Start your day with a traditional Vietnamese breakfast of Xoi. If you’re staying near the old quarter you will find many stalls selling this sticky rice, but seek out the renowned Xoi Yen for a top notch bowl.
Grab a taxi and head to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum straight after as queues will already be gathering outside. For those that wish to go inside the mausoleum to see the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh this is only open 9-11am and expect quite a wait, the queues seemed never-ending! We skipped seeing the body and instead enjoyed wandering around the grounds where there are some smaller temples and pagodas to explore. Within the temples you will find offerings including healthy apples, cans of Coca Cola and bags of sweets! Don’t miss the one pillar pagoda which sits, as the name suggests, atop a concrete pillar in a small lake.
A short walk through the busy streets of Hanoi (city of a million motorbikes – watch your step as you cross the road!) will bring you to the Temple of Literature. Stroll through the grounds investigating the five various courtyards each with different things to appreciate. Between the courtyards there are zodiac themed hedges (if you squint they’re semi recognisable) and some of the courtyards house ornate pavilions. Within one of the pavilions is a golden crane standing on top of a turtle – legend says if you rub its chest this will bring you longevity and success, I tried but the results are dubious! As the temple is dedicated to scholars we witnessed several graduation photos, and there were also numerous students wanting to practice their English on us.
Get lost within the old town as each street brings a different theme of shops – silverware down one street, bicycle parts down the next alley and meat being chopped up in the adjacent street. I would highly recommend getting some street food for lunch, see my article on top foods to try in Vietnam – the banh cuon in particular is amazing in Hanoi.
Escape the old town and head to Hoan Kiem lake, a tranquil contrast from the busy streets. Across the pretty red bridge sits a small temple on Jade island, we didn’t visit as we didn’t want to get temple-d out as there are many amazing temples to visit in Vietnam and this was only day one! Instead I would suggest wandering around the perimeter of the lake amongst the locals.
For some afternoon refreshment venture back down the small alleys in old town to find people enjoying local beer (spelt ‘bia’) on little plastic stools. Locally known as Bia Corner this is a great spot to people watch as individuals carry on their daily routine carrying and selling an extraordinary assortment of goods. Over time the clusters of stools slowly grow out into the streets creating a great atmosphere (added bonus: the beer is very cheap)!
Finish off your day by enjoying a performance at the Thang Long water puppet theatre. Watch puppeteers manipulate various creatures (horses, humans, dragons and fish amongst others) from behind a screen whilst a traditional band provides accompaniments. I have to admit we didn’t have a clue what was going on for majority of the show but it was still hilarious and delightful to watch.
I would recommend heading to one of the restaurants or bars overlooking the lake after the show, as the bridge and temple are lit up at night making a lovely view and you can finish your day in style.