Lying in the heart of the Red River Delta, the Vietnamese capital city of Hanoi blends the old world charm with the dynamism of a rising Asian city. Its legacy as a former French territory is still evident from the French-inspired features – lakes and parks, colonial architecture and broad tree-lined boulevards – that still dot the present cityscapes. The city has undergone dramatic transformation over the last thirty years and is now seeing a burgeoning population paralleled by rising motorbike ownership, a rapidly expanding retail sector and a flourishing art scene. Yet when compared with Ho Chi Minh City, the economic powerhouse in the south, Hanoi still retains a romantic and elegant atmosphere.
What to see in Hanoi?
Hanoi is one of Asia’s most fascinating cities with its unique blend of western and oriental charm. You can wander through the 36 streets in the Old Quarter, rummage for souvenirs and witness the artisans working on their specialty crafts. As the oldest university (established since 1070), the Temple of Literature and its five courtyards retains a scholarly atmosphere and makes a peaceful respite from Hanoi’s busy streets. Pay homage to the late Ho Chi Minh at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and his ‘house on stilts’ and learn why “Uncle Ho” is such a respected figure to the Vietnam-ese. Vietnam is a culturally diverse country and the fascinating ways of life of her 54 ethnic groups can be seen at the Museum of Ethnology.
To check out the budding arts scene, pop into the dozens of art galleries that stock works ranging from traditional to modern. Some of our favorites, the Apri-cot Gallery and Art Vietnam have consis-tently received positive accolades from art connoisseurs and travelers. Although modern entertainment outlets are read-ily available in Hanoi, why not opt to catch a water puppet show – a unique cultural form of North Vietnam? For early risers, head to Hoan Kiem Lake or Park of Reunification (formerly Lenin Park) and observe Vietnamese in their synchro-nized Tai Chi moves. On fine afternoons, stroll through the French quarter, sip an aromatic cup of coffee on the sidewalk and observe the bustling street life.
If you have more time to spare, there are many interesting locales in Hanoi’s out-skirts that are lesser visited by tourists. Tam Coc in Ninh Binh – with its series of limestone rock formations jutting out from a sea of rice paddies, is a scenic and surreal place to visit. Nearby Hoa Lu also offers similar landscapes of rocky outcrops – no less spectacular when compared to Tam Coc – as well as 10th century relics from when the area was the capital’s country.
To learn about Vietnam’s pottery his-tory, a visit to Bat Trang Ceramic Village should be on the travel agenda. Here, you could try your hands at making the ceramics, but it is much easier to be en-ticed into owning the exquisite vases, bowls and dishes produced from the hands of the talented Bat Trang potters. For lovers of indigenous crafts, the Van Phuc Weaving Village lures visitors with its bewildering range of silk products.
Explore the rustic landscapes by cycling around the city’s northern outskirts in Dong Ho Village, which is also famous for its painting styles that depict the traditional Vietnamese village lives. Fol-low the trails of Vietnamese pilgrims and embark on a 2-hour trek up Huong Son Mountain to Perfume Pagoda (or Chua Huong), with lots of photographic oppor-tunities along the way.
Where to stay in Hanoi?
When in Hanoi, a stay in a colonial-style hotel should not be missed. The Sofitel Metropole Legend Hanoi is a celebrated Hanoi institution which boasts of an impressive guest list. For a lavish stay, the InterContinental Westlake Hanoi tops with its chic Vietnamese décor and waterfront location by the historic West Lake. Nearby the famous Hoan Kiem Lake, the boutique Maison D’Hanoi Hanova Hotel appeals to discerning travelers with its 55 tastefully designed rooms. For accommodations that are more wallet-friendly but yet present good value, we prefer The Silk Path Hotel – conveniently located within walking distance to the Old Quarter and other city attractions.
Where to eat in Hanoi?
For street eats, Pho Bo (beef noodle soup), Bun Cha (grilled meat with dry noodles) and Banh Cuon (pho package with beef rolls) usually make good intro-duction to the local cuisine. For delicious pho eats, consider the ubiquitous Pho 24 which offers different varieties of the much-loved Vietnamese beef noodle. The popular Quan An Ngon makes a good introduction to Vietnamese cuisine with its scrumptious and inexpensive of-fering in a courtyard setting.
A classic Hanoi dish, Cha Ca – grilled fish with tumeric usually served with rice noodles – is best savored on Cha Ca Street where this northern specialty dish originated at Cha Ca La Vong Restaurant. Highway 4 is a recommended stop for its complete dining experience with its de-lectable range of traditional Vietnamese liquor and specialty dishes. The bustling Bao Khanh Street, lined with numerous cafés and open-air eateries, is a great hunt for a cup of Vietnamese coffee while people-watching.
Housed in an old colonial building, both Wild Lotus and Seasons of Hanoi are styl-ish establishments that serve rich Viet-namese menu with tasteful Asian décor. For French – Vietnamese fusion fare, opt for Didier Corlou’s La Verticale which showcases an impressive selection in an intimate setting. For the ultimate dining experience, head to one of the homes of the celebrated chefs who will whip up a tantalizing dinner for you.