Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its centuries-old architecture and a
rich culture with Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences. Hanoi can
trace its history back to the third century BCE, served as the capital of the
historic Vietnamese nation of Âu Lạc. In 1010, Vietnamese emperor Lư Thái
Tổ established the capital of the imperial Vietnamese nation Đại Việt in
modern-day central Hanoi, naming the city Thăng Long (昇龍, literally 'Ascending
Dragon'). Nowadays, the city is both a major metropolitan area of Northern
Vietnam, and also the country's cultural and political center, putting a lot of
pressure on the infrastructure, some of which is antiquated and dates back to
the early 20th century. It has over eight million residents within the city
proper and an estimated population of 20 million within the metropolitan area.
Getting there ...
We had planned the Hanoi trip as a side trip for our one-month long trip back to
Taiwan (first time in 3 years since the pandemic). We arrived in Taiwan on
the evening of 12/14 and stayed overnight at the hotel at the Taoyuan
International Airport (TPE), and had a morning flight (8:20AM) to Hanoi on
12/15. When we were approaching the Hanoi city center, we started to feel
the chaotic traffic in the city.
- Around Peridot Grand Luxury Boutique Hotel
When the driver dropped
us at the Hotel, I was confused because there are actually 2 Peridot hotels
in Hanoi (Peridot Grand Luxury Boutique Hotel vs. Hanoi Peridot Hotel).
After some clarification, we were checked in to our room and started our
journey with the first nice meal in a nearby fish restaurant
Chả Cá Thăng Long (yes, I did eat
After lunch, we walked to the famous Hanoi Train Street,
where trains travel along a track just inches away from homes and
businesses. It had been one of the most popular tourist sites in Hanoi
and a regular favorite on social media. However, due to the safety concerns,
the city had ordered the coffee shops and other businesses along the street
to close since September 2022 and local police were deployed by the city to
guard the entrances with barriers to temporarily stop visitors from entering
the train street. We really did not know want to expect when we read
the news about the train street closure. When we got to one of the
access points to the train street, there was indeed a barricade and a
unformed guard sitting there. But a local guy approached us to ask if
we wanted to have a coffee. After we answered yes, he led us to a
coffee shop and the guard just let us pass in front of him. When we
were drinking coffee right beside the train track (there was no train
scheduled until later in the evening), we did see the guard turn away some
We tried the famous Hanoi egg coffee (it’s like an espresso
shot topped with a creamy egg mixture), but we found it was extremely
sweet (the sweetest coffee I have ever had!).
- Hoa Lo Prison Relic
From the end of 19th century, the French
colonialists strongly suppressed the fighting movements of the Vietnamese
people. In 1896, the French built Hoa Lo prison on the land, which was a
famous pottery village in Hanoi, and it was one of the biggest prisons built
by the French in Indochina. From 1964 to 1973, a part of the prison
was used to hold American pilots who were shot down during their bombing
raids against North Vietnam, and Hoa Lo was euphemistically called the “Ha
Noi Hilton” by the American prisoners. “Alumni” of Hoa Lo include
Douglas Peter Peterson, who later became the first US Ambassador to Vietnam,
and John McCain, a US Senator.
- St. Joseph's Cathedral
St. Joseph's Cathedral was built on the site
of the Bao Thien Pagoda, the center of
Buddhism in the history of Vietnam during the Ly-Tran Dynasty.
Construction began in 1884, with an architecture in a Gothic
Revival (Neo-Gothic) style resembling the Notre Dame de Paris. The church
was one of the first structures built by the French colonial government
in French Indochina when it opened in December 1886. It is the oldest church
in Hanoi. After the retreat of French Colonists from the North of
Vietnam in 1954, the cathedral was closed and under the control of the
communist Vietnam Government. Not until Christmas in 1990, was it opened
again for the Catholics to celebrate. When we visited the cathedral,
the facade of the bell towers had been decorated for Christmas and attracted
a lot of local young people to take pictures.
- Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem lake (還劍湖, meaning "Lake of the Returned
Sword") , also known as “Sword Lake", is located right in the center of the
capital of Vietnam, and is famous for its peaceful beauty, its cultural as
well as historical values. According to the legend, after defeating
the Ming China, Emperor Lê Lợi (黎太祖 1384-1433) was boating on the lake when
a Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) surfaced and asked for his magic
sword, Heaven's Will, which was given to Lợi by its master (a local God, the
Dragon King (Long Vương)) earlier to defeat Ming China. Today, the
lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as a focal
point for its public life.
