If 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.
Most 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.
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.
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!
Hanoi’s sparkling new Noi Bai International Airport is being built right next to the old airport, which lies 45km north of Hanoi, and there are lots of ways of getting between it and the city.
Hanoi city bus numbers 07 and 17 leave from the right side of the terminal exit and take an hour, running from 5.00 to 22.00. The buses run every 15-20 minutes.
Airport minibuses congregate outside the arrival hall - the Vietnam Airlines minibus takes about 40 minutes and drops you outside their Hoan Kiem Lake office (south end). Tickets are sold inside the terminal building. However, many travellers opt for a taxi - there are hundreds outside the terminal exit gate. Unlike the minibuses, which run only intermittently at night, taxis are present 24 hours a day. Taxi ride to the city center takes about 30 minutes.
Address: Noi Bai International Airport
Hanoi train station is conveniently located in the city center, with Gate A serving mainly guests traveling South to Danang, Hue, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City and Gate B serving guests travelling up north to Sapa. It takes about 10 minutes by taxi from either gate to Hanoi Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake.
Train departs punctually with a variety of seat option: hard seat, soft seat, hard berth, soft berth. Despite many shortcomings, train is a safe and reliable means of transportation, and the essential way for guest to visit places such as Sapa.
To purchase train tickets, you can buy directly at the train station or book in advance with an online booking agent and have the ticket delivered to your hotel on your arrival.
Address: 120 Le Duan Street, Hanoi
Public transport plays an essential part in Hanoi's transportation scene but it can be hard for first-timers to use. Unlike metros in big cities, Hanoi's bus system is rather confusing due to its many route covering the hundreds of streets with many different name.
Bus are numbered from 1 to 55 and runs as far as Bac Ninh province which is just by the airport.
Taxis are plentiful in the city and charge by distance only (there is no surcharge for rush hour or late evening). Make sure that the taxi rid is charged according to taxi meter. Many tourist have been complaining about taxis been cheating with the price, so be aware of it and only use reliable taxi companies.
Try to have the right change as taxi drivers often don’t have change. Also remember to have your destination written down as pronunciation is often difficult.
Taxi station are located at the airport and the train station.
Reliable taxi companies are Taxi CP and Taxi Hanoi who are two brands of Taxi Group.
Taxi CP: 0438 26 26 26
Hanoi Taxi 0438 53 53 53
Address: 15 Pham Hung Street, Hanoi
Phone: +84 4 38 53 53 53
Pharmacies is called "nha thuoc" in Vietnamese, can be found on nearly every square block of the city.
Country code: +84
Area code: 04
220V is standard in Vietnam. In Hanoi, many outlets fit round pins. Use a surge protector when using computers.
If you stay at 3 star hotels and up, the hotel receptionist should be able to help you with an adapter.