dong ($5)
    • Child class – 1hour – 250,000 Dong ($11)

Have a Massage or just a Foot Massage  

Hanoi is full of Beauty parlours and it’s relatively cheap to have a massage.

Don’t let having children with you prevent your massage. We had a perfect deal when I had a body scrub and massage, while my little fashionistas had their nails done. If you want to relax while someone takes care of your kids: it’s a perfect combination.

Free Things to do in Hanoi 

Things for sale in little shops and stalls in Old Hanoi seem generally more fun, more quirky and better quality than elsewhere. We found ourselves browsing and actually buying much more here to take home than we usually do, from hand-printed postcards to little woodcut stamps carved in front of us to cut-paper greetings cards which erect themselves into 3-d sculptures when opened. Wandering around window-shopping is a real delight here.

Walk Around the Lake on Sunday

It seemed surreal but one day the traffic disappeared, and the streets between the Note Coffee and The Water Theatre filled instead with people walking about, dancing, taking rides on little go-kart trolleys and buying silly plastic helicopters from street vendors.

The sight of Hanoi streets without a constant stream of cars and mopeds is so unexpected that it becomes a tourist attraction in its own right.

Check out the Weekend Night Market

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The Night Market is perfect if you want to buy cheap souvenirs or knock-off electronics – which look good but won’t work for long. Its definitely ‘great for tee-shirts – the choice is overwhelming.

Of course, there is food on sale too and the lovely friendly Vietnamese atmosphere is free to swim around in.

Night Market – useful information

  • Google Map Location
  • Opening hours
    • Friday, Saturday Sunday only 20:00 – 23:00

Where to Eat in Hanoi

A lovely thing about both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is that they break the rule which we developed for Mumbai and Beijing – the cheaper it is the tastier. In the Vietnamese cities, you can choose any price point and find something excellent at that level. The places we recommend here, represent a couple of these we stumbled across – maybe they were lucky finds or maybe they are typical for Hanoi, where pretty much all food options seem to be on the good side.

Duong’s Restaurant

This is an example at the top end, though not at all pretentious. We had just checked in to our hotel and asked for a recommendation for some food. They pointed along the street to No 27. It was a lovely restaurant, the waitresses immediately became our daughters’ best friends and the food was both beautifully presented and divine to eat.

Lovely for a casual lunch. Must book for evenings +84 24 3636 4567. For a treat try the matched wine menu, about 1.2M Dong ($50 per head.

Duong’s Restaurant – useful information

  • Website
    • http://duongsrestaurant.com/
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • Take a taxi or walk through the lovely tangled streets of the Old Town

Wrap & Roll

Wrap and roll is a chain of Vietnamese restaurants. All the food is very tasty, well presented and served. Perhaps you can find cheaper, but we found this place clean, comfy and with A/C on a hot day.

Our kids loved the food here some of which is even more fun with DIY fresh spring rolls. So we visited Wrap&Roll several times.

Wrap and Roll – useful information

  • Website
  • Google Map Location and How to Get There
    • At the head of the lake quite near the Water Puppet Theatre
  • Opening hours
    • Daily 11:00 – 22:30

Almost any Street Food

We love Vietnamese street food especially Pho. During our second visit to Hanoi, we went for the Perfect Pho Hunt, which means we were trying a bowlful on every corner. They were pretty much all delicious, however, I must report failure on the matter of comprehensive surveying – it’s physically impossible to eat more than three bowls of Pho in one day.

Pho – is a Vietnamese broth – either from chicken or beef with rice noodles. When you order the soup, a portion of noodles is cooked in the broth making them soft and full of flavour. Pho is one of the most popular street foods in Vietnam.

Trips Out from Hanoi 

Ha Long Bay

The image of these islands in the mist has been in my mind ever since I saw the movie Indochine a few decades back, and they are just as attractive in reality, both from the water and on the islands themselves with their tangle of jungle and soft white limestone.

Most cruise packages include a bus ride out from and back to the city. Our guide was entertaining with his stories illustrating the nation’s recent history and present culture with his personal angle. We stopped off at a craft warehouse on both trips where we could have bought many things. Though the objects in these workshops tended to be larger and heavier than we want, the craft process and social enterprise with disabled artisans was interesting

Besides being awestruck with the beauty of Ha Long Bay these cruises have plenty of interest.

In the evening on the first day of our cruise, there was a small party and after that, we tried squid fishing.  We didn’t manage to catch any squid but we all had great fun. As well as sightseeing from the boat we climbed up to a spectacular viewpoint, and on the second day we visited caves. The sightseeing was all well organised. 

Later, we all (including the kids) participated in a hands-on cookery class to make spring rolls, and to top it off we went kayaking. 

Sa Pa 

Trips into the mountains around the market town of Sa Pa to see the rice fields and local people for whom they are a way of living are advertised throughout Hanoi. The trip is 6 hours each way by coach, so it is only worth going if you have time to stay a night or two in the hills.

 

 

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Ania James

photographer, traveller, mother of twin girls, wife, worldschooler, rulebreaker

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