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Hanoi Travel Guide

The capital of Vietnam is over a thousand years old - a history reflected in the narrow, winding streets, where ancient temples sit placidly between modern buildings. HCM City might be the country’s economic powerhouse, but Hanoi has a real sense of character. Sipping rich Vietnamese coffee and gazing at faded yellow colonial buildings, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time - until the motorbikes zoom by.

Start your day bright and early at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where visitors start lining up at 8am to see the famous leader’s embalmed body. Be prepared to file solemnly through the room with about ten seconds of actual viewing time, and don’t even think about stopping to stare. Afterwards, pay a visit to the museum next door, which houses an intriguing collection of artifacts that shed light on Ho Chi Minh’s personal life and work. You can also see the leader’s house and his collection of used cars.

Hop in a taxi or onto a xe om (motorbike taxi) and head for the Museum of Ethnology in the nearby district of Cau Giay. Vietnam has 54 ethnic minority groups; at this large museum, everyday objects like baskets, clothing and agricultural tools offer the opportunity to learn about how they live. In the garden, you can tour ethnic homes like the Ede long house and Tay stilt house.

Stop by the Temple of Literature, one of the city’s oldest buildings. Founded in 1070, it became the country’s first university six years later. The temple grounds feel like an oasis of calm surrounded by the busy streets of modern-day Hanoi.

Grab a bite to eat in the Old Quarter, where street stalls and tiny restaurants offer local specialties like pho (soup with beef and rice noodles) and bun cha (grilled pork with rice vermicelli). Northern-style Vietnamese food is all about simplicity: you won’t get tons of herbs and spices, as in the South, but what you do get are pure flavors.

Take a post-prandial stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake. According to legend, King Le Loi received a magical sword from the gods; after he used it to fight the Chinese invaders, a turtle in this lake took it from him to return to the divine powers. You can watch a retelling of this story at the Water Puppet Theatre, or just do what local couples do and relax on a bench by the water.

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Thai Tran Trang Julia  Tan Nguyen

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