Located right in the heart of the Red River Delta, Hanoi is a sprawling city with lively Old Quarter and graceful colonial architecture. Been the capital of Vietnam since 1010AD, this charming city boasts an amazing blend of Indo-Chinese and French colonial influences.  The modern-day Hanoi is a mix of ancient temples and pagodas, parks and lakes, broad tree-lined boulevards and narrow food alleyways. Incense Travel introduces some of the city’s best highlights.



The Hoan Kiem Lake (or Ho Guom), meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword”, is a peaceful natural lake in the center of Hanoi. This once called “green lake” is the major scenic spot, serving as a focal point for the city’s public life. The legend has it that, Emperor Le Loi was boating on the lake when a Golden Turtle God surfaced and asked for the magic sword that the Dragon King had given Le Loi earlier to fight against the Chinese Ming. Le Loi returned the sword and renamed the lake to commemorate the event. Standing on a small Turtle island near the center of the lake is the Turtle Tower, which is linked to the legend. Today the lake is where local people practice tai chi, play Vietnamese hacky sack and enjoy leisure walk.


The Old Quarter (or Hoan Kiem District) is the traditional craft area of the city, where each street was named after the product it originally sells such as Mat Street, Pen Street, Sugar Street. The history of this oldest neighborhood in the city dates back to the 13th century when artisans performing the same services lived together and formed artisan guilds, which created streets where every shops sell the same things. Top artists in the Old Quarter create best lacquerware, silk products, coffee beans, paintings, conical hats, embroidered fabrics and bags. Bargaining is expected (part of the fun), even though goods are already at very affordable prices.


The French Quarter (or Ba Dinh District) is the political area, where most government offices and embassies are located, including the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh and the Presidential Palace. Noted with tree-lined boulevards, the French quarter is home to some of Hanoi’s fanciest café and restaurants, the stunning Opera House, the colonial hotel Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi and many other Indochine style buildings.



The One Pillar Pagoda is a historic Buddhist pagoda and most iconic pagoda in Vietnam. The pagoda was originally built by King Ly Thai Tong in 1049 in appreciation of the birth of his son. As a local legend goes, the king did not have son to succeed his throne when he was getting old, one night he got a dream in which he met the Goddess of Mercy who gave him a baby. Months later the Queen got pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful son. The pagoda was then built of wood on a single stone with a small shrine inside to devote to the Goddess. The structure was designed to resemble a lotus blossom, a Buddhist symbol of purity.


The Temple of Literature is the city’s prime tourist attraction, it is a combination of Confucius Temple and Vietnam’s first university. First built in 1070 by King Ly Thanh Tong, the temple is a rare example of preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture.



Hoa Lo Prison, or Hanoi Hilton, is an interesting museum in Hanoi. It was first built by the French colonists in 1896 to hold Vietnamese revolutionaries. During the Vietnam War, this was one of several places where the North Vietnam housed Americans captured, and so it was widely known by the nickname the “Hanoi Hilton” among American soldiers. One of the famous POWs was John McCain, he was held here for five years and-a-half after his A4 warplane was hit by our fire in 1967.  He crashed into a lake, breaking both arms and a leg. He became entangled in his parachute and was pulled from the water by the civilians. While the museum focuses mostly on the sufferings of the Vietnamese when they were imprisoned here by the French, many visitors will be moved to know this is where John McCain and his fellow POW’s were held prisoner.


As Hanoi is the best foodie destination, you don’t want to miss the city’s best dishes such as Bun Cha, Banh Mi, Nom Bo Kho and Pho. Traditionally eaten for breakfast, but Pho can also be served for lunch, dinner, or just as an afternoon snack. A good bowl of beef Pho comes with strong stock, fresh rice noodle and slices of beef. It should be served right at the table, preferably really hot.


The vibrant and bustling city of Hanoi has found its future by appreciating its past, all Incense Travel luxury tours feature Hanoi and other famous attractions including Halong Bay, Hoi An, Saigon and Con Dao Islands. Contact us to start customizing your upcoming luxury journeys to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.



Buffalo Joe