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Hanoi Holidays

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Hanoi Holidays

Vietnam's small and vibrant capital lies at the heart of the northern Red River Delta and is a city of lakes, leafy boulevards and open parks with a French colonial feel. Hanoi was founded in 1010 and became the centre of government for the Indochina Union under French rule in 1888. In 1954 it became the official capital of independent Vietnam.

Today ancient crumbling buildings dating from the 11th century lie scattered among grand French colonial residences, while shrines and monuments to Vietnam's first president, Ho Chi Minh, sit in the shadow of modern high-rise buildings. The streets of the Old Quarter preserve age-old customs, where trade takes one back half a century and temples, pagodas and monuments reflect the historic character of Vietnam.

Although a city of historical importance, and the social and cultural centre of Vietnam, it is a surprisingly modest and charming place, far slower and less developed than Ho Chi Minh City in the south. Hanoi has retained its appealing sense of the old world, despite the onset of a brisk tourism trade in 1993, absorbing the boom of hotels, travellers' hangouts and Internet cafes, and the gradual infiltration of western-style food and fashions into the once inaccessible city.

Hanoi is fast becoming one of the most enticing and interesting cities in Asia. As a cultural centre, there are traditional water puppet shows, music and dance performances. It is also a good base for excursions to the beautiful Halong Bay, or into the Hoang Lien Mountains inhabited by several hill tribes.

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Detailed City Overview

Hanoi in Detail

Vietnam's small and vibrant capital lies at the heart of the northern Red River Delta and is a city of lakes, leafy boulevards and open parks with a French colonial feel.

Although a city of historical importance, and the social and cultural centre of Vietnam, it is a surprisingly modest and charming place, far slower and less developed than Ho Chi Minh City in the south.

As the early morning mist rises from the serene Hoan Kiem Lake, tracksuit-clad elders perform the slow movements of tai chi, like park statues coming to life. Streets fill with activity, mopeds and bicycles weave among pedestrians, while cyclo drivers (three-wheeled bicycle taxis) clamour for attention, and postcard vendors cluster around tourists like bees sensing an open honey pot.

Hanoi is fast becoming one of the most enticing and interesting cities in Asia. As a cultural centre, there are traditional water puppet shows, music and dance performances. It is also a good base for excursions to the beautiful Halong Bay, or into the Hoang Lien Mountains inhabited by several hill tribes.

Getting Around

Public transport is limited to buses, which are extremely cheap, but slow, crowded and a challenge for non-Vietnamese speakers. There are plenty of taxis to be hired and this is the safest and easiest way to get across the city. Motorbike taxis are also a cheap and easy way to get around. Renting a car or a motorbike are also popular options; all cars come with a driver/guide.

Nightlife

Hanoi is a city with an abundance of choices for night-time entertainment. After dark the Old Quarter takes on a new life, it's where one can find crowded sidewalk spots to sip on cheap draughts of beer while perched on a stool. Bai Hoi Junction has mixed patronage of locals and tourists who congregate around drinks for prices as low as 5,000 VND. The Old Quarter is also a prime location to devour street food by night, providing a wealth of tasty, quickly prepared food. For more experienced culinary navigation through the countless options, travellers can sign up for a nighttime street food tour.

Hanoi has no shortage of nightclubs, trendy bars and live music venues scattered around the West Lake area and Hoan Kiem district. For a more cultural experience, travellers can head to legendary Binh Minh's Jazz Club, located in the French Quarter or visit the historic Hanoi Opera House, which still hosts live performances every so often. There is also the option to tap into Hanoi's growing contemporary art scene with a visit to Manzi Cafe and Art Space, local art exhibitions and film festivals are also quite common around the city.

Shopping

Traditional arts and crafts are more popular here than mass-produced goods, and night markets are lively social occasions not to be missed.

The old town is where most of the art galleries are situated. A lot of up and coming artists exhibit here and if you can spot quality and bargain skilfully you can pick a truly unique and worthwhile memento of your Hanoi visit.

Also, popular souvenirs are paraphernalia from the communist and war eras, including Chairman Mao branded goods, medals, bullets, and Zippo lighters - the latter invariably of modern provenance and not found in a former battle zone as claimed by the salesman.

Other souvenirs include silk garments, wooden carvings, shoes from silk or bamboo, ethnic weaving, rice paper notebooks and paintings, and the distinctive conical hats which have been worn for centuries and are still much in evidence today. Look out for hats made in Hue which each have a unique poem inside the rim.

