Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is bursting at the seams with quirky culture and filled from top to bottom with unusual things to smell, see, eat, and buy. The boulevards are lined with fabulous architecture, museums chock a block with historical relics, the Old Quarter made up of mysterious winding laneways, and shopfronts piled high with teetering stacks of china and colorful silk lanterns.
But sometimes, the day that’s in it calls for an escape from the swerving motorbikes and the constant din of downtown. When your inner-self tells you it’s time to sneak away and recharge your batteries, these 10-day trips from Hanoi are worth keeping in mind.
A Guest Post by Grace Austin from Extreme Nomads
Ba Vi National Park
Located 48 km outside of Hanoi’s bustling city limits, Ba Vi National Park is one of the nearest places Hanoians can head for when looking to swap the city streets for wilderness. The park is brimming with lush jungle forest, waterfalls, vibrant wildflowers, giant ferns, and even a freshwater lake.
Head there in the morning for a misty mountain hike up Dinh Vua, which- at 1,226 m elevation- is the peak with the most popular trails. For extra adventurous travelers who’ve come in search of the best outdoor activities in Vietnam, you can also rent out a mountain bike and hit one of Ba Vi’s challenging off-road trails through the jungle.
Cat Ba Island
Many adventure travelers know that the scene for kiteboarding in Vietnam is world-class, but it’s certainly not the only adrenaline-fuelled water sport you can do here. Perched right on the edge of the world-famous waters of Halong Bay, Cat Ba Island is one of the region’s premiere spots for deep water soloing (which, if you didn’t know already, is basically rock climbing over a body of water without wearing a harness).
Easily one of the most beautiful nature escapes that you can reach from Hanoi, a huge amount of the land in Cat Ba falls under the protection of the national park- meaning the natural landscape and wildlife have been left to thrive (trekking through the inland mountains is a must-do!). It’ll take you 2 hours to get to Hai Phong from Hanoi- and from there you’ll still need to take a ferry- but trust us when we say you’ll be so glad you made the journey.
Duong Lam Ancient Village
Duong Lam is one of the few remaining villages around Hanoi that still shows us what life was like there long ago. Boasting a history of 1,000 years, Duong Lam Ancient Village is filled with cobbled streets that wind past rustic communal houses, quaint temples, ancient brickwork walls, and authentic farmer’s markets. Make sure to go on an empty stomach- you won’t find food anywhere in Hanoi that rivals Duong Lam’s little courtyard restaurant, tucked away in the starfruit trees in a quiet corner of the village.
Duong Lam was awarded World Heritage site status by UNESCO, meaning that the village (and its residents) remain sheltered from the footprint of mass tourism. Combine a visit to Duong Lam with a cycling trip through the rice paddies and papaya orchards for an extra special day out.
Bat Trang Ceramic Village
Bat Trang Ceramic Village sits on the edges of the Red River, where it was strategically built on the clay-rich banks to serve the booming ceramic export trade between Vietnam, Japan, and China.
With a history of 7 centuries, the villagers who live in Bat Trang today still dedicate their lives to the production of all kinds of special ceramic wares, such as porcelain bowls, tea sets, tiles, and ceramic statues. Stroll around the village and watch the artisans at work or try your hand at one of the DIY workshops. You’ll learn to throw pottery on a wheel, fire, and paint it; you’ll even be able to take your creation home.
Set into the karst limestone mountainside, the Perfume Pagoda is one of the most celebrated complexes of Buddhist temples in all of Vietnam. Most of the time it’s peaceful and free from crowds, though during the annual festival, the entire region becomes packed with pilgrims and tourists.
Just the journey to get to the Perfume Pagoda is an adventure in itself, involving a 2-hour ride from Hanoi, a one hour paddle down the river in a wooden rowboat, and a short jaunt up the mountain (either by foot or cable car).
Said to date back more than 2,000 years, the complex is home to more than a dozen temples that are strewn across the mountainside. The highlight for most is hidden away right at the top of the mountain, where you’ll find the entryway for the humongous Huong Tich Cave, filled with an atmospheric collection of candlelit shrines.
Thanh Chuong Viet Phu Palace
Equal parts art exhibition, museum, and landscaped garden, the Thanh Chuong Viet Phu Palace offers a totally original experience where visitors can explore Vietnam’s cultural and artistic heritage. The ‘palace’ was originally the home and studio of renowned Vietnamese artist, Thanh Chuong; though nowadays space acts as a public museum.
The lush gardens span more than 10,000 square meters along the base of Soc Son Mountain and act as the backdrop for an epic display of traditional and modern artwork, historical artifacts, sculptures, and even bona fide ethnic houses that have been moved here from the remote mountains of the far north.
Water Puppet Show
It’s worth keeping an eye on Thanh Chuong’s website since it’s often updated with their schedule of live performances, folk music concerts, and water puppet shows.
Phu Vinh Rattan and Bamboo Village
Craftwork is deeply entrenched in Vietnamese culture, and Hanoi is at the epicenter of a lot of these practices. Bamboo and rattan work is one of Vietnam’s specialties. Undisputed, there’s no better place to appreciate the incredible craftwork than the Phu Vinh Rattan and Bamboo Village.
The history of the village goes back half a millennium, yet still today most of the villagers are involved in the creation of the specialty wares. Visitors are invited to catch a glimpse of the artisans at work, as well as purchase some of the handmade wares straight out of the workshop. The village sits just 35 km outside of Hanoi, making it an easy place to reach for a day or half day trip.
Dong Ngac Ancient Village
A far cry from Hanoi’s city center, Dong Ngac is the epitome of peacefulness and tranquility. The ancient pagodas, temples, and village houses have all been preserved with the utmost care and attention to detail, making a visit there one that feels like you might actually have stepped back in time.
Even though the ancient village sits only 10 km outside of the downtown area, the settings are absolutely worlds apart. Wander around the silent streets, take a look at the traditional artwork hung on the walls of the communal house, and pay a visit to ‘Mr. Do’s’- a 300-year-old house that’s home to an elderly man whose family has lived there for 15 generations. Don’t come in a rush- this guy’s got some pretty incredible stories.
Chuong Conical Hat Village
The Vietnamese non-hats (or conical hats, as they’re commonly known) have become something of an iconic symbol of the country- but even though they’re ridiculously popular, most people have no idea of the painstaking process that goes into the creation of each one.
Visit Chuong village to see first-hand the surprising level of skill and patience that the talented local artists put into each hat. Visitors are welcome to watch the entire process (and even get involved themselves), as well as to purchase a piece from the workshop. Souvenirs don’t get much more authentic than that!
An eerie walk through Hanoi’s recent history books, Cuu Village is filled with beautiful, ornate villas dating back over 100 years- all of which are now completely desolate. The moss-covered walls and crumbling structures are fascinating to look at for architecture lovers or history buffs- and also make for a really unusual photo shoot setting.
The history of Cuu Village is enough to pique many people’s interest. Cuu’s impoverished community was granted a blessing in disguise when a disastrous fire ravaged their homes. Cuu was rebuilt, and in the process, the villagers revamped their lives. The residents became incredibly skilled at tailoring, producing dresses and suits worn by Indochina’s aristocracy- and even Parisian socialites. But when the tailors gained global fame, they left the village in pursuit of better-paid jobs and the glory they felt they deserved. Cuu Village has been empty ever since- a bittersweet, poignant reminder of Hanoi’s recent history.