There are a few different types of travellers, one of which could be described as an adventurer, explorer and someone who seeks out hidden gems while travelling. Hanoi is the perfect place for an adventurer who wants to break away from the busy, touristy areas, and experience incredible, secret spots that are off the beaten track. Lainey Quinn, aka Little Miss Sunray, is currently in Hanoi and is sharing her top tips on the most unusual things to see and do in the northern, capital city of Vietnam.
The Snake Village of Lệ Mật (Việt Hưng, Long Biên, Hanoi)
Seven kilometres northeast of Hanoi, lies the Snake Village of Lệ Mật where curious and brave tourists can go to either watch snakes being handled, or expand their culinary palette and taste snake meat for the first time.
There are roughly 100 snake-farming households in Lệ Mật and a few restaurants that serve snake blood and bile as a ‘beverage’ and a beating snake heart as a delicacy. In fact, you can go to one of the farms, choose a snake (usually a cobra) and it will be immediately killed, skinned and served to you before you can change your mind. Should you recoil at the thought of eating snake, you may want to try a snake-infused digestif believed to carry aphrodisiac properties.
Binh Minh’s Jazz Club (1 Tràng Tiền, Phan Chu Trinh, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi)
This gorgeous, traditional jazz club in Hanoi’s Old Quarter was established in 1998 by world-class Vietnamese jazz artist Quyen Van Minh. If you want to escape the cityscape and enjoy some of the best jazz you will ever hear, head to the club between 21.00 and 23.30 any night of the week. While Quyen Van Minh and his students are the main acts most nights, other prominent jazz musicians from all over the world are known to drop by during special occasions.
The building is just behind the Hanoi Opera House along Tràng Tiền Street, near the Hoàn Kiêm Lake, National Museum of Vietnamese History and Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution.
Lenin Park (28A Điện Biên Phủ, Điện Bàn, Ba Đình, Hanoi)
Rise and shine early one morning and visit the small, idyllic Lenin Park. It’s a tranquil place that will start your day off beautifully and you can even join in in a Tai Chi or Zumba class with the locals. Feel free to join a class even if it has started already, and donations are accepted at the end (5,000 – 10,000VND is a nice donation to give).
Alternatively, as CNN once wrote, “just go there and enjoy the atmosphere with the soft lights – it’s almost like being in a movie”.
B-52 Bomber Wreckage (55 Hoang Hoa Tham, Ngoc Ho, Ba Dinh, Hanoi)
Many tourists will visit museums and historical monuments to learn about the Vietnam/American War, but no-one seems to know about the B-52 American aircraft that was shot down in 1972 (right before the war ended), which now lies in the middle of a lake.
Head to the quiet neighbourhood of Ngoc Ho and you will find a truly unique sight. Tires bleached bone-white by the green waters of Huu Tiep Lake, the rear landing gear and undercarriage of an American B-52 bomber rests where it fell after being shot down on 27th December 1972. A nearby plaque describes the event in typically florid language: “The Battalion No. 72 – Air Defence Missile Regiment No. 285 shot down on the spot a B52G of the US imperialist violating Hanoi airspace … creating an important change that led the Vietnamese people’s anti-US resistance for national salvation to the complete victory.”
Hỏa Lò Prison (1 phố Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi)
The colonial prison, Hỏa Lò, was built in 1886 when Vietnam was under French colonial rule as part of Indochina, and is a fascinating place to visit. The Vietnamese nickname ‘Hỏa Lò’ (‘furnace’ or ‘stove’) came to be a double entendre for the prison’s hellish treatment.
When the French were ousted from Hanoi in 1954, the Vietnamese re-purposed the prison as their own and, when the USA invaded, the North Vietnamese designated a special section specifically for prisoners of war. One of these prisoners was US Senator John McCain. Unique artefacts such as McCain’s flight suit and parachute can be viewed at the museum, as well as re-enactments of the torture methods that were carried out inside the walls only decades earlier.
