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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Vietnamese man on motorbike Ho Tay Lake Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

April 2018.

Thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to read my eight feature length articles from the Vietnamese capital. Now, wrapping the series up, here’s the best of the rest with some Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

If you’ve only got time for one of Hanoi’s three lakes, it simply has to be Hoan Kiem Lake, already reviewed on these pages. However, for those with a more leisurely schedule, I also recommend a stroll around the much larger Ho Tay Lake (West Lake).

Cool Spots Around Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi: Ho Tay Lake.

With an impressive 17 kilometre shoreline, Ho Tay Lake is massive, with walking trails that could keep you busy for several hours. It was incredibly foggy on the day of my visit. Hence it wasn’t great for photography, and I could only just pick out the skyline across the water. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the somewhat ghostly vibe as I set off on a long afternoon walk.

The Hanoi Club Ho Tay Lake.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

During my wanderings, I passed the swanky Hanoi Club, a giant boutique hotel where the rooms have balconies overlooking the lake. In fact, with cable TV, an outdoor pool, sauna, hot tub, massage centre, bars and restaurants, you could easily camp out here for several days without even heading into the city. Certainly ideal if you’re looking to recharge your batteries.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Tran Quoc Pagoda Hanoi.

Tran Quoc Pagoda.

Although it would be a shame not to even take the 7 minute walk to Tran Quoc Pagoda, Hanoi’s oldest Buddhist temple. Built in the 6th century, its 11 floor tower, sculpted in the style of a lotus flower, has become an icon of Hanoi.

You’ll find the tower set tastefully in a small but beautiful garden complex. Look out for the stunning Bodhi tree with heart shaped leaves, a 1959 gift from former Indian president Rajendra Prasad. The pagoda opens every day between the hours of 7:30–11:30 and 13:30-18:30. Entrance is free.

Quan Kem Ho Tay Ice Cream Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Many locals come to Ho Tay Lake just for some ice cream at the famous Quan Kem Ho Tay. Indeed they say this is one of the city’s best kept secrets when it comes to ice cream. Right enough, I didn’t see any other foreigners and less than a dozen locals.

Delightfully unpretentious, just place your order through the bars of an open window and devour your ice cream on the stone benches outside. I had a coconut ice cream and loved it so much I grabbed a scoop of Mocha for the road.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Eventually, Ho Tay Lake bleeds into the smaller Truc Bach Lake. This sister water, which lies on Ho Tay’s Eastern shore, sprang up in the 17th century as a result of a constructed dike. Its original purpose was to allow the raising of fish. These days it is home to numerous fancy bars and restaurants, in addition to a boat branch of The Highlands Coffee chain.

Truc Bach Lake.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

But Truc Bach’s most interesting sight is its stone monument marking a dramatic moment of The Vietnam War. It stands on the spot where Vietnamese soldiers dragged Captain John McCain out of the lake after he was shot down on October the 26th 1967.

John McCain Monument Truc Bach Lake Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Known as The American War Memorial, it stands on Than Nien Road and reads as follows:

“On 26 October 1967, in Truc Bach Lake, the Vietnamese people in Hanoi caught John Sidney McCain. He was the captain of a group who flew planes in the sky to attack Hanoi. The number of the plane was A4. The plane fell on Yen Phu power plant. This was one of 10 planes that fell on the same day”.

Pulling him out of the water, the soldiers viciously beat McCain before transporting him to Hoa Lo Prison. Having already visited the jail, I was delighted to track down this fascinating companion site.

John McCain shot down in Hano

John McCain and friends in Truc Bach Lake.

Speaking of Hanoi’s war history sites, I’d (just about) recommend an hour at the Vietnamese Military History Museum. Established in 1956, it stands as a sizeable collection of war antiques and military vehicles. But be warned, not everything is labelled or indeed presented in any kind of meaningful context. And where there is information, the English is often nonsensical.

Vietnam Military History Museum Cool Spots Around Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Rather, see it as having a rummage through someone’s dusty old basement. A place where everything has been thrown together absentmindedly and you never know what you might find. Out in the central courtyard, for example, it was cool to see a T-34 Tank and the wreckage of a Boeing B-52G gunned down during The Vietnam War in December 1972.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Visit the Vietnamese Military Museum in Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Photo courtesy of Сергей Белый. 

Actually, I was far more impressed with the excellent Vietnamese Women’s Museum. Located on Ly Thuong Kiet Street and run by The Women’s Union of Vietnam, the centre showcases the many roles of women in Vietnamese society and culture.  

Cool Spots Around Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Opened in 1995, the museum houses three permanent exhibitions. First, I found myself exploring the Women in Family display, a look at women’s roles in education, marriage, childbirth and motherhood.

