The majority of new arrivals to Hanoi find that their days are so packed with sightseeing that there’s no time left for many other activities apart from sleeping. Nevertheless, there’s lots more to do, like shopping, dining and drinking in the city’s stylish malls, restaurants and bars. And if the city should become oppressive, there are plenty of day trips you can sign up for.
Fun Activities in Hanoi
Shopping: Most visitors like to base themselves in or near the Old Quarter because it has something of everything – lots of interesting sights, shopping opportunities, and enough bars and restaurants to keep you busy for a year. Don’t miss Dong Xuan market, a huge covered market that will tire you out if you walk right round; it’s mostly household goods that are on sale here, though you may find some neat and cheap souvenir if you keep your eyes open.
T’ai Chi and Aerobics: For some exercise with a Vietnamese touch, get down to Hoan Kiem Lake at sunrise and join the throngs of locals practicing t’ai chi or aerobics beside the lake. Alternatively, just take a stroll round the lake, which will take you around half an hour and will leave you feeling toned up.
Fitness and Swimming: If you need something a bit more demanding, you’ll need to head for a fitness centre in one of the top hotels, such as the Sofitel Metropole, or perhaps you’d rather do a few laps of the swimming pool. Some top hotels also have tennis courts that non-residents can use.
Spa and Massage: Receiving a spa or massage treatment may not be as demanding on your body as a work-out in the fitness centre, but it does wonders for the mind, especially after a day of bombardment to the senses. Many top hotels, and some mid-range places, offer such services, though there also some places solely dedicated to the activity, such as Zen Spa.
Golf: There are fewer golf courses in the north of Vietnam than in the south, but anyone keen on a round should head out to the BRG Kings Island Golf Resort, which lies around 45kms west of the city.
Day Trips: Perhaps the most popular day trip from Hanoi is to the Perfume Pagoda, Vietnam’s best-known pilgrimage site. Visiting entails taking a boat ride and then climbing a mountain or taking a cable car to a huge grotto where devotees make offerings. On a day trip, it is possible to fit in a visit to Chuong Village either before or after the pagoda; here they make conical hats in huge quantities, so you can buy a few souvenirs too.
It’s possible, although not advisable, to visit Ha Long Bay – probably the most popular destination in the entire country – in a single day. This would involve a crack-of-dawn start followed by a couple of longish bus rides and a quick ride round the bay at midday. To do the region justice, it’s better to allow at least a couple of days in the bay, spending a night on the water among the towering limestone crags.