Old meets new in charming Hanoi
With its unique blend of heritage and modernity, Hanoi is one of the most fascinating capitals in South-East Asia. It’s charming, serene, chaotic and traditional. And with much of local life lived out on the streets, it’s easy to experience the city in just a few days.
Get a sense of more than 1,000 years of history in the 36 streets – that’s the customary number; there are many more – making up the Old Quarter. There’s a photo-op on just about every corner. Get lost, stop to drink iced lemon tea with the city’s cool kids and do lap or two of Hanoi’s celebrated Hoan Kiem Lake. Savour world-class cuisine by undertaking a street-food tour, see Vietnam’s revered revolutionary at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and dig into the city’s speakeasy scene once the sun goes down. Get in as much fun as possible before the midnight curfew.
Things to do
Pho goodness’ sake
Hanoi is at its best in the morning when the streets are relatively free of traffic. Get out and about by 5.30am and head to the heart of the city, Hoan Kiem Lake, to see elderly locals practicing tai chi and laughter yoga. Start the day Vietnamese style with Hanoi’s most famous dish, pho (pronounced “fur”), which is noodles with tender beef brisket in a deep, flavoursome broth.
Hanoi is a street-food lover’s dream. Think barbecued meat, fragrant herbs and cool fresh noodles. But be warned, finding Hanoi’s most famous dishes and vendors can be hard, so take a tour with the Hanoi Cooking Centre or someone who knows their way around. For the cheapest beer in the world, look for cool, fresh bia hoi, a light, local brew you can enjoy for about 25 cents. Come sunset, drink at the Intercontinental Hotel’s Sunset Bar on West Lake or find Tadioto to get a taste of Hanoi’s celebrated speakeasy scene.
The learning channel
The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) was built in 1070 to honour Confucius and serve as the country's first university. This complex of serene courtyards, lotus-filled ponds and red-roofed temples makes for a tranquil getaway from the city. Admission is VND 5,000.
The wheel Hanoi
The Old Quarter of Hanoi is full of noise, aromas, activity and architectural delights. But that can easily be missed when navigating on foot or in a taxi. So sit back in a cyclo and bask in the sensory overload. Most hotels will assist in booking your tour.
Vietnam is home to more than 50 fascinating ethnic minority groups and many more subgroups. The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology showcases this heritage. Located just outside of town, it’s a huge space filled with the musical instruments, costumes and domestic products used by Vietnam’s ethnic minorities. The grounds feature a collection of minority houses relocated from all over the country.
Travel time 1 hour
Taxi Approx VND 350,000 (USD $17)
Airport minibus to the city centre costs VND 32,000 (USD $1.50)
City buses 7 and 17 takes about an hour and costs VND 5,000 (USD $.025) per personBack to top
When to go
Hanoi and northern Vietnam are best visited during the early autumn, around late October/early November and in the spring; go in April to catch the “golden four weeks” before it gets hot. For trekking in places like Sapa, go during the area’s dry season from October to late March. Be advised that December and January can get quite chilly.
During Tet (Lunar New Year), which is usually in February, the city becomes ghostly quiet for two days as everyone heads home to spend time with family and give gifts – for some this is heaven.Back to top
Hanoi is a relatively small place, so don’t be afraid to pack some water and walk it. The motorbike taxi – known locally as a xe om (motorbike hug) – is a great way to get a feel for the city. Most journeys in the city centre shouldn’t cost more than VND 60,000 but you should agree on a price before getting on. Taxis are everywhere and fares are cheap. Look for the more reliable companies like Mai Linh, whose drivers are less likely to have dodgy meters or take you the long way.Back to top