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.
Though considerably quieter than big sister Saigon, Hanoi still retains a vibrant atmosphere. 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. A cyclo is available on most street corners, but unless you are making a particularly long trip, the best way to explore Hanoi is by foot.
It seems that in Hanoi, no two streets meet at 90 degrees and there so many one-way thoroughfares it sometimes feels like you can't get there from here, nor here from there. Count on getting lost. But a day of dodging traffic and elbowing your way through overcrowded footpaths is exactly how most people spend their time in Hanoi, and it's more fun than any purpose-built tourist attraction. Keep a map close at hand though, so when you find something that tickles your fancy, you can mark it down -- otherwise you risk never finding it again.
Hanoi has a number of lovely parks and museums where you can while away the hours of a warm summer's afternoon -- Lenin Park, south of Hoan Kiem district and just north of Bay Kau Lake are among the most popular, especially on holidays, when it's packed with picnickers.
In winter months, you can find yourself a cozy cafe to snuggle up in, or find a streetside restaurant boiling up a pot of something belly-warming and delicious. While Hanoians are certainly happy to be free of the French occupation, they continue to embrace French culinary culture.
By Sarah Turner.
Last updated on 10th June, 2016.