Hanoi is relatively small and runs at quite an unhurried pace for a capital city. Resting in the Red River delta region, the center is a mixed of tree-lined avenues, maze like back streets with lively merchants stores, temples and lakes and has many fine colonial buildings.
A village existed here at least as early as the 3rd century. Century AD, and a defensive citadel was established in the 8. The official origins of this great capital city go back to the year 1010. According to legend, while the new king, Ly Thai To, was in his royal barge on the river, he saw a golden dragon flew up towards the heavens. This was a good omen, so he moved his court from Hoa Lu to here, renaming his new capital city, Thang Long, “City of the Rising Dragon”. The heart of Thang Long Citadel was the king’s sanctuary in the ‘Forbidden City’, but a growing collection of villages of commoners grew up around the walls.
More name changes over the centuries, and in 1802, the Nguyen dynasty moved their capital from here to the central city of Hue. In 1831, Emperor Tu Duc changed the name of the former royal capital to ‘Ha Noi’ - “City in a bend of the River”. While Ha Noi was no longer home to royalty, it was destined to soon become an important political centre again. The French colonialists occupied Hanoi in 1883, and it became their main administrative centre for all of French Indo-china (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos). Hanoi became the capital of their new colony of Tonkin (northern Viet Nam). Cochin-china (the southern 1/3rd of Viet Nam) had become a French colony in 1862. The Nguyen dynasty continued to rule from Hue, nominally at least, until 1945, but the French ‘pulled the strings’, dethroning any patriotic kings who opposed them.
On September 2, 1945, the free and independent nation of Viet Nam was proclaimed in Hanoi by Ho Chi Minh, before a huge crowd gathered in Ba Dinh Square, near Ho’s mausoleum today. The August Revolution had seized power throughout the country. The last king, Bao Dai, abdicated power to the new revolutionary republican government, led by Ho, thus ending the feudal monarchy. This independence was short-lived. The French eventually fought their way back to reclaim their colonial power, with increasing support from the U.S. The Viet Minh had to fight a bloody 9-year war against the French, finally culminating in the historic victory at Dien Bien Phu, which ended French colonialism in Indo-china. In 1954, after the Dien Bien Phu victory, Ho’s government returned to Hanoi, greeted by excited crowds. But yet again, foreign interference conspired to deny them the victory they had won on the battlefield, and in Geneva. So began the 21-year American War. In 1965, US aircraft began to attack Ha Noi, culminating in the infamous B52 bombing campaign of 12 days and nights of Christmas, 1972. Even this could not defeat Ha Noi’s fighting spirit, any more than the many earlier invasions by feudal Chinese, Mongols, Japanese, Nationalist Chinese or the French. Finally, on April 30, 1975, Viet Nam won its independence and reunification, as the Ho Chi Minh Campaign liberated the south.
In July 1976, Hanoi was officially declared the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Ha Noi – the heart and soul of Viet Nam - was named City of Peace by UNESCO in the year 2000. Now, Ha Noi has recently celebrated its 1000th Birthday, in October 10, 2010 – the oldest continuing capital city in S.E. Asia.
Places to see
HoanKiem Lake “Lake of the Restored Sword
The name refers to a famous legend of the great Vietnamese hero, king Le Loi, who led a successful uprising against the Chinese in the 15th century. The Lake is still famous for its rare species of very large turtles , that occasionally appear!
Ngoc Son Temple, “Temple of jade Mound”
Founded in the 14th century, and dedicated to Van Xuong, the God of Literature. Also worshipped here are the national hero General Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols in 1288; the physician La To; and a martial arts practitioner, Quan Vu. The red bridge was constructed in 1875
The Old Quarter “36 Streets”
Known as “Venice of the Far East” by early explorers and traders, due to the constant flooding. From the 13th century, 36 distinct guild areas set up. Streets are named after the original merchandise - ‘Hang’ means selling. While the various streets started out as villages, usually specializing in one particular craft or product, today the Old Quarter, with some 100,000 people in only 100 h hectares, has one of the highest population densities in the world.
