Hanoi, Capital City of Vietnam
Some people refer to Hanoi as Saigon's unattractive sister. I think they must have visited Hanoi during some gray winter days. In my opinion Hanoi is one of the most beautiful cities in South-East-Asia. It's a place of culture and a place of tradition. Hanoi has got many faces. French colonial style buildings, the pretty busy, original Vietnamese Old Quarter, wide parks, broad alleys, many lakes and old temples and pagodas form a charming unique ensemble.
Things to see
The following places should definitely be part of your city tour:
Lake Hoan Kiem
The lake is situated in the heart of the city. A small wooden bridge leads to its Island with Ngoc Son Temple
One pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot)
The Pagoda stands on a pillar in the middle of a small lotus lake. It was erected in honor of goddess Quan Am. The original Pagoda was build in the 11th century on a massive tree-stem. It got destroyed by the French and was rebuild later on an ugly concrete pillar.
Temple of Literature
The Literature Temple was built to honor Confucius in the 11th century. Vietnams first University was founded here only a few years later.
Ba Dinh Square with Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Uncle Ho's House
Ho Chi Minh's small wooden house stands in a park with a gold fishpond.
(See next chapter)
Former French Quarter "Ville Francaise"
To date Hanoi still has many French colonial style buildings:
There are also many museums in Hanoi, but believe me you don't want to hang out in a museum in a city like Hanoi.
Things to do
Make sure you attend a show at the famous water puppet theater, which is situated near Lake Hoan Kiem. Water puppetry is a typical Vietnamese art and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. I enjoyed the show a lot and I'm sure so will you.
A walk through the Old Quarter is a Must for every Hanoi visitor. Take your time and soak up the impressions. Take a deep breath and let the smell enchant you.
Silk accessories are a good option to bring for your loved ones at home. I am sure they'll love it, it's absolutely priceless, and the silk material is no extra weight for your backpack or luggage. I bought 2 scarves, one for myself and one for my mother, a tie for my father, and a tailor-made blouse for myself.
You can find all kind of accommodation in Hanoi that is budget, middle class and even luxury hotels like the Metropole Sofitel.
There are lots of family run mini hotels and guesthouses in Hanoi. I stayed at a mini hotel in the Hang Ga Street in the Old Quarter and I was more than satisfied. The hotel was really clean and tidy. They even changed the bed sheets every day. I told them it wasn't necessary, but they insisted on it. Most mini hotel owners allow you to have a look at the rooms in advance to make your choice to stay easier. What should be mentioned, however, is the noise. The Old Quarter of Hanoi is pretty noisy, it starts around 5am or 6am in the morning when people get up and rush to work, so there is no way to sleep long. I strongly recommend you bring earplugs with you.
When I first went to Hanoi in 1989, I stayed at the Thang Loi Hotel north of the city at the West Lake. It was just before the country opened for tourism, so there was no hotel in the Old Quarter, as far as I remember. Thang Loi Hotel is a nice hotel and above all it is really quiet. If you are noise sensitive, this hotel may be an option. There is just one drawback and that's the 3 to 4 km (a little over two miles) distance to the city center.
How to get there
Noi Bai Airport is situated about 35km (22 miles) north of Hanoi. The most convenient way to get from the airport to Hanoi is by taxi. Don't worry; you'll be able to afford it ;-) If you haven't come round to exchange your currency, you can easily pay the taxi driver in US$. The US$ is sort of an unofficial currency in Vietnam.
Noi Bai Airport has good connections from major Asian cities, such as Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore.
Most travelers, however, prefer to go to Saigon first and travel north by plane, bus or train until their journey ends in Hanoi, then they return home via Saigon. That is because Saigon's Tan Son Nhat Airport serves more international destinations than Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport.
When to go there
I guess the best time to go to Hanoi would be October. You don't want to go there in August, when temperatures may rise to 40°C (104F), nor during the winter months when temperatures may fall below 10°C (50F).
Texts and Pictures by Janine Sunflower