Sightseeing in Hanoi

The bustling nature of this city seamlessly synchronises with its old-world feel. This combination is the reason it is so attractive to backpackers and luxury holidaymakers alike. As if this wasn't enough, its rich history has been steeped in a mythic aura due to its relatively recent introduction to the tourist landscape.

Hanoi is as much a Romantically charming city as Ho Chi Minh City is a hive of commercial interest and big city living. Its lively merchant quarters and bar districts host tourists until first light, where cheap accommodation and drinks make the fun that much more enjoyable. During the day, museums, temples, memorials and the famous Old Quarter of Hanoi provide a myriad of cultural experiences unique to the city.

Within Hanoi's, busy streets lie some of Vietnam's most tranquil cloisters and sanctuaries, tucked away from the daily flurry.

If the city lights become too bright, Sapa and Bac Ha are two nearby country getaways that offer an opportunity to experience rural Vietnam. In addition, no trip to Hanoi would be complete without a foray into Halong Bay, often accompanied by a stay at Cat Ba island. These emerald waters are famous for their adventure activities, set in a bay littered with thousands of small islands and inlets - the product of a giant dragon who stormed through the bay aeons ago.

Hanoi for Kids

Although Hanoi can seem like a chaotic metropolis to navigate with children, it is a very kid friendly city for locals and visitors alike. Children's Park at the top end of Lenin Park is cleverly segmented into different attractions based on age groups. There are rides, boats, swings and plenty of space to run around in. It's also a popular hangout for expat families.

Another must-see is the Museum of Ethnology with a huge and colourful selection of arts and crafts, plus lifestyle reproductions of different traditional homes used by ethnic minorities. In the evenings head to Hoan Kiem Lake to see the traditional Vietnamese art form of water puppetry. The vignettes are performed quickly and with great energy and musical fanfare so kids don't have time to get bored.

When things get desperate, or if the rain keeps falling, go to Vincom Tower, the most modern and action-packed of the city's modern shopping malls. You'll find cinemas, including family movies on Sunday mornings, arcade game parlours and kids rides.

The other truly kid-friendly destination in Hanoi is the Old Quarter, with its ancient traditions, evocative old buildings and rich sensory experience. This is a slice of Hanoi as it was when founded a millennia ago.

Finally, on a hot day in Hanoi - and that's most days - take a taxi out to Ho Tay Lake Water Park with 12 slides and other aquatic attractions.

Eating Out

Hanoi, like most of Vietnam, is a bountiful spot for culinary exploration. Vietnamese cuisine is defined by its fresh ingredients, use of herbs and fast cooking times. It is unlike any other Asian cuisine, and sampling its many variations is one of the true pleasures of visiting Hanoi. The ubiquitous pho noodle soup served with slices of beef (bo) or chicken (ga), fresh bean sprouts, and various spices are available everywhere around the city.

Although there are many fine dining eateries, a more democratic and authentic way to dine is to eat at the many street-side restaurants, sitting on tiny plastic stools. Here you can sample inexpensive classic dishes like banh cuon, steamed rice pancakes filled with finely chopped pork; nem ran, fried spring rolls, and bun cha, flame cooked pork often served in a noodle soup. A well know street food joint is Cha Ca La Vong on Cha Ca Street. Here you can find the iconic North Vietnamese dish cha ca, which is fried fish and dill patties with noodles.

A lot of these restaurants only serve one dish, which they've perfected. So put aside your expectations of good service, pleasing décor and a varied menu, and try a different spot every day. Afterwards, visit a café for some ca fe (coffee) and a pastry, or a bia hoi (draft beer) tavern for some low alcohol lager.

Top 5 Things to do in Hanoi

Hoàn Kiếm Lake - The lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as a focal point for its public life.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the final resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi. Also known as Ba Đình Mausoleum, the building is open to the public to see historic figures final resting place.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is dedicated to the late revolutionary army leader and Vietnam's struggle against foreign powers during their formative years.
Hỏa Lò Prison - Commonly translated as "fiery furnace" this famous prison during the Vietnam War was known to the POW's as 'The Hanoi Hilton' during their 'stay'. It has now been converted into a museum for the public to see and experience.
Suối Tiên Amusement Park

Location

When to Visit

  • Jan
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  • Currency The currency used in Hanoi is the Vietnamese Dong.
  • Flying time from the UK The average flight time from London to Hanoi is 11h 5min.
  • Primary Language The official language of Hanoi is Vietnamese.
  • Passport & Visas Until the 30th June 2018, British Nationals do not require a visa for business or tourism stays, up to a maximum of 15 days. Your passport must be valid for a minimum of 6 months by the date you travel.