4. Private Hanoi: Crowd-free Morning Highlights of the City
Dive into the sights, sounds, and smells of the bustling city on this Hanoi city tour, a great way to see some of the major Hanoi highlights.
Start the city tour with a visit to the Temple of Literature. Originally built in honor of Confucius by King Ly Thai Thong in 1070, a university was added to the grounds six years later. The university provided education to the royal family and children of the aristocracy or "mandarins". The University remained here until King Gia Long moved the country’s administrative capital from Hanoi to Hue at the beginning of the 19th century.
Drop into a traditional tea house to taste some of the best Vietnamese flavored green teas and listen to thousand-year-old stories explaining the significance of tea leaves to local cultures. Tea is even better when served with some authentic snacks such as sweetened lotus seeds and green bean cake.
Continuing on the Hanoi tour, head to the Hoa Lo Prison museum. Used by French Colonists for political prisoners till 1954 and later by North Vietnam for American POWs, the prison complex was sarcastically nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American pilots during Vietnam War (1954-1975). Famous ex-prisoners of war include Pete Peterson (the first US ambassador to a unified Vietnam in 1995) and US Senator John McCain.
Your next stop will be the largest and oldest church in Hanoi. St Joseph’s Cathedral was built in 1886 with an architectural style often compared to the Notre Dame de Paris, this Gothic Revival church is not only a religious site, but is also a popular photoshoot backdrop for local teenagers.
Continue to the heart of Hanoi - the Hoan Kiem Lake, with its magnificent Huc Bridge and Ngoc Son temple. Experience the spiritual harmony of different religions coexisting in the same place. Then, stop for lunch for a traditional bowl of pho, a definite must-do while you're in Vietnam, before ending the tour. You may then continue your own exploration of the area or your tour guide will assist you in getting a taxi back to your hotel.