5 Top Sights in Hanoi, Vietnam with Kids
When our family began planning our trip to Asia, we wanted to experience several different countries and cultures. After researching all the top destinations (and maybe watching a lot of Anthony Bourdain episodes on the area), we knew Vietnam with kids had to be part of our itinerary. And what a tremendous experience it was!
Our family loved staying at Hilton Hanoi Opera, perfectly situated next to the famous old Opera House in the city center and within walking distance of several key sights, restaurants and shopping. Hanoi is a vibrant city, full of hustle and bustle while keeping the rich history of Vietnam’s roots alive and well. We loved exploring the new and old parts of this city, its people and culture. Plus, the exchange rate makes the U.S. dollar go very far here – everything was extraordinarily inexpensive.
Here are our suggestions for what to do in Hanoi, Vietnam with kids:
Our guide, Du (pronounced “Zoo”) took us to an authentic, family-owned lacquerware factory in a Hanoi neighborhood near the Hilton. We loved being shown how the many-step process of Vietnamese lacquerware production creates amazing and beautiful pieces of art. Local artisans painstakingly labored before our eyes, transforming jackfruit wood, lacquer paints and pieces of eggshell and mother-of-pearl into colorful designs, all by hand. The more elaborate pieces take weeks or months to complete. Of course we shopped – good deals to be had!
Temple of Literature
Founded in the year 1070, the Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius and honors the tradition of Vietnam’s top scholars. The temple is remarkably well preserved, with a special area dedicated to stone tablets riding on top of giant stone turtles which signify the accomplishments of each scholar over the centuries. There are more than 70 of these statues remaining which are protected at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The formal gardens are beautiful, and we marveled at the red and gold carved doors, brightly colored lanterns and dragon-decorated copper urns with burning incense. We made wishes, because you just never know when you might need a little extra good luck in your back pocket.
Old Quarter Street Tour with Rickshaws
A peek into local life 100 years ago, the narrow streets and antique brick buildings of the Old Quarter are an authentic view into Vietnam’s past. We toured the area comfortably seated in modern rickshaws cycled by strong-legged old men, swerving through streets filled with locals buying unusual fruits and vegetables, tourists sampling the local fare from street food vendors, and shops selling all sorts of collectibles and oddities.
It was so colorful and interesting, and well worth the walk back in after our ride to explore in more detail on foot. The girls purchased Asian print harem pants for $3 a pair and Good Morning, Vietnam t-shirts were $4. Various things on a stick (and by that I mean fish, meats, frogs, snakes and bugs) were about $1 a piece. Total deals abound.
Water Puppet Show
Sounds like it could be lame, but it was well worth the 50 minutes and approximately $6 per ticket. A traditional Vietnamese form of entertainment for centuries, water puppet shows depict the everyday life of the rural farmer and act out activities like fishing, dancing, sword fighting, and more.
We sat down in the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater near Hoan Kiem Lake and were prepared to be underwhelmed despite all the rave reviews online. We were pleasantly surprised and amused. The puppeteers perform in water, complete with dances, humor, and some real fireworks; the kids were riveted. Live musicians of great talent narrate the show, singing and performing traditional Vietnamese folk music. It was also a comfortable, air-conditioned opportunity to rest for a spell after the Old Quarter street tour dropped us off very close by.
Halong Bay Cruise
A day trip can be arranged from Hilton Hanoi Opera to the famed Halong Bay, but we suggest you spend at least one night there — it is that special. We chose to book with Bhaya Cruises and were very happy with our experience. Known as one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World, the rocky islands of Halong Bay are so unique and beautiful, and best seen by boat.
Our vessel meandered between the islands, touring us through a maze of jungle-topped outcroppings that literally dropped our jaws. It looks like a water-based scene from the movie Avatar. (Remember those floating mountains in the sky?) Part of the tour took us by floating villages made up of local fishermen, as well as interesting caves we either walked or kayaked through, complete with stalactites and stalagmites. These were sights we will remember for a lifetime.
Vietnam is one of those destinations that few people put first on their list, and our family had such a wonderful experience we are already planning to go back. It’s like no place we have ever seen, and we’re so glad we decided to visit. The people, the culture, the food and the experiences all make for a fantastic family vacation.
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