Considered the cultural center of the country, Hanoi should be your first stop if you’d like to gain a deeper insight into Vietnamese history and heritage. Situated in the north of the country, this city’s 1,000-year-old heritage is strongly shaped by Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences. Absorbing the capital’s atmosphere is an organic process, best achieved by looping the lakes and burrowing into the alleyways to unearth temples, pagodas, churches and other storied sights. As you explore, make sure to visit these iconic attractions.
Ngoc Son Temple
Visit this bustling religious shrine when it opens at 8am to beat the crowds and observe incense-clasping worshippers pay tribute to a handful of heroes and deities, including Tran Hung Dao, who thwarted a Mongol invasion in the 13th century. The temple graces an island on Hoan Kiem Lake, accessible by a picturesque scarlet bridge. Interestingly, Hoan Kiem Lake is home to semi-mythical turtles. One such cryptid died in 1967, but was preserved, and the turtle lives (again) in the temple.