The best activities in Hanoi are great for exploring a different side of the city, where you get to experience the traditional Vietnamese lifestyle. If you’re a first-time visitor to Hanoi, it’s important to know that it’s more than just a bustling city with chaotic traffic, colonial buildings, and ancient pagodas. Hanoi’s countryside is filled with local villages, nature reserves, national parks, verdant rain forests, colorful wildlife, and limestone islands, all of which are accessible thanks to numerous tour operators within the city.
If you’re pressed for time, downtown Saigon also offers an array of fulfilling activities that cater to any budget and time duration. From cruising along the breath-taking Halong Bay to cycling to Vietnam’s ancient villages, read on for our list of the most popular things to do in Hanoi. If you have time in your hands, these experiences are well-worth the time and effort.
1. Be active in Halong Bay
Joining a Halong Bay cruise is a must-do for any first-time visitor to Hanoi. Recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, Halong Bay features 1,600 towering limestone islands with naturally crafted grottoes. Approximately a four-hour drive from downtown Hanoi, the area is also home to different kinds of limestone caves such as phreatic caves, karstic foot caves and marine notch caves. Ranging from half-day trips to excursions for up to two nights, guests are chartered on diesel-powered junks or modern cruisers while authentic northern Vietnamese dishes and refreshments are served on-board. Activities include exploring the many cave formations, kayaking around rocky outcrops and watching the wildlife.
2. Hiking at Ba Vi National Park
If you’re a nature lover, try hiking at Ba Vi National Park, which is an hour’s drive from downtown Hanoi. Featuring numerous forest trails and slopes between three mountain summits, the park offers a great escape from the city with fresh air and an atmospheric backdrop of clouds, rainforest, and an array of wildlife. A shrine which dates back the the 11th century stands atop Tan Vien peak, which takes approximately 30 minutes of hard climb to reach. With entry fee of VND 15,000 per person, Ba Vi National Park also hosts the Tan Da Spa Resort where guests can unwind in natural hot springs, mud baths, wet steam baths and herbal baths.
3. Countryside Biking Tour
Hanoi countryside bike tours are offered by Ha Food Tours, giving cyclists the opportunity to visit local villages, rice fields, war memorials, and pagodas. A must-visit during your bike tour is Vietnam’s first ancient village called Duong Lam, which has houses dating back up to 400 years as well as 21 relic sites such as temples, pagodas and tombs. A countryside biking tour is a good way of getting to know how the locals live and explore a more tranquil part of Hanoi. Prices start at VND 600,000 which is inclusive of an English-speaking guide, helmet, lunch, and refreshments.
4. Cooking class
Cooking classes are an ideal activity for everyone who love to practice Vietnamese food with their own hand. Prior to the cooking session, guests are given a brief introduction to Vietnamese cuisine before visiting a local market to shop for fresh produce, meats, herbs and spices. Priced at USD40 onward, the classes are conducted in English, where you get a hands-on experience in preparing authentic northern Vietnamese dishes such as BQ pork with noodles and fish sauce (Bun Cha); Fried spring roll (Nem); Chicken soup (Pho); Bana flowers salad with chicken.
With plenty of five-star hotels with onsite spa centres as well as standalone outlets found within the city, a spa treatment is just the right remedy after a long day of exploring Hanoi. Catering to almost any budget and preference, Hanoi spas offer Vietnamese, Thai, and Swedish-style body massages and reflexology in addition to the usual offerings of facials, body wraps and scrubs. Some of the most popular spa centres in Hanoi include Omamori Spa, La Siesta Spa, and Le Spa du Metropole.0