Hanoi: Over 1,000 Years of History
Hanoi is a veritable walk through the history of Vietnam. Combining classic Asia with colonial remnants, the 1,000-year-old city has something new and exciting around every corner. Ancient temples, vibrant, tree-lined boulevards, bustling markets, hip new restaurants and cafes- you name it, Hanoi (almost) has it all.
Most visits to Hanoi start in the Old Quarter. Also know as the “36 Streets”, this busy corner of the city is comprised of a maze of tight alleys and streets ripe with attractions, shops and food options. At the heart of the region is Hoan Kiem Lake with its centrally situated Ngon Son Temple. A scarlet red bridge leads to the heart of the temple, which provides visitors a glimpse into the spiritual past of the city.
The lake itself is a unique attractions, as during early morning and early evening hours, locals congregate around its perimeter to partake in a variety of different exercise routines. From jogging and casual strolls to ballroom dancing, tai chi, badminton, etc., the lake area is a hive of activity. Breaking into the surrounding streets, visitors will find a cornucopia of sites from tiny pho stalls (the famous noodle dish that originated in Hanoi) and colonial style buildings to clothes shops, busy coffee joints, fruit vendors, art galleries and more.
In addition to the thriving marketplaces and antiquated temples and cathedrals, there is also a vast amount of accommodation available in the area, which makes this destination ideal for first-time visitors. The walkability of the streets is even better than it has been in the past, as the government recently issued a walking-only law during certain busy hours of the day. For those who enjoy the thriving combination of local and tourist attractions, the Hoan Kiem/Old Quarter area is ideal. For those who are keen to get a bit outside the hustle and bustle, Hanoi has plenty of escapes.
Perhaps the most unique, lesser-visited area (by tourists) of Hanoi is the West Lake region. While only a short drive from Hoan Kiem, the West Lake area feels like it’s in an entirely different city. Offering quaint streets, modern cafes and restaurants, a lack of beeping and traffic and almost no hawkers in the streets, this quieter side of the city offers visitors a glimpse into what life is like for many expats and well-to-do locals. With its own selection of temples and daytime wandering attractions, this corner of the city is another must-see.
While the city is ripe with a number of must-see destinations (including the aforementioned Hoan Kiem and Old Quarter), the Temple of Literature (the first university in Vietnam), Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (where the first president of the country and father of modern-day Vietnam lies in state), One Pillar Pagoda, Ethnology Museum (to learn about Vietnam’s 54 different ethnic groups) and Hanoi Opera House are some of the main highlights.
The city is a reflection of Vietnam’s rich, yet tumultuous past. To first time visitors, it can take a few days to get used to its almost abrasive nature. After getting over the initial business of the city, however, it can grow to be one of the most memorable visits in Vietnam. Remember to hit as many highlights as possible, while also taking plenty of time to duck into quiet coffee shops, chat with the locals and look up… the architecture in the city is simply breathtaking.