The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi was given its current name by the Nguyễn Dynasty. It’s seen many invasions and wars, has changed hands frequently throughout history and has changed and developed throughout time. The people of the city are friendly and welcoming, and on your cruise excursion you should expect to interact with the locals.
Hanoi is a loud and vibrant city, where life is fast-paced and your surroundings are colourful. People rush around on city streets, but life slows down in formal parks with their ancient trees and calm lakes. Your ship will dock at one of three ports, some distance from the city. You’re most likely to start your excursion at Halong Bay, with a 3.5-hour journey into Hanoi.
Sightseeing in Hanoi
You can explore the city on foot, or travel by taxi. Individuals can be taken by around by taxi motorbike, or on a cyclo which is a motorised tricycle where the passenger sits up front. Alternatively, a number of local companies offer motorbike hire so that you can traverse the city on your own. Your travels will bring you to beautiful monuments, pagodas and elaborate buildings including temples and towers. The city has museums, impressive parks and theatres, ensuring that whether you’re visiting Hanoi for the first time or are on a subsequent cruise, you’ll find plenty of things to do:
Ho Chi Minh Museum: This prominent white building gives an interesting insight into the life of Ho Chi Minh who was a Vietnamese communist revolutionary, Prime Minister and President. Each display contains written information about what you’re seeing.
Hoan Kiem Lake: This attractive park includes the Tortoise Tower, and is a relaxing place to while away the hours. In the morning, many residents make their way to the park for yoga, meditation and tai chi before continuing on to work. It’s rumoured that the lake is home to giant turtles.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre: This spectacular theatre is located by Hoan Kiem Lake. You’ll learn about Vietnamese legend through puppet performances set to live music. Singers accompany what you’re seeing, but speak in Vietnamese, so you’ll want to pick up a written translation to enjoy the show’s full impact. Shows take place several times a day, and include special effects.
Shopping in Hanoi
The most popular purchases for tourists in Hanoi are silk goods including clothing, accessories, bags and purses. Wooden carvings and embroidered items are also sold in many local shops that are stocked with souvenirs. There are so many attractions that you might find it hard to set aside time to do much shopping, though the city’s markets are an experience in their own right.
Indoor and outdoor markets are lively, bustling and colourful. You can buy new and used goods, but do your best to resist a new pet as they’re sold on the markets and won’t be allowed on your cruise ship! Instead, take a look at colourful fabrics or visit the Night Market if you’re around late into the evening and would like to buy ornaments and decorative items.
Eating Out in Hanoi
Some of the most unusual foods you’ll find in Hanoi are sold from stands in the street. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can buy a cooked pigeon that’s sold complete with its head and is something of a delicacy in the city. Boiled duck eggs, complete with their foetus, are served raw and flavoured with ginger, basil and chilli sauce. Like many Hanoi dishes, these duck eggs are prepared in full view of diners and cracked open and finished at the table. In the suburb of Le Mat, you can order cobra blood wine that’s prepared before your eyes with the cobra killed, cut open and drained into a glass. Usually, this drink is finished off with the cobra’s heart, often still beating, whilst the meat can be used in one of several cobra-based dishes served in the area’s restaurants. Alternatively, try a giant water bug that’s served with noodles, or dog meat which is served in the district of Tay Ho. Though these experiences aren’t for everyone, they’re a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture.
If you’d prefer something a little less adventurous, then you’ll enjoy the influence of traditional Vietnamese cuisine with options like chicken and beef noodle soups. Seafood dishes are served in a majority of restaurants, and you can buy fresh breads and vegetarian dishes as well as sausages, portions of fruit and delicious fried doughnuts. Street vendors serve fast food items that you can eat on the go as you tour the sights, though the city’s restaurants are atmospheric and serve meals of much higher quality. Before returning to your cruise ship, you might instead want to visit a grocery store or supermarket for a picnic to enjoy in a park.