If You Only Have Three Days in Hanoi

you only have three days in Hanoi there’s a lot to pack in. Spend a day wandering the Old Quarter and exploring the Ba Dinh District, where you’ll find the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Temple of Literature. Then devote your time to really exploring Hanoi’s myriad nooks and crannies, cafés and markets, with perhaps a side trip to Halong Bay and a relaxing boat ride on the water. Your 3 days in Hanoi will be busy, but we promise you will enjoy it all.

Words can do little justice to the scenery that awaits travelers to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Hundreds of forested limestone karst formations rise from emerald-green waters, looking like slumbering creatures ready to stir. The islands have a legend behind them: The gods sent a family of dragons to assist Vietnam‘s emperors in repelling invaders, and the creatures spat out jewels and pieces of jade that turned into the islands. Many tourists come here on a day trip from Hanoi that involves an early departure, a three-hour bus ride to the ferry terminal, and a four-hour cruise along with scores of other boats before a transfer back to the capital. To truly appreciate the natural beauty with a modicum of solitude, take an overnight cruise—waking in the morning to the sight of the mist-shrouded peaks without the distraction of tons of other boats (and their gawking passengers) is unforgettable.
2 Hùng Vương, Điện Bàn, Ba Đình, Hà Nội 100000, Vietnam
Though the venerable Vietnamese leader asked to be cremated, Ho Chi Minh’s remains now reside embalmed inside this imposing, pillared, gray-granite memorial. His resting place is hugely popular, drawing Vietnamese in droves as they pay their respects to the most important figure of contemporary Vietnam. The mausoleum only opens in the mornings, and visitors must abide by a number of rules (these include no hats, no shorts, and no photos inside). Yes, it’s a chance to see the actual remains of a hugely influential leader, but the experience of queuing up for entry is also a way of mingling with ordinary Vietnamese.
25 Ngõ Hàng Hành
There are some days on the road when you just feel like disappearing—surrendering to the urge to recoil and escape the pressures of travel. Those are the times when sanctuary can casually surface from a busy street scene and draw you in. Hanoi is collection of controlled chaos, even for locals. From the traffic to the morning propaganda announcements, it’s all a bit crazy for the casual observer. Embracing the rhythm of the city, you begin to understand the opportunity of place. So much is hidden in plain sight, and Cafe Pho Co is a perfect example. It’s the kind of spot where having the address is no guarantee. Even standing in front of the location confounds. Therein lies the adventure. The map to this treasure starts with the international landmark for chicken - KFC. The location you’re looking for is at the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake. There is a large fountain in a traffic circle, and you’ll also see the HSBC in a large white building. Walk north past the building turning left at the end. Now on Hang Gai street, you’ll feel the neighborhood closing in, making it difficult to really see what you’re looking for. Glide down the block a few doors and look for a shop that sells art supplies. When you find it, enter the art store and look for a doorway in the back with a sign over it that says “cafe.” Fresh French pastries, Vietnamese coffee dripping, and fruit smoothies join you in the bliss on the highest patio overlooking the lake. So splendidly habit forming.
The first thing that everybody comments on about Hanoi is its heavy traffic, and it is true that the mayhem can be intimidating for those with a timid disposition. Nevertheless, enclaves of peace and quiet remain and a number of fascinating bike tours are available. Many operators run trips over the Red River to the rural villages outside Hanoi. Another popular spot, meanwhile, is Tay Ho (or West Lake). Pick up a rental bike at Hanoi Bicycle Collective and saddle up.
24b P. Tông Đản, Tràng Tiền, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Owned and operated by journalist and raconteur Nguyen Qui Duc, this Hanoi institution is now in its fourth incarnation near the Opera House. Expect a bohemian crowd, an eclectic music policy and a great selection of wine. Among the other strings in Duc’s bow is a talent for furniture making and his bar is a showroom for some of his exquisite handmade items.
6 Ngõ Hội Vũ, Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
The main draw at this Australian-run spot is the convivial and bohemian atmosphere. Housed in a stunning 1920s colonial villa in a quiet part of the Old Quarter, the cafe has a rustic, warm vibe. While items from the simple menu can be hit or miss at other times of the day, the breakfast offerings are exemplary and the coffee is right on the money.
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