Laughter Yoga (12 Lê Lai, French Quarter, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi)
You’ll never start your day off quite like you will after you partake in some laughter yoga in Hanoi. Every morning at 6.30am, a large group gathers at Ly Thai To Statue next to Hoàn Kiếm Lake for synchronised laughing exercises where people laugh as genuinely as possible, without humour, funny jokes, or comedy – all you need is a willingness to laugh.
The combination of laughter exercises with yogic breathing stimulates the flow of oxygen in the body and encourages the brain to release large quantities of dopamine. This is possibly the most uplifting, energising and hilarious way to begin your day in Hanoi, a city that can sometimes be quite stressful with the amount of traffic, tourists and chaos.
Lideco Bắc 32 Ghost Town (West Hanoi)
Towering brick buildings, thin staircases and stone floors covered in algae represent the failed mansion project that was once supposed to house the elite in Hanoi. Now, the ghost town of Lideco Bắc 32, consists of 650 abandoned five-storey French houses, surrounding a huge, tranquil lake. It’s the quietest place you will find in Hanoi when you need to catch your breath from all the craziness, sightseeing and exploring.
Only a 20-minute drive from the centre of Hanoi, this ghost town is the perfect place to get away from the crowds, go for a peaceful walk by the lake and snap unique photographs of French architecture that has been forgotten by both locals and tourists. For more photos of this secret spot in Hanoi, visit Lainey’s photography website: https://abandonedworld.photography.
Top 5 Must-See Tourist Attractions in Hanoi
The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi, is crammed full of things to do and see. There are many hidden gems and secrets spots that one can explore, but there are also several must-see attractions that all tourists should experience. These include the 12-hectare Hoàn Kiêm Lake, Hanoi’s most ancient Buddhist temple, a French Opera House, a water puppet theatre, and the tomb of the famous Ho Chi Minh, who was affectionately known as ‘Uncle Ho’ by Vietnamese locals.
Here are my top five tourist attractions to tick off your bucket list during your holiday in Hanoi, Vietnam.
- Hoàn Kiêm Lake, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi
Take a walk along the peaceful leafy banks of the Hoàn Kiêm Lake and enjoy a magnificent view of one of Hanoi’s most ancient temples, the Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain), which is situated in the middle of the lake. To get to the temple, walk across the flag-lined bright red Huc Bridge across to Jade Island.
Opening Hours: Daily 08.00 – 17.00
- Bach Ma Temple, 76 Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi
Prepare to be dazzled when you walk through the old wooden doors of the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, Bach Ma. Sights such as the legendary white horse statue and red-lacquered funeral palanquin will be sure to take your breath away.
Opening Hours: 07.00 – 17.00
- Hanoi Opera House, Số 01 Tràng Tiền, Phan Chu Trinh, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi
Originally built between 1901 and 1911 during the French invasion of Vietnam, the Opera House in Hanoi is a 35-metre high, neo-classical building with Gothic pillars and domes. Bring your camera and take some snaps of this impressive building, or, even better, step inside and watch a show put on by seriously talented Vietnamese locals.
Opening Hours: 08.00 – 23.00 Monday and Friday.
Price: €15/400,000VND (50% discount for students)
- Water Puppet Theatre, 57B, Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
When you visit Hanoi’s famous water puppet theatre, you’ll find yourself trying to solve the mystery of how these talented puppeteers make their puppets move so flawlessly and on cue on top of the water while seeming blind from behind a screen. It’s a fascinating performance to watch and is totally worth the price.
Opening hours: Daily at 15.00, 16.10, 17.20, 18.30 and 20.00
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, 8 Hung Vuong, Dien Bien, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Contrary to his desire to be cremated, when Vietnam’s revolutionary Communist leader Ho Chi Minh passed away in 1975, his body was preserved and put on display in a massive granite structure in central Hanoi. It is one of the most visited attractions in North Vietnam, so get there early before the crowds!
Opening hours: Tuesday – Thursday 07.30 – 10.30, Saturday and Sunday 07.30 – 11.00
Price: Free, but donations are accepted.