The capital city of Vietnam has, for a long time, been somewhat overlooked in favor of its larger counterpart in the south. These days, however, Hanoi is firmly on the tourist map and visitors continue to come each year to sample the city’s delights. The city’s architecture and cuisine reflects a fascinating blend of Vietnamese culture with French influences. As the city was largely undamaged in the war with America, it is perhaps the best place to get to grips with a more traditional side of the country.
Most visitors arrive at the international terminal at Noi Bai Airport, which was opened in 2015, and has vastly improved visitors’ experiences. It takes just under an hour from the airport to Hanoi station by air-conditioned bus, which runs at regular intervals through the day. This is generally the preferred way to get to the city, as many visitors have been put off using taxis due to being overcharged and other bad experiences. Taxis, however, do remain one of the most important ways to get around the city, although you also now have the option to use Uber. Motorcycle drivers and pedicabs will also take visitors on shorter journeys. For the truly adventurous, the bus is an excellent, cheap and reliable option. If you are unsure where to get off, ask the conductor when he or she comes to collect your fare.
Perhaps the most famous attraction which continues to draw the tourists, is Hanoi’s Old Quarter. As its name suggests, this is one of Hanoi’s oldest districts, and its streets and buildings survive intact to this day. Take a stroll around and admire the mixture of traditional Vietnamese buildings, interspersed with architecture from the French colonial period. At one time, this part of the city was the most important merchant district, and it still has the bustle, sights and sounds suggestive of that time. If you’re lucky enough to be there around lunch or dinner time, the aromas of freshly cooked food will be added to that blend, making the Old Quarter a real treat for the senses.
For something of a relaxing chance from the Old Quarter, you can take an early morning, or late evening saunter around Hoan Kiem Lake. This charming body of water provides citizens with a place to relax together, exercise, socialize and forget the stress of the city. It is punctuated with delightful bridges and statues. The lake itself is also home to a number of giant turtles. In fact, don’t forget to look out for the most conspicuous of the temples around the lake – Turtle Temple.
To get some idea of more recent history, no trip to Hanoi is complete without visiting the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. The former leader’s embalmed body lays here, with thousands visiting each day to show their respect. You’ll need to dress appropriately – no shorts or exposed midriffs, and the guards don’t tolerate loud, drunken or rude behavior. You won’t be allowed to stop for too long to take a look at the embalmed body – the line is supposed to be constantly moving. But you’ll get an idea of just how much the country reveres the memory of this extraordinary man.
If all that walking takes its toll on your feet, it isn’t difficult to find a good places to sit down to eat and drink. No visitor to the city should leave without trying a Hanoi specialty – Banh Tom – deep fried and battered shrimp and sweet potato. If you were wondering what to wash it down with, look no further than Bia Hoi Hanoi, a local, unpreserved beer that perfectly quenches thirst on a hot afternoon.
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