- Hanoi Street
We walked around the Old Quarter and found a good place
to have dinner (very
delicious Vietnamese pho). We were still not very comfortable to cross
the crazy busy streets in Hanoi...
Day 2 (12/16) ...
Hanoi On The Tracks Photo Tour
I booked a private photo tour from
Vietnam In Focus to have an
opportunity to photograph the Hanoi Train Street (at a different location
than the regular tourist place). The tour started at 5:15AM when the
guide Boris came to the hotel to pick us up.
- Train Street
The location we went was just south
of the Hanoi train station with a stretch of narrow track similar to the
popular train street, but no coffee shop around. It was about 5:30AM
and the dim street light was perfect to illuminate the track and surrounding
in a mysterious way. There were actually 2 trains passing by in
different direction: first one at ~5:40AM (video), and second came at ~ 6AM
- Thong Nhat Park
We walked to Thong Nhat Park and had a perfect timing
for a nice sunrise. Thong Nhat Park (its name means “reunification”)
is a popular local park like an oasis of greenery and fresh air surrounded
by the bustling streets in Hanoi. There were a lot of people doing
their morning exercises making the park a lively place to start a new day.
- Hanoi Old Quarter Streets
- Train Street
We went to the classic train street which we already
visited by ourselves yesterday. It was still early in the morning and
we saw some local people (and cats) just start to do their daily chores (and
no tourists). We had a nice drink (coffee and juice) at a shop on the
2nd floor to enjoy the quiet view. I was glad that we took this photo
tour to explore Hanoi besides the train streets in the early morning.
- Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
After the breakfast (another
Vietnamese pho) at the hotel, we walked to one of the most remarkable
historical sites in Hanoi, Imperial Citadel of Thang Long (皇城昇龍).
The origin of the Citadel dates back to the 7th century, when Vietnam was
under Chinese invasion at the time, and a Chinese fortress was said to be
built in the area. In 1010, King Ly Thai To moved the capital from Hoa
Lu (Ninh Binh) to Dai La (former name of Hanoi) and renamed it Thang Long.
The Imperial Citadel was expanded under Tran, Le and Nguyen Dynasty, with
several occasions of major destruction by war. It remained the seat of the
Vietnamese Court until 1810, when Emperor Quang Trung moved the capital from
Thang Long to Phu Xuan (Imperial City of Hue) in central Vietnam.
From 1954 to 1975, the Citadel was used as the
headquarter of the Vietnamese People’s Army. Building D67 was constructed (as
the name suggests) in 1967. It was built the contemporary architectural style
(to look like a house and hide its military significance) with many defensive
features, including a 60-centimeter thick soundproofing wall, reinforced
entrances, and a connecting tunnel that allowed for emergency evacuation in case
of an attack.
- Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum
The Mausoleum is a large building located in
the center of Ba Dinh Square and serves as the resting place of Vietnamese
revolutionary leader and President Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh,
considered the father of Vietnam and the founder of its Communist Party, is
a lauded figure among the Vietnamese. Ho served as the president of
North Vietnam for 25 years; his powerful reign in the communist country
symbolizes the struggle of the Vietnamese people's fight for independence
from the anti-communist regime in the south and from that regime's southern
allies, including the United States.
We tried to visit other buildings (Presidential Palace,
Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House, etc.) around the Mausoleum. But unfortunately,
all other places were closed to public and there were guards everywhere....
- One Pillar Pagoda
The original pagoda was built in 1049 under the
Ly’s Dynasty as part of an architecture complex called Diên Hựu tự (延祐寺,
Extend Bless pagoda). The most famous part of this architecture
complex is Liên Hoa Đài (蓮花臺, Lotus Station) which is a temple with special
structure: a building laid on one pillar like a lotus. The pagoda was
destroyed at the end of the French colonization of Vietnam in 1954. The
building was totally damaged, remaining solely a stone pillar. One year
later, in 1955, One Pillar Pagoda was recreated by the government and it has
been under continuous preservation until the present.
- On the way walking back to the hotel, we stopped by an outdoor coffee
shop just right next to the Vietnam Military History Museum (we only took some
pictures around the group, but were too tired to go in to visit). The
coffee and dessert were good and cheap!
- Peridot Grand Luxury Boutique Hotel
Day 3 (12/17) ...
