Hanoi the capital of Vietnam is a city steeped in culture and tradition and makes for quite an introduction to Vietnam. It is a city of lakes, wide tree-lined shaded boulevards, parks and magnificent French colonial architecture. It only became the official capital in 1954 but the city itself dates back as far as the 11th century. Lose yourself in the old quarters, a maze of narrow bustling alleyways lined with shop-houses, food vendors and flower stalls.
Less developed than Ho Chi Minh city, you will find crumbling buildings dating back centuries, grand French style residences from the colonial times amongst several temples, pagodas and monuments depicting the story of the cities colourful history.
Some top tourist sights and attractions of Hanoi include Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, his former house and a dedicated museum, the charming and calming Temple Of Literature, the Fine Arts Museum and St Joseph’s Cathedral to name just a few. Although don’t be surprised if you find yourself spending the majority of your time in the Old Quarter! It is the Vietnamese heart of colonial Hanoi and a charming maze of at least 36 narrow streets, each named after the products it traditionally sold. Nowadays its home to a more modern mix of shops, bars, cafes, flower stalls, small pagodas and the iconic tall and skinny ‘tube houses’ too. The tranquil Hoan Kiem Lake is at the centre of the Old Quarter.
For the history buffs Hanoi offers plenty to do from visiting the various museums to Hoa La Prison or the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ as it was dubbed during war times. Foodies will be delighted by the sheer variety of cuisine on offer. Vietnamese cooking is an exciting fusion of Chinese, French and Vietnamese traditions with lots of regional variations along the way.
As far for getting around Hanoi, buses and taxis are probably the easiest way (be sure to agree the rate before!) but if you fancy a bit of pedal power bicycles are for hire all around the city. Hanoi also provides a good base from which to take excursions to the famous Halong Bay if you want to get outside of the city for a few days.