VIDEO: Five Things to Do in Hanoi
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VIDEO: Five Things to Do in Hanoi

If Vietnam isn’t on your radar yet, it should be. This colorful, frenetic country in Southwest Asia is perfect for solo travelers, history buffs, and foodies alike. Start a trip to Vietnam in the northern city of Hanoi.

To mingle with locals, grab a bia hoi. This classic light draft beer is traditionally sipped curbside, and won’t set you back more than one U.S. dollar. Bustling Bia Hoi corner is one of the most famous spots to pull up a small, plastic stool and nurse your pitcher of brew.

One of the most fun things to do in Hanoi is to eat your way through the countless food carts and stalls across the city. Bun cha (a dish of grilled pork and noodles thought to have originated in Hanoi), banh cuon (a steamed rice flour crepe), sticky rice, and rich, creamy Vietnamese egg coffee are a few can’t-miss dishes in Hanoi.

Some travelers would even fly across the world just to eat the Hanoi specialty cha ca la Vong: grilled fish with turmeric and dill. Find this in one of Hanoi’s many markets, all of which are popular spots for tour groups.

Sleep off the food so you have room for breakfast the next day. Pho, the iconic Vietnamese soup, is customarily consumed at breakfast. Hit the streets in the Old Quarter before 10 a.m. for the freshest bowls of chewy rice noodles, herbaceous broth, and chicken or beef.

Before you depart, make time between bites for a visit to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Collections here celebrate and explore the country’s incredible diversity (there are more than 54 ethnic groups in the country). Highlights include a water puppet show and a full-scale replica of a Tay stilted house.

There’s also, of course, the Hòa Lò Prison, which boasted the ironic name “Hanoi Hilton.” Both Vietnamese revolutionaries and U.S. prisoners of war (including Senator John McCain) were imprisoned here.

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