Located on the banks of the Red River, Hanoi – Vietnam capital showcases sweeping boulevards, tree-fringed tranquil lakes with green parks. Hanoi’s perhaps Asia’s most graceful, intriguing and atmospheric capital. Being the second largest city of the country, it’s an energetic metropolis on the move with high-rise building, commercial centers and modern life. However, it still has its own charm with an over thousand year old history, ancient temples and pagodas, elegant colonial architectures and one of the world’s best street food.
First established as Vietnam’s capital in 1010 with the name of Thang Long (means Descending Dragon), the city changed its name several times before it officially became Hanoi (The City in a bend of the River) by Emperor Tu Duc in 1831. From 1902 to 1953, Hanoi served as the capital of French Indochina.
The city is separated into districts, each has its own beauty. Among them, Hoan Kiem is perhaps the most popular with tourists with the famous Hoan Kiem Lake at its center. Literal meaning the Lake of the restored sword, it includes the Turtle tower, Ngoc Son temple connecting to the shore by the wooden red-painted Huc Bridge. The lake is also home to a rare endangered giant turtle specie. A broad path encircles the lake, attracting a large number of residents as well as visitors to its shores throughout the day. Some of the capital’s finest colonial-era building could be found here, such as the Opera House, History Museum and the Metropole Hotel.
To the north and west of the lake, the Old Quarter is the heart of the city. This is the Asia dreamed of from afar. The Old Quarter is famed for its maze of narrow and congested streets and crossing the road here is an art form. It is here where you might find yourself steeped in history, pulsating with life, bubbling with commerce, buzzing with motorbikes and rich in exotic scents. Home to myriad mini-hotels, art galleries, restaurants and shops, the Old Quarter is worthwhile a day of wandering around and discovery.
South and east of the lake, the wide tree-lined boulevards of the old French quarter offer a stark contrast to the Old Quarter. The French colonial influence, obvious throughout the city, is particularly noticeable here. Many colonial villas are now home to embassies, upscale hotels and restaurants.
About 2km west of Hoan Kiem Lake, the Temple of Literature, known as the first national university of Vietnam is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture. Founded in 1070 by King Ly Thanh Tong, the temple is dedicated to Confucius and honors Vietnam’s finest scholars and men of literary accomplishment.
For those spending more than a couple of days in the city will want to explore some other must-see sites like the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex comprising the mausoleum of the nation founder which is regarded the holies of the holies for many Vietnamese people. Those who are avid for history, the over century year old Long Bien bridge is a site of interest. It was built in France and assembled in Hanoi in the late 19th century. From the bridge, you’ll get panoramic views over the river and the city with great photo opportunities, especially at sunrise or sunset.
Hanoi is also the city of museums. There are numerous of choice for you, the most popular ones including the Museum of Ethnology, National Museum of Vietnamese History, Hoa Lo Museum where the U.S Senator John McCain and Douglas “Pete” Wilson were imprisoned during the Vietnam War.
Not far away from Hanoi center are some traditional handicraft villages with specific products famous through the whole country. The seven-century year Bat Trang village renowned for its beautiful and high-quality ceramic products. Or Le Mat village for tradition of rearing snakes and making delicious meals out of them and Van Phuc village for its silks. These villages offer you a great way to learn more about Hanoi cultures.
Do not forget to get an authentic taste of its amazing street food as well. Hanoi is a real paradise for avid foodies with not only diverse, extraordinary but also cheap dishes.
The city awakes early, with activity in the parks beginning before sunrise and winding down by 7 am. Most offices, stores and museums open around 8 am, close for lunch between 11 and 1 pm before reopen until 5 pm. Most restaurants stop serving at 10 pm.
Hanoi has four distinct seasons. The summer is hot and humid while in winter the weather is quite cold and dry. The capital is also the gateway to visit the North thanks to Noi Bai international airport and a modern transportation system of train, highway to the remote area of Vietnam.