The Vietnamese Women's Museum.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Next came a look at Women in History, with a focus on the efforts of women during Vietnam’s various periods of war. Some of the stories are heartbreaking, particularly the profiles of women who left their families to fight. And never made it back home.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Last but not least, the Women in Fashion exhibit provides a detailed overview of how beauty and expressions of femininity have developed over the years. And yes, there’s plenty of clothing and jewellery on display, including pieces belonging to over 54 ethnic groups.

Inside The Vietnamese Women's Museum in Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

I particularly liked the little Wall of Fame theatre, a tribute to over a hundred Vietnamese ladies. The video sheds light on each of their stories, detailing both ordinary lives and extraordinary achievements. Really interesting, though I thought they might have installed a larger TV screen. The museum opens its doors every day, with tickets priced at 30.000 VND ($1.30).

Vietnamese Women’s Museum.

Vietnamese Women's Museum Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

I loved some of the propaganda posters in the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. Thus one afternoon I decided to seek out one of the many propaganda poster stores peppered around Hanoi.

Pham Manh Gallery Propaganda Posters and Paintings Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Pham Manh Gallery is a small store owned by Hanoi born Tuyet and her daughter Kim Chi. According to Kim Chi, who speaks a little English, her family has been selling rice paper prints here since 2001. “Please…” she insisted, “… take your time. You can look through everything if you want, no pressure for buying”.

Communist Propaganda Posters Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

I was left absolutely spellbound by the prints. Whatever one thinks of the messages contained within the artwork, and indeed the uncompromising slogans, they are undeniably vibrant images that capture the attention.

Most of the propaganda posters date from The Vietnam War (1955-1975), though a handful go as far back as the 1940s when President Ho Chi Minh and his loyal military strategist Vo Nguyen Giap fostered the art form.

Vietnam Communist Propaganda Posters

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Flicking through the seemingly endless array of prints, I came across a depiction of beleaguered American planes plummeting from the sky. An old wrinkled woman crying tears of joy at the end of the war. Of U.S. President Richard Nixon, a snarling grinch-like monster clutching a knife dripping with blood.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Old Propaganda Posters in Hanoi Vietnam

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Finally, I settled on a selection of three and entered into a short but hotly contested round of negotiations with the persistent but fair Kim Chi. Then she carefully wrapped them up and installed them in a long cardboard tube. And that’s where they remain today, in a box in the loft of my friend’s laundry business in northern Scotland.

I hope the store is still going. Their online presence is slim, so it’s difficult to know whether they’ve survived the challenges of the pandemic. I remember asking Kim Chi if she had plans for a website, but she shook her head with a smile. “No… no… we want people to come to Hanoi” she said. “See the sights, meet the people, then buy the poster. It’s the good way”.

La Place Cafe in Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

In between all the sights, I spent plenty of time hanging out at cafes and restaurants. Eating… drinking… reading… surfing the net… eating and drinking some more. One of my favourite breakfast spots was La Place Cafe, a French style bistro that offers European and Asian dishes.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

La Place Cafe occupies one of the most charming spots in Hanoi. Especially if you make your way up to the first floor balcony, where the long wooden bar offers fine views across St. Joseph’s Cathedral. On that first visit I recall the dulcet tones of Edith Piath floating over the sound system as the waiter arrived to take my order. Yup, this’ll do, I thought.

La Place Cafe.

Breakfast at La Place Cafe in Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Furthermore, the coffee and breakfasts I ordered never disappointed. Their lattes are hot and creamy, while the mixed fruit bowl of natural yoghurt and muesli provided a much needed break from my usual routine of morning grease.

St. Joseph's Cathedral Cool Spots Around Hanoi

St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

After breakfast, I made my way across the square for a look at St. Joseph’s itself. Completed in December 1886, this was one of the French colonial government’s first major constructs. With its granite slabs, Gothic style and twin towers, there’s certainly more than a touch of Notre Dame about the place.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Another treasured Hanoi breakfast institution is The Note Coffee. This was my cafe of choice when it came to indulging in Hanoi’s famous egg coffee (ca phe trung). Not convinced by the sound of egg coffee? Well… like me you might be pleasantly surprised.

It is made by mixing sweetened condensed milk with beaten egg yolk, resulting in a deliciously creamy fluff. It has a meringue-like quality, so if you’re a fan of sweet coffee this might just be a revelation!