Ninh B́nh is a province in northern Vietnam's Red River Delta. South
of Hanoi, Ninh Binh province is blessed with natural beauty and cultural sights.
Ninh Binh is also known as the Ha Long Bay on land for an obvious reason – it
looks like Ha Long Bay but on land instead of water. There are hundreds of
limestone monoliths topped by dense greenery that emerge from the ground,
scattered around the city with rivers flowing through them and caves formed in
I booked a private tour to pick us up from the hotel at 7:45AM (but
the guide did not show up until after 8AM....).
- Bai Dinh Pagoda,
Bai Dinh Pagoda is an enormous complex covering a total area of
539 hectare, with both the ancient and the newly renovated Bai Dinh pagoda.
It is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. The new Bai
Dinh pagoda has been built since 2003 (and completed in 2010). The Bai Dinh
pagoda possesses many parts such as Tam The Temple, Phap chu Temple, Quan Am
temple( Bodhisattva Temple), Bao Thap, and
Bell Tower. The
entrance leads to walkways which are lined with 500 stone arhats (images of
enlightened Buddhists) carved by Ninh Binh stone with different positions
and gestures that create magic space and lively atmosphere.
- Trang An
After lunch, we went to Trang An, known for its scenic
water ways. We took the rowing boat tour here that will float through
the quiet river and pass through dark caves and discover spectacular karst
formations accessible only by boat. .
- Hang Mua
Hang Mua Peak is known for being one of the most amazing
sites in Tam Coc and you will have to walk along some 500 steps to the
summit. It is all worth it when you get to the top as you can look out over
some of the most stunning scenery in Vietnam which include the Red River
Delta and the towering mountains. Although it was too cloudy to have a
spectacular lighting for sunset, we still enjoyed the views (and the
exercises) very much.
Day 4 (12/18) ...
It's time to move to the highlight of this Vietnam trip: Ha Long Bay.
Ha Long Bay (下龍灣) , located in the Gulf of Tonkin in the northeast of Vietnam,
is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination. Ha
Long Bay has an area of around 1,553 km2 (600 sq mi), including 1,960–2,000
islets, most of which are uninhabitated and unaffected by humans, forming a
spectacular seascape of limestone pillars.
We were taken from the hotel at 7:45AM to Tuan Chau Harbor
for the scenic seaplane flight (Hai
Au Aviation) over Ha Long Bay at ~ 10:50AM. The 25-minute scenic
flight over Ha Long Bay is a truly amazing experience offering a completely
different perspective than from a cruise ship (video).
- Orchid Premium Cruise, Ha Long Bay
Orchid Cruise is one of the most luxurious cruises in Ha Long Bay, and
Orchid Premium is the best in its fleet. Designed with only 5
extremely spacious suites with balcony and private bathtub, Orchid Premium
brings a unique beauty of Indochina architecture, sophisticatedly combining
the nostalgia of Asian traditions with the romance and elegance of French
After settling in our room on board, we had a nice lunch
while cruising through the majestic Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay.
- Cat Ba Island
The first excursion was to visit the Trung Trang Cave
on the Cat Ba Island. With a length of about 300m through the mountain
and thousands of stalactites in various shapes, the cave offers not only
geological but also historical values as it was chosen to be the operating
place of the naval headquarters during the American-Vietnam war (1964 –
- Sunset Cruise
We were back on board and started to sail toward the
evening resting site. We did try to use the
hot tub on the
sundeck, but we felt it was getting too cold to stay in there for too long.
The landscape/seascape of Ha Long Bay shows its best at the twilight time,
and it's so lucky for us to have a perfect weather to enjoy the views.
Day 5 (12/19) ...
Sunrise is another fantastic time to fully appreciate the
beauty of Ha Long Bay. I could not ask for any other better day to be
in such a magical place.
The ship anchored at a secluded bay to let us kayak around.
The sea was calm and the weather was warm. Although we were not expert
in kayaking, we did enjoy the easy kayak around the bay (~30 min to circle
our ship in the bay).
- Heading back
It's time to head back to the place close to the Tuan
Chau Harbor where we embarked and disembarked by a tender boat. It was
an amazing view to see so many ships like
parade toward the same direction.
Going Home ...
Our drive was waiting for us when we got back to the Tuan Chau Harbor to take
us to the Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport to fly back to Taiwan (yes, it's
still our home). Hanoi and Ha Long Bay were truly amazing places in
northern Vietnam for both nature and culture lovers.
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