Travel, Teach, Live in Asia
Hanoi has been the Capitol of Vietnam for 1,000 years. Its true that many tourist from the era of the Vietnam War visit Hanoi as part of a pilgrimage to pay homage to those who paid the ultimate price during the conflict, but Vietnam can not be defined by a single conflict. There are centuries of history and culture aside from that one chapter in the history of the country, and that is where the true merits of Hanoi and Vietnam as a whole can be seen. The country also has a number of significant cultural festivals that attract people to Hanoi from around the globe. If you would like to experience all that Hanoi has to offer, keep reading to learn how to visit Hanoi, Vietnam.
How to Visit Hanoi, Vietnam
Obtain a Passport. Any time you travel internationally, you are required to travel with a valid passport. This passport will be stamped by a Customs and Immigration Officer when you arrive in Vietnam, and will be inspected by a Customs Officer when you return to the United States. If you do not already have a Passport, visit the State Department web site for detailed instructions on how to obtain or renew a US Passport. Do not put this step off until the last minute. There is often a significant backlog for passport services, and you can not be guaranteed that your passport will arrive in time for your trip if you wait until the last minute.
Obtain a Visa to enter Vietnam. Any US Citizen who visits Vietnam will be required to have a Vietnamese visa in their passport. This Visa must be obtained by the Vietnamese Embassy or a Vietnamese Consulate in the United States. It is best if you can apply for the visa in person, but visas can usually be obtained by mail as well. Vietnamese Visas are only good for a single entry visit. What that means is that you visit Vietnam, then visit another country, then return to Vietnam, you will need a separate Visa for the second entry. Additional information can be obtained by visiting the web site for the Vietnamese Embassy in the United States.
Decide when you would like to visit Hanoi, Vietnam. Hanoi has two standard tourist seasons. The first is the Summer tourist season, which runs from late June until the end of August. The second is the Winter tourist season, which begins in October and ends with the New Year celebrations that take place in January or February (depending on the year). Many people prefer to avoid the crowds and visit Hanoi during the off-season. These people will opt to visit Hanoi between February and April or from September to November. Although you will miss most of Hanoi’s festivals during the off-season, you will find the city to be far less crowded, and will have the added benefit of more pleasant weather.
Select a hotel to stay at in Hanoi. There are plenty of locations to choose from, as Hanoi has an abundance of classy hotels that cater to the needs of Western guests. Some popular locations for tourists who visit Hanoi, Vietnam include the Hanoi Daewoo Hotel, the Swiss-Belhotel Horison and the Hilton Hanoi. There is also a very nice Sheraton Hotel and a Sofitel Metropole Hanoi. If possible, find a hotel that will have you situated near attractions, such as Hanoi’s historic temples, the One Pillar Pagoda or the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. If you have chosen to visit Hanoi during the tourist season, be sure to book your rooms several months in advance, because most of the better hotels will be filled to capacity during the Summer festivals.
Make your airline reservations. Once you have confirmed the dates for your hotel stay, you can safely book your airline tickets. China Airlines, Korean Airlines and Vietnam Airlines are by far the most popular choices for flights into and out of Hanoi, Vietnam. If you are going to visit Hanoi from the United States, you will probably connect into one of these airlines by way of Delta or American Airlines. Feel free to check online travel sites, as well as traditional travel agents, to find the best deal for your flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. You may wish to check into flight availability before confirming your hotel stay, in case you can save money by booking your flight and hotel at the same time.
Consider your finances. It is certainly a good idea to carry some cash on hand, which can be exchanged for local currency when you arrive at the airport. This will give you some immediate funds for food, taxis and whatever else you may need before you have time to get to a bank or ATM machine. You should not travel with the bulk of your money in cash, however. Prepaid debit cards are always a safe way to carry money, since they can be cancelled and replaced if they are lost or stolen. Likewise, travelers checks have been a long time favorite, and can be redeemed for cash at most banks and major hotels in Hanoi.
Pack your bags and prepare to have an amazing adventure. Vietnam is a warm, tropical country, although the far North (which includes Hanoi) can become cold and cloudy during the Winter. Take whatever clothes are required to dress comfortably, yet appropriately, for the places you intend to visit in Hanoi.
Go shopping in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam. The Old Quarter is the premier shopping district of Hanoi, and is a “must see” location. This district spans around 40 streets, each of which are packed with shops and street vendors. With so many shops, it is a great place to buy gifts and souvenirs. Because the Old Quarter is so large, each street is named for the principle item offered by merchants on that street, making it quick and easy to find exactly what you want.
Soak up Vietnamese culture at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. This theater performs dramatic puppet shows that illustrate the culture, myths and history of Vietnam. Be warned though, that your language skills may be put to the test. The show is preceded by a 10 minute musical instruction with English narration, but when the actual puppet show begins, it will be performed entirely in Vietnamese. There are English program guides outside the theater that will guide you through the performance.
Visit the One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot). This pagoda was built in 1049 by Emperor Ly Thai Tong, who ruled Vietnam from 1028 to 1054. Today, the One Pillar Pagoda is one of the leading historical monuments in Hanoi, Vietnam, and is a destination that should not be missed.
Take a trip to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The Mausoleum is a historic site in Hanoi, located directly on Hung Vuong Street. It is at this location that “Uncle Ho” read the Vietnamese manifesto in 1945. Ba Dinh Square is situated next to the Mausoleum. The view from the Square is the most photogenic of this historic site, with vast, lush greeneries and guardsmen in dress whites. There is usually a long line to enter the Mausoleum compound, so be sure to leave early.
Hire a tour guide. A popular company for English speaking tourists is a company called Wide Eyed Tours. The company is ran by two Australians who have lived in Hanoi for over 14 years. Not only do they have several packaged tours around Hanoi and outlying areas, but can also create custom tours based on your interests. More information can be found on their web site at www.wideeyedtours.com.
Make a day trip to Hoa Lo Prison. More commonly known by its nickname, the Hanoi Hilton, this prison complex was a principal location for holding Prisoners of War during the Vietnam conflict. One particular point of interest along the prison tour is a stop at the prison cell that was home to John McCain for more than 5 years.