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.

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Things to do: Hanoi

  • 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'), rice noodles with tender beef brisket (or chicken) in a deep, flavoursome broth.

  • Taster’s choice

    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 opens in new window. 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 or sample the city'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.

  • 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.

  • Tribal pursuit

    Vietnam is home to more than 50 ethnic minority groups and many more subgroups. The fascinating Vietnam Museum of Ethnology opens in new window showcases this heritage. Located just outside of town, it’s a huge space filled with musical instruments, costumes and domestic items. The grounds feature a collection of minority houses relocated from all over the country.

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Airport information

CBD 45km

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 person

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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.

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Getting around

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.

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