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Where to Stay
What to See
Ho Chi Minh Museum
Affected in every way by Ho Chi Minh's life, I was really looking forward to learning more about him, his beliefs and motivations. While the museum dedicates special sections to Ho's life, revolutionary efforts, and political influences, it ultimately fails to deliver a clear or fluid understanding of this important historic figure. Although captions are provided in English, letters, notes, and diary excerpts are not translated, which is a shame. If you're interested in going, the museum is in the same complex as the mausoleum. Open daily from 8:00-11:30 & 14:00-16:00 except Monday and Friday afternoons.
From Hanoi, you can negotiate a transpo-only rate (we were quoted 250,000 dong per person) with any of the tour companies, but your cheapest bet is to take the local bus. From BX Yen Nghia in Hanoi, take the #75, which leaves every 30 mins beginning at 6am. The 2-ish hour journey will cost 20,000 dong. From the drop-off, head to the boat ticket office and purchase a ticket (80,000 dong) for the one hour boat ride to the foot of the pagoda complex. Amazing scenery! Once there, you can choose to walk or take the cable car (60,000 dong each way) to the main pagoda.
Temple Of Literature
If you are in town during Tet, make sure to visit the famous Temple of Literature (10,000 dong entrance fee), Vietnam's first national university. Here, you'll be able to honor the tradition of learning and engage in the special Vietnamese custom of calligraphy giving. Calligraphers can be found outside the temple walls accepting requests from Hanoians and foreigners for lucky scripts written in either Vietnamese or Han-Nom characters. An especially nice piece will sell for about 100,000 dong.
What to Do
Water Puppet Show
If you're keen on seeing a Vietnamese water puppet show, try the Museum of Ethnology (http://www.vme.org.vn) first. Outdoor shows at the museum are roughly 25,000 dong compared to 60,000-100,000 dong at the popular Thang Long theater near Hoan Kiem Lake. If you decide to go with Thang Long, you'll have the choice of 60,000 dong tickets (rows M-R) or 100,000 dong tickets (rows A-L) but you won't be able to choose your seat or row. Having seen both, I would recommend the museum. It's a better venue and you won't be crammed in a room with 400 of your closest friends.
Where to Stay
Two nice boutique options you should consider are Church Boutique (http://www.churchhotel.com.vn/), five blocks northwest of the lake, and Authentic Hanoi (http://www.authentichanoi.vn/), one block east of the lake with nice views. Rooms run for about $50/night for a double. Check Agoda.com and the hotel's website before booking as specials can be quite good. We stayed at Church Boutique for only $32 (includes breakfast). Great deal and great value!
What to Eat
Although you can get pho anywhere in the country, it is traditionally a northern specialty. Everyone from taxi drivers to hotel staff will recommend the pho at 49 Bat Dan near the intersection of Bat Dan and Hang Ga in the Old Quarter. Order the special with beef fillet, brisket, and flank. The broth is tasty with hints of lemongrass and ginger. Notice that fresh herbs and other popular condiments like hoisin aren't served here. One bowl of pho will set you back 50,000 dong.
Cha Ca La Vong on 14 Hang Cha Ca in the Old Quartier serves only one dish, cha ca la vong. A bit of a splurge at this local diner but well worth it. No words need be exchanged here before a waiter places a charcoal burner and skillet of fish nuggets on your table. Marinated in turmeric, dill, and fish sauce, the fish can be heated with cilantro, shredded onion, and Chinese parsley, and eaten with noodles flavored with shrimp paste. This could be an acquired taste. See if you like it.
Another northern food, pho cuon is flat rice noodle rolled with meat and herbs and served with fish sauce. If you prefer your noodles fried, order pho chien phong, fried puffs of noodle served with vegetable and meat stir-fry. Several pho cuon stands can be found on Ngu Xa Rd, a 30,000 dong ride from Hoan Kiem District. If your driver needs a specific address, ask him to take you to 29 Ngu Xa.
"Gia Truyen" means "passed down from generation to generation". Thanh Van Gia Truyen on 14 Hang Ga near the intersection of Hang Ga and Lo Ren in the Old Quartier serves up banh cuon, a delicious northern specialty. Watch the ladies out front make your order of steamed pork, shrimp, or chicken rice pancakes. Comes with crispy fried onions, dried shredded pork, and parsley garnishment. 35,000-50,000 dong per plate.
Where to Party
Dancing / Discos / Clubs
Believe it or not, there are some talented salsa dancers in Hanoi. If you're in the city on a Friday, check out the social at 5 Ngo Gach in the Old Quarter. Lights go out at 10:30pm, so get there early.
Drinking / Bars / Happy Hours
The cheapest beer in the world can be found in the old quarter of Hanoi
There is a concentration of them between intersection of Ta Hien St. and Luong Ngoc Quyen St. At only 3000 dong (10 cents) it may not be the best but it is the cheapest. Several near by bars and clubs have music or hookah.
Here's some useful information when you want take a taxi in Hanoi. There are some good taxis you can trust: 1. Hanoi Taxi / Number: 04.38 535353/ rate: 12.000VND/km 2. Hanoi Tourist Taxi/ Number: 04.38 565656 / rate: 12.000VND/km 3. Mai Linh Taxi / Number: 04.38 616161 or 04.38 222 555/ rate: 12.000VND/km
If you hail a taxi from the airport to the city center, the fixed rate is 330,000 dong. You'll be able to catch a ride back to the airport for 250,000 dong or less since cabbies don't have to pay the airport rate for drop-offs.
Get in the wrong cab in Hanoi and you'll pay 4x the actual price. A couple of rules to follow to avoid getting scammed. Get out if the cabbie refuses to use the meter or has no price sheet listed. Also, non-registered cabs are to be avoided at all cost. If you realize you've been scammed too late, pay the rate you know is right and walk away. What's the cabbie going to do anyway, call the cops? Note that a 10-15 min cab ride in the city should cost 60,000 dong or less.