Under feudal law, houses were limited to 2 storey and could not be taller than the Royal Palace. Note the typical tube houses, which can be as little as a couple of meters wide, but extend back as far as 150 meters! Hang Bac (“Silver Street”) is perhaps Vietnam’s oldest urban thoroughfare. Hang Ma Selling paper products for at least 500 years burnt offerings to the ancestors. Hang Quat - Bright red prayer flags for funerals and festivals.
The outdoor Night Market is very different from workaday Dong Xuan, mostly because it's more of a social event. Locals stroll the streets shoulder to shoulder, perusing inexpensive goods sold at the lighted stalls. It's fun and colorful, and definitely not about the shopping.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Vietnamese: Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh) is a large memorial to the Vietnamese leader in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is located in the center of Ba Ðình Square, which is the place where Ho read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Temple of Literature
Ha Noi’s most revered temple complex and Viet Nam’s principal Confucian sanctuary, dedicated in 1070. Viet Nam’s first university was founded here, in 1076, but most of the buildings were destroyed by French bombs in 1947, leaving few traces among the weeds. One of the few remnants of the Ly king’s original city, despite past reconstructions. Many reconstructed buildings rose from the rubble as part of Ha Noi’s 990th birthday celebrations in 2000.
Hoa Lo Prison
Located in the French Quarter, the Hoa Lo Prison, later sarcastically known to American prisoners of war (who called themselves “Pilot in Pijamas”) as the "Hanoi Hilton", was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the "American" War.
Museum of Ethnology
Located on Nguyen Van Huyen Street, about 20 minutes by taxi, this museum features about 15,000 artifacts made and used by the 54 ethnic minorities of Vietnam, and is highly recommended.
Museum of Independence
(48 Hang Ngang) Uncle Ho’s first house in Hanoi, where he lived for a short time after the success of the August Revolution, and where he wrote Viet Nam’s Declaration of Independence in 1945. Significantly, Ho Chi Minh used the opening words from the American Declaration of Independence, and referred to the French Revolution principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.
There are some other places of interest for historical and cultural lovers, or those who do a bit of research such as:
Temple and Pagodas: Quan Thanh Temple, Tran Quoc Temple by the West Lake; Quan Su Temple on Quan Su street, Bach Ma Temple on Hang Buom street. In the festival time after Tet, Phu Tay Ho temple is the place for Hanoian. Besides, other small temples and pagodas cattering around Hanoi looks quite the same from the outside, but each has a story to tell.
Museums: Vietnam Museum of history is at the end of Trang Tien street, opposite to Vietnam Revolution Museum, and by Tran Quang Khai street.Hanoi Fine Art Museum is on Nguyen Thai Hoc street, behind the Temple of Literature. Women Museum is on Ly Thuong Kiet street. Vietnam Military Museum is on Dien Bien Phu street, baside Hanoi flag tower.Hoang Thanh Thang Long (Thang Long citadel relics) has recently granted as a World Heritage on Hoang Dieu street.
URBAN EXCURSIONS: There are a few great places for full day or half day excursions out of Hanoi. Here are some of our suggestions:
Bat Trang Ceramic Village: An hour drive away from Hanoi, lying by the Red river. This village is almost 1000 years of history and they still keep and develop their traditional handicraft job. Great place pho photographers and ceramic lovers. A half day tour to Bat Trang village is recommended.
Tho Ha Village: A rice paper (for rolling spring rolls) maker village nesting on in island form by Cau river in Bac Giang province. The scenic drive there is about 2 hours, and the village itself is really inspring thanks to their life style, produces and history left on the village walls of houses. Tour to Tho Ha village take half a day.
Duong Lam ancient village: This village has been here continuosly for over 1000 year! Brick roads, ancient houses , beautiful rice paddies, scenic drive and its hospitality make a day trip there worthwile.
Perfume Pagoda: More than 1 hour drive, one hour on rowing boat and another hour trek up hill to Huong Tich cave home to Huong Tich Pagoda will take you to one of the largest Bhuddist center in Vietnam. Beside the breathtaking scenery, things you learn about culture and religion on this trip. Perfume pagoda tour takes the whole day.
