Asia Reviews Travel Vietnam

Enjoy Hanoi with Urban Adventures

A quiet moment in the typical busy streets of Hanoi

When you first arrive to Vietnam, it can be overwhelming – with getting your visa upon arrival (which is super easy to get), to playing real life Frogger as you cross the busy streets. The last thing you want to worry about is coming up with an itinerary to sight-see across the capital city. Luckily, there are pre-planned tours that will let you see all highlights of Hanoi.

Urban Adventures, a division of Intrepid Travel, provides hundreds of tours that are led by knowledgeable English speaking local guides. Group sizes are small to make it a more personal experience and to really connect with the culture. The tours include transportation, entrance fees, and lunch. Read on to get a glimpse of what you can do and see in beautiful Hanoi – especially if you only have a couple days.

Temple of Literature

Wander through the well-kept grounds of the temple that was once home to Vietnam’s first national university. Many scholars come to this temple and rub the statues for good luck during their studies. The cranes atop the tortoises symbolize longevity and is said to bring thousands of years of prosperity.

Traditional Tea House

Truong Xuon Tea House

Take a tea break at Truong Xuon, which means Forever Young in Vietnamese. This traditional tea house is located off a quieter street, just a short walk away from the Temple of Literature. You will get to meet the ‘Tea Master’ and listen to stories as you sip tea and eat Vietnam’s popular green bean cake. Although super delicious, the green bean cake is very delicate when you open the package (i.e. prepare for lots of crumbs).

Hoa Lo Prison

Almost everyone knows the history behind the famous prison, which was coined the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by Americans during the Vietnam War. Previous to it housing inmates such as US Senator John McCain, it was used by French colonists to detain people who rebelled against the political norms. Although the prison is painted a bright yellow on the outside, it’s far from a pleasant on the inside. It can feel quite eerie to walk through the complex and see where prisoners were chained up held against their will. Some prisoners were kept in cells with barely any ventilation or dungeons with the poorest of living conditions.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Built in 1886, St. Joseph’s Cathedral is Vietnam’s oldest and largest church. The Cathedral was not open at the time of visiting, but if possible, feel free to make your way inside to see beautiful stained glass windows and the gothic-style stone arches. Don’t forget to take pictures outside like many of the locals do!

Hoan Kiem Lake & Ngoc Son Temple

Enjoy the scenery and go for a stroll around this beautiful lake that rests in the middle of the French Old Quarter. In the early mornings you can find people doing their daily exercises, and on weekend nights the area is blocked off for pedestrians only. At the Northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake is Ngoc Son Temple, which can be accessed by passing over the iconic red-painted Huc Bridge.

Pho Thin Bo Ho

Delicious Pho!

End the tour off in the best way possible – by eating delicious pho! The group stopped at Pho Thin Bo Ho, a local eatery tucked away within the bustling Old Quarter. You could easily pass this eatery that’s very popular among locals, because it doesn’t look like a typical restaurant. It’s literally in a small alley way! You’ll probably see a motorbike or two pass through to park in the back. If you do want to hit up this place for Vietnam’s signature food, make sure you go before 1:00pm as this is when it closes for the day.

Impressions of the Tour

The tour started at 8:00am, where we were promptly picked up by our lovely tour guide, Lucky. The group was very small – only four people – which makes it easy to listen to the tour guide and ask questions along the way. Lucky had so many stories, both from his personal life and that have been passed down within Vietnamese culture, which he told in his comical style. It’s clear that Lucky has such a love for his country and wants to share his culture with the rest of the world. I recommend going with guided tours as it will allow you to learn much more about the history rather than looking at buildings and wandering solo. You never know when it’ll come in handy when playing trivia!

If you only have a couple days in a city, booking a tour with Urban Adventures is a good way to see all of the main tourist locales. Check out their website and see what’s available in your next travel destination.

Disclaimer

This blog post was written in exchange for a complimentary tour with Urban Adventures. As always, opinions are my own.

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    Farah Al Zadjaly
    July 21, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    These are great pointers 🙂 I am looking of heading to Vietnam.

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      July 23, 2017 at 9:49 pm

      Great! I hope you have a wonderful time in beautiful Vietnam!

  • Reply
    Melody Pittman (@melodytravels)
    May 24, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Oh yeah! Bring on the tea house and the pho!! Nom! I would not have expected to see the prison on here. LOL Interesting for sure.

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 28, 2017 at 8:38 pm

      The trip to the prison was the most interesting part! The pho was delish and the best way to end the tour!

  • Reply
    Arimo | Arimo travels
    May 23, 2017 at 5:12 am

    Seems like a nice tour! 🙂 And pho is definitely the best way to finish the day in Vietnam.

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 24, 2017 at 12:05 am

      Food in general is the best way to end a fun-filled day!

  • Reply
    Chronic Wanderlust
    May 23, 2017 at 1:22 am

    I didn’t know those things about the prison – but yes I heard about the politician.
    They sure painted it nicely on the outside, but no matter what prison, it won’t be nice.

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 23, 2017 at 2:45 am

      For sure. It was a little chilling to go through and see how they were locked up.

  • Reply
    Sarah Stierch
    May 22, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Interesting! I’ve never really had Hanoi high on my “to do list” but that is slowly changing with the coverage I’ve seen. I’m sure that trip to the prison was pretty intense. Thanks for your post!

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 23, 2017 at 2:45 am

      Hanoi is so beautiful and has so much to offer. I would totally consider it if you’re visiting South East Asia!!

  • Reply
    Vicki Garside
    May 22, 2017 at 10:18 am

    We visited all of these attractions independent of a tour and whilst we enjoyed them, I can see the value of having a native tour guide to fill in some gaps in our knowledge and be able ask a few questions along the way!

