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Vietnam’s capital city has a number of attractions worth seeking out during your visit, though many visitors spend just a day or two here before moving north to breathtaking Halong Bay or to Sapa in the mountainous Lào Cai Province. Map out your sightseeing itinerary with our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the best things to do in and around Hanoi:
1. Wander the Old Quarter. Hanoi’s historic city center is ideally suited to aimless wandering, window shopping and snacking. There are plenty of shops and boutiques where you can pick up souvenirs and postcards, while the delicious banh mi sandwiches served on hot, crispy baguettes from the street vendors are the perfect snack for a walk around nearby Hoan Kiem Lake. Come back during the evening for a pitcher of fresh beer at one of the many outdoor bars.
2. Thang Long Water Puppetry Theater. The family-friendly cultural performance at Hanoi’s famous water puppet theater is quite a spectacle and a must-see. Shows are highlighted by live musicians and singers acting out popular Vietnamese legends — with the assistance of puppets, of course — amid bursts of dazzling special effects.
3. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Despite his wishes to be cremated after his death, the embalmed body of Vietnam’s former president and prime minister is kept in the main building of the mausoleum, which has the somewhat wonky hours — check before you go as it’s closed in the afternoons and some days of the week. The line of locals, tourists and foreign dignitaries waiting to catch a glimpse of Uncle Ho’s remains can be a long one, particularly on Saturdays, so plan on arriving before it opens and try to come on a weekday. Long pants are required for entry.
4. Ho Chi Minh Museum. Decidedly less morbid than the adjacent mausoleum for obvious reasons, the Ho Chi Minh Museum provides an interesting look at the man’s life through a series of interesting and sometimes bizarre exhibits. Note that the museum is only closed on Mondays and open in the afternoon but, along with the mausoleum, it is often shuttered when Uncle Ho’s body is annually shipped to Russia for maintenance.
5. Halong Bay. We highly recommend an overnight trip to the impossibly picturesque Halong Bay, which is located about three hours away by bus. Countless tour companies offer bay cruises, but Emeraude Classic Cruises greets guests with a cocktail on the upper deck, which has views of the iconic karst mountains rising from the water. If you can manage to pull yourself away from that stunning scenery during this two-day cruise, onboard you can get a massage and take a tai chi or cooking class. The trip also includes a shore excursion to Sung Sot Cave, where you’ll get a chance to explore an illuminated limestone cave with 100-foot-high ceilings.