Things to do in Hanoi

I naively assumed Vietnam would be a less touristy version of Thailand. There are similarities, but when I visited this beautiful country I discovered so much more, from sensational street food to fascinating architecture, with Hanoi at the centre of it all.


To Stay

Sofitel Legend Metropole – This grand hotel plays a special role in Vietnam’s capital city. It has long been considered as the top accommodation in Hanoi, with celebrities, diplomats and royalty all staying in the luxurious rooms. Be sure to check out the atmospheric original bomb shelter, which was only discovered a few years ago.


To Eat

Pho Ga (42 Quan Thanh) – This unassuming, family-run soup stop serves some of the best pho in town. The chicken and broth has a real depth of flavour, topped with fresh herbs and onions, it is the ultimate comfort food.

Bun Cha (34 Hàng Than) – Locals spill out from this popular bun cha spot. You’ll be served a generous portion of pork patties (cooked with fragrant betel leaves), rice noodles and green salad. Order some extra ‘nem’ (spring rolls) which cost the equivalent of 40 pence each!

Cau Go Restaurant – If you’ve exhausted the street food scene and fancy something a little smarter, head to the stylish Cau Go restaurant which offers amazing views of the lake. The eatery has a long menu offering regional dishes like fresh spring rolls.

Chá Cá Thâng Long (21 Duong Thanh) – Cha Ca is a traditional Vietnamese dish of turmeric catfish and dill, which is cooked on a stove at the table. It’s great fun to enjoy as a group and is rarely found outside of Asia.

Bun Rieu Cua (11 Hàng Bac) – Find a space at this cosy little street food cafe and order a bowl of the speciality, Bun rieu cua (tangy tomato crab soup). Chilli and herbs are added for extra punch.

Banh Mi 25 (25 Hàng Ca) Banh Mee (18 Au Trieu) – Situated outside a lock shop this banh mi sandwich stop is widely regarded as the best in Hanoi. Banh Mi shows the French influence on Vietnam, it is a crispy french baguette filled with handmade pate, bbq pork, French ham, crispy salad and a secret family sauce. It is irresistibly tasty.

Bun Bo Nam Bo (67 Hàng Dieu) – This simple and delicious dish consists of vermicelli noodles, grilled marinated beef, fresh vegetables and pickled carrots. The long table is constantly full of locals and tourists in the know, all there for their Bun Bo Nam Bo fix.

Kem Tràng Tiên (35 Tràng Tiên) –  Kem Tràng Tiên opened in 1958 and has become an ice-cream institution. The customers drive in and order their ice-creams whilst sitting on their motorcycles. I loved the coconut milk flavour.


To Drink

Cong Caphe – There are a few of these eclectic cafes round the city. The decor is fun and kitsch with Communist memorabilia and vintage furniture. Order a caphe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk).

Bia Hoi (2 Duong Thanh) – Bia Hoi is very cheap light draft beer and is served on every street corner. This establishment serves beer made fresh each day and costs just 25 pence a glass.

Cafe Giang (39 Nguyen Huu Huan) – A cute hidden cafe in the city’s old quarter, head here to taste the famous thick Vietnamese coffee, made with egg yolk, coffee powder and condensed milk.


To See & Do

Hoàn Kiêm Lake, Huc bridge and Ngoc Son Temple – The Ngoc Son Temple (built in commemoration of the 13th century military leader, Tran Hung Dao) is surrounded by a beautiful, peaceful lake and is a lovely place to look around.

Hoa Lo Prison – This evocative site is all that remains of the original Hoa Lo Prison, which was built by the French in 1896, but has since been used for prisoners of many nationalities. Learn about the lives of prisoners, their torturous conditions and their touching personal stories.

Temple of Literature – This beautiful temple was built in 1070 and is now used as a university. It costs just £1 to visit and is filled with impressive pagodas and tranquil gardens.

Vietnamese Women’s Museum – A museum dedicated to Vietnamese women, displaying intriguing artefacts from through the ages and showing the role women have played in the country’s history.

