"Hanoi - Bustling, historic capital of Vietnam" Hanoi by Willettsworld

Hanoi Travel Guide: 2,854 reviews and 6,330 photos

Hanoi, one of the most beautiful of the colonial Indochinese cities, is often the start or end point of a trip to Vietnam, and what a great welcome or farewell it is. Oozing with charm, Hanoi has gone through wholesale changes since Vietnam swung open its doors to tourism, but it remains true to its essential personality and is an amazing city to experience. From the early hours until late at night, the fig-tree shaded streets swarm with careening motorbikes, often with four, five or even six people aboard.

With a history of 1,000 years, until 1802, it was the most important political centre of Vietnam. It was eclipsed by Hue during the Nguyen Dynasty as the capital of Vietnam, but Hanoi served as the capital of French Indochina from 1902 to 1954. From 1954 to 1976, it was the capital of North Vietnam before becoming the capital of the reunified Vietnam you see today.

While the city is developing a bit of a sprawl, Hanoi's centre can be split into three main areas, all of which are within walking distance of one another.

The Old Quarter remains the most popular, interesting and inexpensive part of Hanoi to stay in and was where I stayed. Wedged to the north of Hoan Kiem Lake, the area is characterised by a twisting mess of narrow roads and alleys, lots of attractive old buildings, interesting street scenes and plenty of noise. There's a few sights worth visiting here but it definitely warrants a visit if you're not staying in the area.

To the south of the lake is the French Quarter, home to Central Hanoi's poshest hotels, as well as the Opera House. Here you'll also find Hanoi's ritziest restaurants and clubs, as well as the Museum of History and the Museum of the Revolution. It's a good place for a visit even if you're not staying here - it's much better laid-out, with broad, tree-lined boulevards and, compared to the rest of Hanoi, moderate street traffic.

The western part of the city is home to the West Lake, the Citadel, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex and a bunch of museums.

I stayed in Hanoi for a few days before heading on a tour to Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island and then returning to Hanoi in order to take in Tet (Vietnamese lunar new year celebrations). I then went on another tour to Sapa in order to do some trekking and visit some of Vietnams ethnic minorities. Hanoi has plenty of places to visit and is a little crazy in terms of traffic (especially in the Old Quarter) and was surprisingly cold in January, so bring along some warm clothing if you're coming this time of year.

  • Last visit to Hanoi: Jan 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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