Hanoi - Vietnam's capital overview

Hanoi - Vietnam's capital overview

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Hanoi is Vietnam's small and pleasant capital lies at the heart of the northern Red River Delta, and is a city of lakes, leafy boulevards and open parks with a French colonial feel.

Hanoi was founded in 1010, and became the centre of government for the Indochina Union under French rule in 1888. In 1954 it became the official capital of independent Vietnam. Today ancient crumbling buildings dating from the 11th century lie scattered among grand French colonial residences, while shrines and monuments to Vietnam's first president, Ho Chi Minh, sit in the shadow of modern high-rise buildings.

The streets of the Old Quarter preserve age-old customs, where trade takes one back half a century, and temples, pagodas and monuments reflect the historic character of Vietnam. Although a city of historical importance, and the social and cultural centre of Vietnam, it is a surprisingly modest and charming place, far slower and less developed than Ho Chi Minh City in the south.

Hanoi has retained its appealing sense of the old world, despite the onset of a brisk tourism trade in 1993, absorbing the boom of hotels, travelers' hangouts and Internet cafes, and the gradual infiltration of western-style food and fashions into the once inaccessible city. As the early morning mist rises from the serene Hoan Kiem Lake, tracksuit-clad elders perform the slow movements of tai chi, like park statues coming to life. Streets become filled with activity, mopeds and bicycles weave among pedestrians, while cyclo drivers (three-wheeled bicycle taxis) clamor for attention, and postcard vendors cluster around tourists like bees sensing an open honey pot.

Hanoi is fast becoming one of the most enticing and interesting cities in Asia. As a cultural centre there are traditional water puppet shows, and music and dance performances. It is also a good base for excursions to the beautiful Halong Bay, or into the Hoang Lien Mountains inhabited by several hill tribes.

Many interesting sights are within walking distance of Hoan Kiem Lake, the tranquil heart of Hanoi. The lake is a magnet for locals and this is the place to join in a session of Tai Chi in the early morning. A lovely temple, Ngoc Son on the lake is reached by a small red lacquered bridge. The Old Quarter with its 36 fascinating streets bustling with activity is to the north of the lake. A small section of the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ or Hoa Lo Prison remains on Hoa Lo Street, although most of it was destroyed to make way for an office block. Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is popular with tourists and there are a number of visitor attractions close by, including Ho Chi Minh’s House and Museum and the tiny One Pillar Pagoda, a lotus-shaped pagoda resting on a single stone pillar rising out of a lotus pool.

* Note that all museums throughout Hanoi and Vietnam are closed on Mondays and some also on Fridays.

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