Thâng Long Water Puppet show – This world-famous puppet show is a popular performance for tourists to experience this ancient art form of water puppetry. There are five shows a day and ticket prices start at £2.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (and museum and one pillar pagoda) – A chilling memorial to Vietnam’s former leader Ho Chi Minh. You will be guided silently through the mausoleum to see the embalmed body before visiting the museum to see his home and gardens.


To Shop

aN Shop – Hidden away, this charming little boutique sells lovely handmade crafts and clothing made and designed in Vietnam. The perfect place to pick up a gift to take home.

Cho Dong Xuan market – Found in the centre district of Hanoi, this chaotic market sells everything from homeware to clothes and food. It is a fun place to wander round even if you are not planning to buy anything.

Hàng Gai (Silk street) – This street in the old quarter is the best place to shop for high quality silks and traditional Vietnamese apparel. Pick up your favourite shade of silk before having it made into a custom piece of clothing.


To Escape

Ha Long Bay with Emeraude Cruises – Halong Bay is a must for most travellers visiting Vietnam, but choosing the best tour can be a challenge with a lack of genuine information online. Steer well clear of the cheap and unsafe options and sail the turquoise waters in style aboard the Emeraude. The classic cruiser is a replica of a 1920s French paddle steamer that sailed around the famous bay nearly 100 years ago, and it is the best way to see this magnificent UNESCO World Heritage site.

Amanoi, Vietnam

Every special hotel starts with a journey. The scenic coastal drive to Amanoi is almost as spectacular as the resort itself. It is made even more enjoyable by the hotel’s private transfer from the local airport, which is complimentary for all guests.

Amanoi is located in central Vietnam nearby to the protected Nui Chua National Park. The beautiful, rugged landscape is a stark contrast to the modern, design-focused resort but in my opinion presents the perfect juxtaposition. The hotel’s central pavilion houses its main restaurant, bar and library. Natural materials are used wherever possible and the space has as only a few exterior walls and windows, which gives an abundance of light and air.

There are 31 one-bedroom pavilions and five multi-bedroom villas. All are similarly spacious and thoughtfully-arranged, with vistas of the National Park, the sea or the lake. I stayed in a pavilion with a large balcony and an uninterrupted ocean view. The open-plan room was flooded with natural light and featured concealed and discreet electrical amenities and controls. The sleek decor and warm colours made it immediately appealing, and I spent as much time as I could relaxing in the comfortable living area. Through a pair of sliding doors was the expansive bathroom, with his-and-hers sinks and wardrobes, a large stone bath and sliding windows and doors to expose you to the elements.

The food at Amanoi is all of a very high standard, whether you dine in-room, at the beachside cafe or in the hotel’s main restaurant. Executive Chef Danny Woodbridge oversees all the menus and ensures guests requests and requirements are met. For our first dinner we enjoyed some delicious  international favourites, and on our second night were spoilt with a Vietnamese feast. Particularly memorable were the smoked eggplant with spring onion sauce, and the authentic beef claypot.

Breakfast was a daily highlight. A comprehensive menu of international and local treats, both healthy and indulgent options. I sampled impeccable dishes of eggs benedict, French toast and pancakes, alongside the daily selection of fresh exotic fruit and juices, and flaky homemade pastries.

When you are not relaxing in the privacy of your room or enjoying the hotel’s culinary delights, there are many facilities and activities to keep your entertained. The Aman Spa is a heavenly retreat, overlooking a lotus flower covered lake, with treatment rooms, sauna rooms and a yoga pavilion where each morning guests are invited to join a complimentary session.

The hotel’s two pools, health club and gym are also available free-of-charge, or for those wanting to have a go at watersports, the beach club (with its own pool) is another option. There are also a number of walks and hikes within and nearby to the property. For early-risers, you can catch a spectacular sunrise from the top of Goga Peak, just a 10-minute stroll from the hotel’s central pavilion.

Amanoi is an idyllic and isolated getaway from the busy cities of Vietnam. With sun year round it is very appealing escape from Britain’s less than reliable weather.

More information and book a stay at Amanoi here.