Where to Drink Egg Coffee in Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

At The Note Coffee they have perfected the recipe. What’s more, their lovely waiters and waitresses are some of the friendliest people I have ever met in over twenty years of global travel. On arrival I received a welcome fit for a king, while my coffee came with a unique, handwritten post-it note. Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen, it read.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

You can find such notes all over the cafe. They inhabit the walls, the ceiling and the doors. Heck, they’re even plastered all over the tables and chairs. Have a read and you’ll discover love letters, poems and admissions of guilt. Song lyrics, movie quotes, questions, local travel tips and even the odd phone number. Yes, some might find it all a bit kitschy. But these guys managed to charm even a grisly old cynic like me, so they must be doing something right.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Regarding dinner spots, one of my favourite Hanoi restaurants is Nha Hang Ngon. Located on Tran Hung Dao in a gorgeous old French villa, this is a great spot for traditional Vietnamese and French dishes. Moreover, the decor will draw you in the moment you enter under the traditional slate roof archway. 

Nha Hang Ngon Restaurant.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Spacious, airy and with dark wooden furniture offering contrast to the light yellow walls, Nha Hang Ngon is a visual delight. Its main hall is huge, ideal for large groups and business meetings. Moreover, they have several side rooms, first floor balcony tables and leafy corners from which to hide away from the main crowd.

Nha Hang Ngon Restaurant Cool Spots Around Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

I’m all about hiding as a diner. Hence I sought out a wonderfully positioned lone table, protected from the nearest group by a dense collection of plants and trees. Also useful for stealing cheeky photographs.

Nha Hang Ngon Restaurant.

Nha Hang Ngon Restaurant in Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Luckily, an eagle-eyed waiter soon found me and I proceeded to order a bunch of dishes with wild abandon. The food was great! I had crispy shrimp (straight from Ho Tay Lake) served with sweet potato pancakes. Then came an outstanding filet mignon with fried egg, French fries, salad and sliced baguette. Oh, and a Hanoi beer of course to wash it all down. The final bill came to 232000 VND ($10.15).

Dinner at Nha Hang Ngon Restaurant in Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

One of my favourite city sights was (the already published) Hanoi Train Street. Fascinated by what I’d learned about Hanoi’s North-South Railway, I decided to make a brief visit to one of its first rail hubs, Long Bien Railway Station.

Long Bien Railway Station Cool Spots Around Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Unveiled in 1902, it is something of a miracle that this crumbly old station still stands. I mean, when you think of the turbulent periods of history it has survived. Unsurprisingly, the weight of that history seemed to have taken its toll as I approached one afternoon.

Inside Long Bien Railway Station.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

There wasn’t much happening when I poked my head inside the station. Just one passenger in the waiting room, with its large Buddhist shrine and turquoise plastic chairs. While researching for this article I read that the government renovated the entire station in 2019. It is barely recognisable from the interior I visited. Comparing the versions, I’m admittedly grateful that I got to see the station as it was.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Long Bien Railway Bridge Hanoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

From the station I took a stroll down the single platform, which soon melts into Long Bien Bridge. Spanning The Red River, it is just under 1700 metres long and also opened in 1902. Its original name was the Paul Doumer Bridge, in honour of French President and Governor-General of French Indochina Paul Doumer.

Long Bien Railway Bridge Cool Spots Around Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

Unlike the station, the bridge suffered considerable damage during The Vietnam War and was all but destroyed. The Vietnamese government rebuilt it in the late 1970s and the bridge we see today retains only half of its original shape.

Hanoi Railway Station Cool Spots Around Hanoi

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

It feels only right to finish this article with the city’s main train station. Also opened in 1902, Hanoi Railway Station is where I came to begin my cross-country adventure. From the ticket checkers to the security guards and the conductors, everybody was so friendly I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear.

Hanoi Railway Station.

Taking a train from Hanoi Railway Station.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

After all, I’d just had a wonderful five nights in Hanoi. And there were just over three weeks of my Vietnam adventure still to come. Entering my compartment and climbing up to the top bunk, I stretched, smiled and closed my eyes. From time to time, during the darkest most claustrophobic days of the pandemic, I think back to that moment and remember how much I took it for granted.

4 bed cabin Train from Hanoi to Dong Hoi.

Cool Spots Around Hanoi.

For more on Vietnam’s amazing capital, have a look at my other pieces from around Hanoi.

Like these? Then why not have a leaf through my articles from across Vietnam.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.

24 Comments

  • wetanddustyroads

    Your post must be a wonderful advert for Hanoi! It’s great how you’ve showed the cool spots with some pictures and a bit of history … I can understand why you’ve had such a great time here!

    August 27, 2021 - 12:44 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you for completing my Hanoi blog journey! It’s a really cool city.

      August 27, 2021 - 12:56 pm Reply
  • travelmorr1

    Leighton, I am loving your travels! Thank you so much! The info and pictures are wonderful!

    August 27, 2021 - 12:54 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading and for taking the time to drop me a message! Next I’ll be blogging about… London!

      August 27, 2021 - 12:58 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    What a great diverse assortment of places to see around Hanoi. I have really enjoyed following along through your posts on such a beautiful country 🙂

    August 27, 2021 - 1:16 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Meg! Another corner of the world blogged up. A few days rest now then onto the next.

