HanoiIf Saigon is the frenetic, commercial heartbeat of Vietnam, then verdant and historic Hanoi is the sedate, intellectual soul of the country. Its leafy boulevards, serene lakes, and sweeping white French colonial architecture set the scene as tourists and locals go about their business at a pleasingly civilised pace.
The CityMost travellers base themselves in the central Hoan Kiem District, in the vicinity of lovely Hoan Kiem Lake, whose pathways and surrounding greenery is the site of much activity as the sun rises. Don’t be surprised to see graceful schools of tai chi-ers moving as one as the sun rises, and Hanoi health fanatics doing jogging laps before work. As the day falls, couples stroll there for privacy and children wrap-up their games. Northwest of the lake is the legendary Old Quarter with its winding alleyways and hundreds of quaint shops, guesthouses, galleries, and places to eat. Tourists flock into locals' establishments, open long after the doors have shut elsewhere in the city. It’s also crammed with temples and monuments to ponder over between eating and shopping. Ba Dinh District, to the west of the lake, is the place to head for a little historic enlightenment – The Mausoleum, the Museum of Ho Chi Minh and the Hanoi Old Citadel all reside there – and the Old French Quarter, south of the lake, will transport you back to the days before the French realised that the Vietnamese were a force to be reckoned with. Upscale restaurants, hotels and embassies now occupy the stunning white villas.
Do & See
Visit Hanoi and you will find white French villas next to temples and monuments. The Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is one of the most visited attractions in the country and should not be missed. Hanoi Old Quarter is another must to witness Hanoi at its liveliest moments: flows of people and motorbike permeate all through out the streets.
Hanoi restaurants tend to centre around Vietnamese with Asian fusion or European fare, particularly French and Italian. You are more likely to find international dining in the Hoan Kiem District, but for local authentic flavours (and Hanoi’s famous Pho noodle soup dish) head to the Old Quarter street vendors. Note that most restaurants close at 11pm.
Because of its French colonial history and the fact that the locals love their coffee, Hanoi has a wide selection of cafes. Just about every block has some sort of coffee shop, everything from a simple local cafe to a Western-style venue. The Vietnamese truly like to experiment with their coffee. So when visiting Hanoi, make sure to try the egg coffee as well as the coconut coffee. Both are highly appreciated among tourists and locals alike. Take a seat and order a cafe au lait or a Vietnamese-style coffee while watching the Vietnamese in their everyday life.
Bars & Nightlife
Hanoi has only recently come to grips with the concept of nightlife past 10 pm, and the result is pockets of activity dotted around the city. Most tourists head for the bustling Bao Khanh Street in the northwest of Hoan Kiem, where late-night hangouts and bars huddle together, which attract the locals just as much as out-of-towners. There aren’t a huge amount of actual nightclubs in the city, but the handful you do come across are riotous affairs that stay open until the small hours and pump up the volume.
If you truly love shopping, don´t worry, there is for sure no lack of choices when it comes to shopping in Hanoi. The city is renowned for its bustling markets and colonial shophouses where to buy everything from authentic silk, local crafts to souvenirs, but there is also a numbers of fashion boutiques and shopping malls where to buy local and international fashion brands. Traditional markets are scattered across the city where you can buy great gifts and souvenirs to bring back home. If you would ask a local or tour guide where to find the most various kinds of traditional Vietnamese gifts and souvenirs, most of them will say “Hoan Kiem Lake” and “The Old Quarter”. So make sure to add these areas on your to-do-list. When you want to escape from the afternoon heat, the shopping malls are a good options. Savico Megamall for example should be in your agenda to visit, famous for being one of the largest shopping malls in Vietnam. Trang Tien Plaza is great for high-end fashion and offers all the well-known brands. One thing is for sure you will not leave Hanoi empty-handed!