The Nam Hai, Hoi An

Of all the destinations I visited in Vietnam, Hoi An was without doubt the most charming and memorable. This Unesco World Heritage city offers many beautiful historic sites and is home to the country’s famous tailoring industry. Wandering down the glowing lantern-filled streets is enchanting, like a trip back in time.

I recommend avoiding the touristy accommodation in the centre and heading instead to the paradisical Nam Hai, a modern luxurious retreat with a private stretch of beach. Despite the close proximity to Hoi An (a ten minute drive), the spacious hotel feels blissfully isolated encouraging you to immediately relax.

The all-villa, 35 hectare resort can host up to 300 guests. There are 100 villas in total, 40 of which have their own private pool and personal butler. Many of the other 60 villas offer access to the beach, with beautiful views across the ocean. After admiring the spectacular tiered infinity pools, we were driven by buggy to our villa. Nestling among the foliage was our divine sanctuary. The decor is uniform across all villas; sleek contemporary design with cool calming colours. The central elevated area of our bedroom had elegant light drapes surrounding it which were drawn at night to give the room a cosy feel. The regal bed was topped with a voluptuous duvet and bouncy pillows for maximum comfort and decadence. Behind the bed a huge stone bath was wonderful for evening soaks. The room also included a writing desk and lounge area complete with authentic Vietnamese ornaments and artwork.

Breakfast was my favourite meal of the day at The Nam Hai. Every morning there is an endless array of Eastern and Western favourites, with an open kitchen for hot a la carte dishes, champagne on ice and a variety of tropical fruits and juices. Needless to say I saw it as my duty to sample the full menu, enjoying long lazy brunches every day, which embarrassingly began to feel like the norm. Highlights included the fluffy pancakes with berry compote, and the deliciously creamy omelettes. Coffee was rich and flavoursome and the freshly squeezed orange juice was amazingly sweet.

The signature restaurant serves fusion cuisine with a strong Indian influence and the more casual beach restaurant offers light lunches in the daytime and Vietnamese classics accompanied by traditional music in the evenings. After ten days of Vietnamese food it was strange to be eating Indian inspired dishes at The Nam Hai. Considering the warm climate, I found the curries heavy and opted instead for one of the international dishes. Pressed terrine of vine ripened tomatoes with whipped mozzarella, basil oil and leaves from the hotel’s organic garden was a stylish and unique take on a classic salad. The tomatoes were brilliantly sweet and red and the leaves had a vibrant aromatic flavour. The Punjabi lamb kebab with beetroot yoghurt, cucumber was also delicious, a spiced caramelised kebab with a complementing yoghurt dressing.

The Nam Hai spa is one of the hotel’s greatest assets. There are eight treatment pavilions which sit serenely overlooking the lotus flower covered lagoon. It is a fairytale setting which makes the treatments here feel extra special. After a refreshing rose water foot soak I was treated to a Vietnamese massage. The highly trained therapist kneaded my weary muscles using a fragrant pine, lemon, cedarwood and orange oil. While I felt my skin being rejuvenated, I could hear the sounds of nature outside the pavilion. This destination spa is a miraculously beautiful place and should definitely be part of your Nam Hai itinerary.

When you feel the need to work off some of those deceptively calorific Vietnamese spring rolls there are plenty of active options at the resort. Swimming in the glistening turquoise pools is a must, the view they offer is second to none. There is also a small gym, bikes to ride, a tennis court and complementary daily yoga classes.

The hotel staff are on hand to help make any excursions as close to perfect as possible. They provide free shuttle bus transfers to and from Hoi An throughout the day, so guests can visit the culturally rich city as often as they wish. There is also the option of day trips to the Marble Mountains or Hue, a sacred and historic town.

Hoi An is not an easy place to reach from the UK, travellers need to get an international flight to one of the major cities before transferring onto a local flight to Da Nang. Despite this The Nam Hai is a very popular option for English and European jetsetters and after spending a few days here I can see why. This immaculately stylish hotel has faultless facilities and stand-out service, all just moments away from Vietnam’s most captivating city.

More information and book a stay at The Nam Hai here.