Hanoi is a lively bustling city often overlooked by tourists but a real gem. Inhabited since 3000BC, the city has a long history of occupation by the Chinese, French and Japanese, as well as the trauma of the Vietnam War. It has been capital of French Indochina, North Vietnam, and finally reunited Vietnam since 1976. This mixed history has led to the emergence of a city unlike anywhere else. Vietnamese traditions and culture blended with those of the French and Chinese makes for an elegant blend of the exotic and formal on the streets. Though the Vietnam War was disastrous, the city has recovered brilliantly in recent years and is an incredible showcase of the resilience and creativity of its residents.
Finding Guesthouses, Apartments and Holiday Accommodation in Hanoi
Hanoi has a great mix of accommodation options. Staying in an apartment or holiday rental is a good way to feel at home in the city and live alongside locals. Look out for apartments in old colonial buildings for a Parisian touch. Guesthouses are a good way to experience Vietnamese hospitality and meet other travellers, while renting a private villa can be a good option for families and groups. Accommodation in the Old Quarter or near the West Lake is best for reaching attractions by foot and enjoying the streetscape.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the final resting place of Vietnam’s war time communist leader. He lies embalmed inside the towering structure and visitors line up to pay his body their respects. Housed within a larger complex of gardens and a museum dedicated to the late leader, it is revered by many Vietnamese.Though some regard the place as an attempt to rewrite the history of communism in Vietnam with propaganda, it is nonetheless an interesting view of Vietnamese politics, culture and remembrance. The Old Quarter is a rambling thousand year old district known as the home of the craft guilds of Hanoi. It is here that artisan silverworkers, silkweavers and other craftsmen have lived and worked for centuries. Many craftspeople still work here, although the streets are not strictly allocated to particular guilds now. The traditional architecture mostly survived the War and it’s really fun wandering the tiny streets, trying to hunt a handmade bargain. There are also food streets, with spicy Vietnamese snacks. At the heart of the old city is Hoan Kiem Lake, or Lake of the Returned Sword. Legend has it that a 15th century King received a sword from the heavens, and used it to defeat invaders from a neighbouring country. Later, he was boating on the Hoan Kiem Lake and a giant turtle rose to the surface and asked the King to pass him the sword to return to the heavens, which he did. If you look carefully out at the lake on your visit, you might see one of the turtles that live there, and if not you will certainly see the Thap Rua, or Turtle Tower, a ruined folly on an island in the water. You have to go on a swan paddle boat once in your life, and West Lake is a picturesque spot to do it. It’s kitsch but fun, and a good chance to enjoy the sun with locals. Finally - don’t miss Hanoi shopping. It can involve a lot of haggling, but there are some incredible things in the city waiting to be found. Hang Dau street is lined with shoe sellers while Hang Ma street is famous for party decorations. Hang Gai street is packed with quality suit and dressmakers, who make a perfectly fitted suit or silk dress at a fraction of western prices. Provided you have time for a couple of fittings it can be really enjoyable picking out the fabrics and deciding what you want.
Getting Around Hanoi
It’s easy to fly into Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi from Bangkok or Hong Kong. Hanoi is also well served by several bus and train connections. Your accommodation provider should be able to help you book either of these to your next destination. If you’re getting the train its best to do this a day or two ahead to make sure you get the seat you want. For those on a budget, the city public bus system is an excellent way to get around - easy to understand and extremely cheap. Otherwise a combination of walking and catching taxis is an effective way to explore at your own pace. There are of course motorbikes to hire too if you’re feeling fearless.