Hoa Lu and Tam Coc: This place is ideal for both a full day historical, cultural and landscape explorer. You can do both a classic easy tour or a biking excursion in this picturesque area. This will be a long day tour.
From the airport: Taxis to downtown Hanoi can be hired at Noi Bai at a cost of 20USD/car and be supposed to drop you and your hotel in the city center. (Be specific about hotel name and hotel address to avoid unnecessary scams). However, it is advisable that you pay in dong, given the prevailing USD/VND exchange rate. In Vietnamese Dong, the rate for 4 seat taxis is about 350.000
Public buses to the city center from Noi Bai airport take about an hour. Bus 07 crosses the Thang Long bridge and goes to the Daewoo Hotel on the western part of Hanoi, then makes it final stop at Kim Ma Bus Station (walk able to the Temple of Literature). Bus #17 crosses the Chuong Duong bridge and goes close to the old quarter. There is also a bus that can drop you off near Hoan Kiem Lake. The price is 5,000VND.
Shuttle-vans from the airport to Hanoi stop at the Vietnam Airlines Office on 1 Quang Trung (see above). Make sure you go on Noi Bai or Viet Thanh shuttle 16 seater minivans. Tickets are sold in the building in front of which the minibuses park, or you can give the fare directly to the driver. The cost is US$2 or 30,000 VND. The shuttle service often offers to take you direct to your hotel for an extra US$1 once they reach the office. This is purely voluntary, but experience says the drivers are fairly trustworthy and for the new arrival is a good way to get direct to the door. Check however, that your hotel isn't less than two minutes' walk!
Taxis are the best way to travel long distances, but the cyclos, or Pedi cabs, are a cheap way to make shorter trips. Taxi fares are not always consistent, and the rates for each taxi company have not been standardized. For lone travelers, rides on the back of motorbikes (actually low-powered scooters) are popular too (known as xe om, literally meaning hug-motorbike).
By taxi: Some meter taxi owners in Hanoi will attempt to negotiate a flat fee in advance rather than use the meter. If you have a fair idea of how far you're going or how much you're willing to pay, this is probably a good idea.
The most common way is to use the meter. The meter will show the number counting for “thousand Vietnam Dong”, NOT dollars. Our recommendation is to only use the reputable and reliable taxi companies. These are Hanoi Taxi (Tel (04) 38 535353), Taxi CP (Tel. (04) 38 262626), Mai Linh Taxi (Tel. (04) 38 616161).
Most taxi drivers speak limited English, so it's a good practice to get your hotel to write the name and address of you destination in Vietnamese to show the taxi driver, and get your hotel's business card in case you get lost.
By motorbike driver: Motorbike drivers can be found on virtually every corner, especially in the Old Quarter. Expect to be offered a ride every half-block (or more). You should absolutely negotiate a fare in advance and pay at the end of the trip.
Sometimes you can meet really fun and kind motorbike drivers who speak reasonably good English and can give a great insight of Hanoi. Spend a day touring the city with such people will be a memorial experience. Yet again, be careful of any possible scam.
By cyclo: A reasonable fare for cyclo in Hanoi is about 5USD/hour/person. It’s a great way to tour the city in a slow pace while you can see a lot! Most of the cyclo drivers will be very enthusiastic once they agree to take you on a tour. They would voluntarily paddle and explain things on the street for you. Even their language is a bit limited, it’s a great fun to learn about the city via its true residents. If you have a good cyclo driver, we would suggest a little tip for his work and service.
By bus: Scam free, cheap but a bit difficult to comprehend at first, the buses in Hanoi are relatively fast and surprisingly comfortable. Pick up a map with printed bus lines at the Trang Tien street (the book street by the Opera house) and spend a few minutes to identify the over 60 bus lines, find your bus stop, wait for the bus, pay 3000 dong and off you go. If lucky enough, you will meet some fine locals who speak your language, and the chatting is fun! If you are unfamiliar with the city, make sure to inform the conductor where you want to get off.
Yet in the rush hour when the bus is packed, be aware of pickpocketers. It does not always happens, it does sometimes!
