Vietnam - Getting to know Hanoi
Hanoi takes Vietnam’s resolute, cheerful resilience and manifests it in a gorgeous jumble of worldly phenomena. Its streets are bustling. The traffic is, frankly, mad. Yet somehow - perhaps because Hanoi is full of trees - the overall impression is harmonious, evocative. Ancient temple complexes nestle, leafy and inviting, between brightly coloured shops and houses. The people buzz along between them, stirring up the dust. A‘wonderfully chaotic’ city, Hanoi undoubtedly ranks amongst the finest cities in Asia - if not the world.
What to do in Hanoi
- Admire its stunning old French Colonial buildings, once frustrating symbols of foreign oppression, and now used by the triumphantly home-grown Vietnamese government, which won independence in the 1970s.
- For a softer yet no less tenacious exhibition of Vietnamese persistence, join the hundreds of Hanoians who get up, before dawn, every day, to practise Tai Chi around beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake while the sun rises.
- Eat. The city has its own unique cuisine. Locals will be delighted to explain how vastly superior this is to food in other Vietnamese cities. Join them at their favourite pastime - snacking on the amazing street food you can find on nearly every corner.
- Pay your respects to Uncle Ho. One of the most remarkable highlights of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum exhibits the embalmed body of the revolutionary leader who liberated Vietnam. Thousands of Vietnamese visit him, to pay their respects. You can too - it may sound macabre, but it's an expression of the relief and gratitude that the Vietnamese feel for their freedom.
- The excellent Museum of Ethnology lets you learn about Vietnam's cultural heritage, with a life-size hill tribe village amongst the exhibits. It's a great place to prepare yourself before heading north to Sapa or mountainous Ha Giang, where many of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minorities still lead traditional lives.
- Other Hanoi highlights include the One Pillar Pagoda, nearly 1,000 years old and perched in a lotus pool, and the exquisite Temple of Literature, devoted to the memory of Confucius.
Hanoi got a thorough face-lift for its 1000th birthday celebration in October 2010. Entire streets were renovated. A world record beating 4km-long mural was added. Practically every neighbourhood was repainted in preparation for the event, which was broadcast around the world.
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The city that never stops snacking
Hanoi weaves romance, energy and charm into a truly unique atmosphere - one that most visitors fall in love with overnight. The city is alive with people from daybreak until last thing at night. Even then, the pho stands are open, making sure the city continues to eat!