      August 27, 2021 - 1:27 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Thanks for this fabulous tour of Hanoi and its happy people. It is nice to see how a country can recover and better themselves after a divisive war, rather than continuing the fighting. I only wish the ‘stans could do it. Cheers and have a great weekend. Allan

    August 27, 2021 - 3:04 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Allan! On the whole I had great experiences with the Vietnamese. Even in the capital, where generally there is more of an edge. Wishing you a decent weekend too!

      August 27, 2021 - 3:06 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Love these whirlwind tours at the end. They always leave me exhausted. So glad you took the time to show the Women’s Museum. My favorite photo is the gallery of older women covering their faces with their hands. They look so happy (to have voted?). I also consider posters to be an often neglected form of art. Some are exceptionally creative and beautiful. Appreciated the realistic depiction of Nixon. You left me wondering about the three that you purchased. If we can’t have a detailed post about your friend’s loft in Scotland, I’ll just settle for your mouthwatering food photos.

    August 27, 2021 - 5:05 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Those posters truly deserve to be in a home. Who knows if we’ll ever actually have one. Eventually I guess. Some kind of article on those boxes, when they finally get opened, isn’t such a bad idea. Speak soon Memo!

      August 27, 2021 - 5:21 pm Reply
  • ourcrossings

    What a wonderful post. Leighton. As a developing country, Vietnam has a lot of stories to offer, and it would be amazing to photograph its biggest cities and various landscapes, capturing their energy and people. I have to say that Hanoi looks like heaven for street photography because of the vibrant activities outside. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva

    August 27, 2021 - 5:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Aiva, I enjoy putting together these roundup posts, where I perhaps can’t justify a full article on each spot. Usually due to a lack of decent photographs. Have a great weekend!

      August 27, 2021 - 5:31 pm Reply
  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    It’s been so fascinating reading these reports on Hanoi, Leighton, given our unfortunate experience there. Some rekindle our excitement; some bring back great memories, others make us sad at how different our time was, all of it reinforces our desire to go back and start again. A big regret is that we had our tickets bought and paid for, for the overnight train from Nin Binh to Huey, then had to get home before we got there. Every blog we ever read speaks of lovely friendly people and delicious food – we met hostility and seriously crap food in Hanoi (though amazing people in Tam Coc) yet as you will know from our posts we normally only ever see the positives everywhere. Ah well, next time. Have really enjoyed these Hanoi posts though, they have really hardened our resolve to see Hanoi, and Vietnam, in a better light.

    August 27, 2021 - 6:26 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for following these adventures guys. Sometimes a certain location at a certain time just isn’t meant to be. I had a similar run of things in the Indian city of Jaipur many moons ago and it was just how the chips landed on those particular days. I know if I ever go back I’d see it all in a different light and I’m sure that’s what’s going to happen with you when you return to Hanoi.

      August 27, 2021 - 8:29 pm Reply
  • Jyothi

    Great info and wonderful images!! Enjoyed reading it! As always a great sharing! Thanks!

    August 27, 2021 - 7:48 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Jyothi!

      August 27, 2021 - 8:29 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    It has been a pleasure reading about your time in Hanoi. I’ve never been to Vietnam, but after checking out what you got up to there, I’m very interested in heading there someday! To learn about Vietnamese women having fought in the war was surprising and also heartbreaking, and the long history of the country and how far it’s come since then is very impressive. Although I’m incredibly sensitive to caffeine, I’d love to try that egg coffee– at least a sip! Thanks for the adventures, Leighton, and I look forward to what (and where) the next series brings!

    August 28, 2021 - 5:43 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for seeing this Hanoi journey through, Rebecca. A few days off now before the next location. Have a great weekend!

      August 28, 2021 - 8:29 am Reply
  • Marla

    Lovely finish to your Hanoi series. Your last line about the pandemic rings so true for me. I’ve found it near impossible to keep up with a travel blog knowing that the possibility of future travel is so unknown. But you’ve inspired me to get back into it.

    August 28, 2021 - 6:01 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marla! Looking forward to your posts, once you get into a groove it’ll be like you were never away.

      August 28, 2021 - 6:43 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    Excellent summary, glad to see the women’s museum photos, again an unusual celebration for most cultures. Thanks for that!

    August 30, 2021 - 7:04 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Ruth, appreciate you diving deep into my Hanoi files.

      August 30, 2021 - 9:06 pm Reply
  • 100 Country Trek

    It was quite a site to see and so much to explore. Tran Quoc Pagoda was high on my list… seeing photos of John MacCain in Ho Lo Prison was a bit grueling.

    September 4, 2021 - 3:33 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading!

      September 4, 2021 - 8:26 am Reply

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