By car: If your budget allows this comfort, it’s best to hire a car with a driver. Those driving tourist car normally have very good manners and speak a little English. They are very careful, need, on time and the car is clean and comfortable. Work with us or your hotel to rent such a car, and price depend on time and distance you would travel in a day.
Food and drink
Eating and drinking
For value for money, atmosphere and some great Hanoi specialties head to Tong Duy Tan Street, Cha Ca St or Bao Khanh Lane where you will find the famous “Pho” noodle soup, “bun cha” (bbq pork patties & herbs on rice noodles) or “cha ca” (fried river fish Hanoi style) served at all hours of the day.
It would be a big miss if you would not sit down for a street side BIA HOI. It’s a kind of Hanoi draught beer served with awesome local food. It’s good, and it real cheap!
If you come in the winter, spring time, a hotpot(also known as steamboat) dinner on Phung Hung street is highly recommended. It’s an absolute local indulgence, a great meal and an amusing experience.
Fresh BBQ seafood can be found at dinner time on the pavement of Cau Go and inside Tong Dan street.
Intrepid eaters can find also a wide range of bizarre food in Hanoi, ranging from meat of “woof woof barkers” to slithered. For this special order, please contact us in advance or discuss with your tour guide for the best picks.
In the Old Quarter you will find a whole range of cuisine, from traditional Vietnamese dishes to salads, hamburgers, Italian, Indian, Thai.
Feeling homesick? Comfort food can be found at Pepperoni’s (29 Ly Quoc Su & Bao Khanh Lane), No Noodles (20 Nha Chung), Café Moca (14-16 Nha Tho), Little Hanoi (25 Ta Hien), Al Fresco’s (23 Hai Ba Trung). Bia Minh (7 Dinh Liet Street), Viet Cuisine (20 Hang Can Street).
To sample fine Vietnamese cuisine in pleasant décor, try one of Hanoi’s up market restaurants, some housed in charmingly renovated colonial villas. Our favorites include Club Opera (59 Ly Thai To), Green Tangerine Restaurant and Bar (46 Hang Be) Indochina (16 Nam Ngu), Le Tonkin (14 Ngo Van So), Wild Rice (6 Ngo Thi Nam), Brother’s Cafe Emperor (18B Le Thanh Tong), Nam Phuong (19 Phan Chu Trinh) and Seasons of Hanoi (5B Quan Thanh). (26 Nguyen Thai Hoc).
Vietnamese coffee, Hanoi style is best known at Café Nang at the tri-junction of Hang Bac and Hang Be street, Café Lam on Nguyen Huu Huan street, and other with the logo of Trung Nguyen coffee together with name of the Café. Hanoian prefer strong filtered coffee with condensed milk and drink slowly.
Cheap, good and local fun ice cream are Thuy Ta by Hoan Kiem Lake and West Lake, Trang Tien in the middle of Trang Tien street. Fine ice cream is at Fanny Ice Cream on Le Thai To street. Some good western restaurants serve fine home made ice cream too.
The Tet holiday (Lunar New Year’s Eve) is in the Spring. Flowers are the most beautiful during this time of the year. The weather starts to warm up with light rain here and there during the week. Hanoians believe that these light rains bring prosperity and luck for the New Year.
The Summer, on the other hand, is quite intolerable. The heat alone would be alright but there is the humidity which would start to manifest in the air since Spring. In this season we recommend you supply enough water and electrolyte to your body, especially when you participate in physical activities or travel out door.
There is something unique about Hanoi’s Autumn. The weather is perfect with less humidity in the air. The temperature would drop by now, offering people a chance to take out their fleece and jackets. Moreover, there is this type of tree – “cay hoa sua” which only has flowers in Autumn. The flower has a very distinct smell. If you have the chance to visit Hanoi during Autumn, make sure you ask the local people about this type of trees and where you can experience their distinct aroma.
Winter can be quite brutal because it is not only cold, but also very humid. The winter in Hanoi feels even colder due to the fact that Vietnamese houses typically don’t have a central heating system. Some people laughed at the 16 Degree Celsius, then well wrapped themselves in blanket in the hotel.