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 22, 2017 at 4:37 pm

      Absolutely! I also think this is good for people who have no clue where to start with sightseeing.

  • Reply
    Kerri
    May 22, 2017 at 9:28 am

    I did my own food tour of Hanoi 🙂 but can totally see the value in doing a tour like this. Looks like you had a great day at the Lake….the days we were there we could barely see the lake for the smog. I think I actually remember seeing some of the Urban Adventure team up at a hidden rooftop bar in Hanoi when we were having a drink !!

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 22, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      Oh nice! I would love to do a food tour anywhere!! I see the value in this tour, especially for those who just want the day planned for them and all they have to do is show up.

  • Reply
    Passports and Pigtails
    May 22, 2017 at 4:56 am

    I think an organized tour here would be a fantastic option for our family. Vietnam is so foreign for us, it would be nice to have someone who speaks English to ensure we don’t miss out on not only the incredible sites, but the story behind them as well.

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 22, 2017 at 4:40 pm

      This would be a great idea for your family! You would be taken care of for transportation and food! Plus you can have all your questions answered by the knowledgeable local tour guide. Ours was so nice and funny! He deserves a shoutout!

  • Reply
    The Great Wide Somewhere
    May 21, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    This seems like a very informational tour that allows you to see many parts of a city without getting lost or feeling too stressed- I’m all about those little day tours! I had no idea that was the prison where John McCain was kept- how awful 🙁

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 22, 2017 at 4:24 pm

      I really enjoyed this tour and finding out more about the local culture. I didn’t know about the prison either!

  • Reply
    thelifeofasolivagant
    May 21, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Ah this looks and sounds amazing. I am moving to Vietnam and can’t wait to explore around the country. This looks like my kind of day of adventures 🙂

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 22, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      Awesome! Whereabouts are you moving to? I would like to live in Vietnam; that would be pretty cool.

      • Reply
        thelifeofasolivagant
        May 23, 2017 at 6:17 pm

        Ho Chi Minh City! I am pretty excited since I have never been.

        • Reply
          Expat and the City
          May 24, 2017 at 12:07 am

          That’s awesome! I actually didn’t go there when I visited Vietnam (I had to choose between that and Hanoi) so I’ll have to check out your content for things to do if I ever go back! 🙂

  • Reply
    Travel with Karla
    May 14, 2017 at 11:18 pm

    Going on an organized tour isn’t a bad idea if you don’t have enough time to research about all the places to see. I think it saves time and covers more places to visit. I’ll consider Urban adventures when I visit Vietnam. ^^

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 21, 2017 at 2:07 am

      Yes, it’s a great option if you don’t have much time in that place. Have fun in Vietnam!

  • Reply
    Rocio Cadena
    May 14, 2017 at 7:23 am

    I’m not the biggest fan of organized tours because I end up feeling like the experience is so manufactured, but at the same time having a local give you context about the sights you’re seeing is really cool and valuable. At least for this specific one it’s nice there were only 4 of you so it must have felt like a group of friends doing some sight seeing with a local friend!

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 21, 2017 at 2:08 am

      I really liked that it was intimate and we had a local showing us around. He was so great!

  • Reply
    Alla Ponomareva
    May 14, 2017 at 3:32 am

    Sounds like a very doable tour on your own, via a rented bike or a scooter, but then again you have to know where to go. I feel like just walking around Hanoi, you can find those places easily on your own, minus the insights into the culture from a local guide. How much would a tour like this run for?

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 21, 2017 at 2:16 am

      That’s true. I probably wouldn’t have been able to find the pho place though…it was tucked away in a small alley! Depending on time of year, a tour like Hanoi half day is about $40-45 USD, that includes taxes, transportation, entrance fees, and lunch.

  • Reply
    Mark Scrooby
    May 12, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    Can’t go wrong with a good bowl of pho!! I’m not usually a fan of group tours as often they feel a bit rehearsed. Your guide sounds like an interesting chap though and that can make all the difference! Since we started our travels we’ve now done a few walking tours which I have begrudgingly agreed to but every time I’ve actually enjoyed them and learnt so much more. I think in a huge busy city it is a great way to orientate yourself and see what you would be interested in seeing more of or if you have only a few days it’s a greta way to see as much as possible.

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 21, 2017 at 2:18 am

      Most definitely!! And I loved that the tour ended with delicious pho!

  • Reply
    odessaabroad
    May 12, 2017 at 2:34 am

    I also prefer to explore on my own, but yours can be a good jumping off point. I would love to check out that tea house. I love learning about all the different tea cultures around the world. And having pho sounds like the perfect end to most days.

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 21, 2017 at 2:19 am

      Yes, it is a great jumping off point. I felt more comfortable to go around the city so I ended up seeing other spots on my own the next day.

  • Reply
    Teesh Osita
    May 10, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Crossing the streets of Vietnam is one of the most disconcerting things I have ever done! You really do have to enjoy some pho afterwards xx

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 21, 2017 at 2:22 am

      After a few times crossing the street, I felt comfortable haha.

  • Reply
    Brian Keith Dye
    May 10, 2017 at 1:44 am

    I usually try to stay away from organized tours. It’s so much more freedom in just running around and discovering things on your own. I do lose the personal touch of having someone explain things at a temple or something but that’s why its great to befriend a local! I’m glad you enjoyed the tour! The pho seemed the best way to end things. 🙂

    • Reply
      Expat and the City
      May 21, 2017 at 2:23 am

      Totally agree! I like venturing on my own too but I just want to make sure I don’t miss anything important.

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