Taking into account the great number of sights to see in Hanoi, the distance between them and the congested traffic that plagues the city centre, getting to visit all of the city’s main attractions in one day is just not possible.
However, some visitors are keen to spend most of their time in North Vietnam trekking in the hills around Sapa or cruising round Halong Bay, and allocate only a day to the capital. For such visitors, it is still possible to get a taste of the great diversity that Hanoi has to offer.
There’s no doubt that the top attraction for most visitors is the Old Quarter, which has changed little in the 700 years since the area was split up between 36 different artisans’ guilds. The names of the streets summon up the spirit of a bygone age – Hang Bac (Silversmiths Street), Hang Can (Scales Street) and Hang Tre (Bamboo Street) – though few shops still sell the items that their streets were named for.
The best way to appreciate this district is to get a decent map and head off on an improvised walking tour, but day trippers would be better advised to hire a cyclo for the day. In this way, they can cover more ground and see more sights than on foot.
Whichever way you get around, the Old Quarter is likely to keep you captivated for at least two hours, and it’s so congested that the experience is tiring. So the next step should be to take a rest beside Hoan Kiem Lake, either on benches provided specifically for this purpose or in one of the many cafes and restaurants that look out over its waters.
Once refreshed, make for the Opera House near the southwest corner of the lake to admire some classic colonial architecture. If you are a fan of colonial architecture, it’s then worth spending an hour or more strolling or riding in a cyclo around the streets of the French Quarter, and imagine how it was a century ago before it became overrun with modern traffic.
Though the Temple of Literature ranks high on anyone’s list of places to visit in Hanoi, day trippers will need to give it a miss in order to see one more district that is of huge importance in Vietnam’s re-unification. Ba Dinh Square is where Ho Chi Minh made his Declaration of Independence in 1945, and is considered hallowed ground by all Vietnamese.
The square is surrounded by several places of interest, such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda. Though this one-day tour does probably not allow enough time to go in all these places, it is a moving experience to stand in what is considered the country’s spiritual heart.