Updated: Apr 26, 2020
We had heard great things about the food and culture in Hanoi, however we found with young kids just one day was enough and then spend more time elsewhere. We stayed in Hanoi in order to visit Ha Long Bay easily, so for that it worked great. There are some highly recommended walking food tours so if you want to explore the culture through food then definitely go that route! That would not have been fun for us, though our kids will try new foods, in general if it looks questionable they will shake their head no.
So we opted to head out on our own. We looked up some highlights of the city to see and made our plan from there. We always travel with our double stroller. A good sturdy stroller makes life so much easier (we use the Baby Jogger City Select). It is inevitable that kids just don't have the stamina to walk as long and far as we do. There are times I get tired - if my kids had to walk the same distance we would never make it! Typically my husband and I both have one of the younger kids in a carrier, while the older 2 are in the stroller, especially while walking along the roads. The number 1 thing I will say when walking in Hanoi- is be on guard!!! We are use to traffic that seems chaotic but #Hanoi was more than we were comfortable with. There are some walking paths near the lakes that are great, however a majority of the sidewalks in and around the old city were full of parked motorcycles. We did not expect that, so unfortunately we were stuck walking along the side the road!
In the morning we left our hotel, the Somerset Grand Hanoi - check out my resource page for a full review in a few days- to explore on foot. As mentioned above, the traffic was crazy!! So choose where you cross the road wisely & don't assume vehicles will stop for you.
Before saying anything more, it is very important that you pick up a SIM card and buy a data plan to have internet access on the go. We purchased ours at the airport after arriving in country. You'll want to do that anytime you travel abroad unless you are simply sitting at your hotel or the beach! It may cost $10-$15 for a week, but you need to be able to follow Google maps and use the Grab app for rides. Grab is useful in pretty much every Asian country we've visited so far.
Our first stop was the #ThangLongImperialCitadel. It was a Monday, so only the grounds are open for visitors, not the inside of the Citadel. We still paid the admission fee of VND 30,000 (~$1.30) per adult and children under 15 years are free. We can only handle the inside of museums for so long with little ones anyways, so it worked out great for us. It was practically empty so it was easy to wander around while letting the kids run. The boys enjoyed the Vietnam-war era planes on display, but the highlight was the centuries-old Citadel in really good condition. We were able to take stairs to the top for an impressive view of the beautiful grounds and the French-Colonial style buildings that occupy the rest of the complex.
One thing I love about traveling with our family are the recurring conversations we have with locals without understanding a single word that is actually said. It typically goes like this: "Ohh!" while smiling and waving at the kids. Then the looks on their faces turn to focus as they start counting the kids. After that comes chattering amongst themselves, laughter and thumbs up. We normally smile, nod and laugh with them.
From there we continued on our walk and passed the #HoChiMinhMausoleum and Presidential Palace before making it to a beautiful path along the West Lake towards the #TranQuocPagoda. Along the lake you see fishermen, and many street food vendors with their little stools for chairs. Without the kids we would have stopped for tea, but we at least purchased some fruit to eat on the go.
The Pagoda is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi, built in the 6th century on a small island near the southeastern shore of the West Lake. It is one of the top things to see in Hanoi.
The walk from the hotel through all of these places was approximately 3.5 km. By this time it was lunch and thankfully there was a French bakery nearby. So often Tim & I say to eachother... "why did we even buy them food" when we eat at restaurants... as most food ends up uneaten. They are great eaters at home, but just like we get in #vacation mode, I think we've trained them that way too. So french fries for the kids it was... The table ended up a mess as our 2 year old prefers ketchup over any actual food, and our 9 month old can be quite vocal when he's hungry and food isn't in his mouth! So that's always fun.
To say the least, we were ready to be back to the hotel, and fast! So we used the Grab app for a 5 person vehicle. We are use to squeezing together if necessary. He pulls up in a 2-door compact vehicle, takes one look at us and our aforementioned double stroller and shakes his head "no". Thankfully there are taxi's all over, and we were able to flag one down that we fit into and were back to the hotel in less than 15 minutes and cost us about $4.
After the youngest 2 napped, we headed out to see a Water Puppet show! The #ThangLongWaterPuppetTheatre truly is a must-see . It was entertaining for adults and children and was packed full of people. They have multiple shows a day- but get there early to buy tickets or ahead of time online (we did not have to pay for our youngest 2 as they sat on our lap). Musicians play traditional instruments and vocalists sing to accompany the acts. The puppeteers stand behind a curtain in the water and make the puppets move, dance & splash water. We were very impressed by the detail and design of the puppets. It was a way to learn about the culture that was both entertaining and informative for both children and adults. You should pay for the audioguide for translation into your language or you won't know what the stories are about.
The next morning we flew to DaNang! There are overnight trains if you want to see more of the countryside. We have friends who have done that, but we opted to quickly get to our next destination.
Check back later for our full schedule in DaNang. It was just beautiful.