Landing in Hanoi might feel a little bit overwhelming for those who have never been to South-East Asia before. Some people would find it shocking, for others this place will appear to be absolutely fascinating. Undoubtedly, visiting Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, leaves you with unforgettable memories. Westerners would usually associate Hanoi with war and communist regime, which is surely a great part of its history. Nevertheless, it offers much more than that. The city is full of contrasts indeed, but apart from the buzzing streets and crazy traffic it blossoms with colourful markets, peaceful lakes and stunning wilderness just outside the town.
Hanoi is actually over one thousand years old, and was home to one of the world`s earliest and highly advanced civilisations – its ancient temples and antique citadels speak for themselves. In fact, Emperor Ly Thai To moved the capital to Hanoi in AD 1010, naming the city Thang Long – “The City of the Soaring Dragon”. Vietnam`s capital is undisputedly rich in historical sites from all kind of ages, and looking at them, the impact of Vietnamese and Chinese dynasties, followed by European and American occupation, era of Communism, Socialism and even Capitalism is quite obvious.
The historic highlights – Hanoi Opera House and the St Joseph`s Cathedral are absolutely “must see-s” and the famous Water Puppet Theatre with its picturesque setting on Hoan Kiem Lake should likewise be visited. Rainy days can be spent in one of the Hanoi` s museums, such as the Ethnological Museum and the Women`s Museum, or the National Museum of Vietnamese History. They are very informative and educational and one can learn a lot about different tribes of Vietnam, their history, customs and traditions. If you are a fan of art then you might be interested in the Fine Art` s Museum and the Hanoi Art Gallery.
Those who wish to learn something more about the notorious part of Vietnam`s history (war and battle) do not forget to see the Hoa Lo Prison Museum and the Military History Museum. One of the most glorious and very unique places of the town centre is the spectacular Ba Dinh Square and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, protected by military guards. The Complex was inspired by Lenin`s Mausoleum in Moscow and the embalmed body Ho Chi Minh, who was a president of the former Democratic Republic of Vietnam, is proudly displayed in the central hall.
FOOD AND NIGHTLIFE
After a long day of sightseeing who would not be excited to have a little bit of stroll through a culinary paradise of the city. At the heart of Hanoi is situated the most chaotic area, yet the most mouth-watering one. The Old Quarter is the highlight of Hanoi. There are hundreds of busy lanes fringed with markets, restaurants, taverns, little stalls, bars and pubs and the quarter has got an astounding character.
At many places people enjoy their $1 USD beer sitting right in the middle of the streets on tiny stools while being bypassed by scooters and bicycles. No one really cares. Both, Vietnamese and Westerners, can appreciate all kind of traditional gourmet meals, including spicy beef noodle soup, deep fried spring rolls or sizzling grilled pork. Vietnamese cuisine is glorious and those braver ones can taste some of the “weirdest foods” in the world, such as duck embryo, chicken feet, rat or snake meat in vodka, raw-blood soup with intestines. You can even “kill your own dinner” (including dogs, cats, porcupines) and they will cook it for you fresh as can be.
The bravest ones will surely have a big bite of Durian – the stinkiest fruit in the world which is to be found at every corner of Hanoi. But after having one, try not to talk too much. Also, do not forget to try Vietnamese coffee! It is often served cold and with a generous helping of condensed milk. It is quite strong, too. A nice night time activity could also be hunting for souvenirs at the Night markets, where you can make the most of your bargaining skills.
TRANSPORT AND TRAFFIC
Since the city is very old, it was not built to accommodate motorcycles and cars. Therefore, one of the biggest problems of Hanoi is traffic and pollution. With its population of about 7 million, roads are loaded with all kind of vehicles, leaving not much space for pedestrians. Streets and lanes have no pavements and their both sides are mostly occupied by locals selling fruit and vegetables. On the top of that, there are generally no road rules. Cars, motorbikes, scooters, bicycles and pedestrians literally move any direction, crisscrossing the streets from every side. One of the main attractions of Hanoi is the Old Quarter, where the traffic is tremendously hectic. Most of the tourists would not even dare crossing the street on their first day of visit. However, there is no other way If you want to explore the town on foot. Close your eyes, head out and hope that the fast approaching vehicles will spot you in time and not run you over. But do not worry, the locals are exceptional drivers!
Once you get tired of walking or in case you get lost, the easiest way to get back on track is to flag down one of the local motorbikes or bicycle taxis and offer them a dollar or two for driving you back to your hotel. The cheapest mode of transport in the Capital are “Cyclos” (two-seated carts powered by a man on a foot-pedal bike riding behind you).
WEATHER AND CLIMATE
Hanoi` s climate is tropical and defined by 2 monsoon seasons. The time between November and April is considered to be “winter” in Hanoi with the coolest month January. From May to October the weather tends to become very hot and humid and brings heavy rains. Although Northern Vietnam gets a lot of rain throughout the year, it does not have a significant effect on tourism, since Hanoi is as much enjoyable on sunny days as on the rainy ones.
LIFE STYLE AND PEOPLE
Hanoi is undergoing a rapid transformation. You can grab a handful of spring rolls at one of the food stalls off the street for a dollar or dine in stylish 4 star western restaurants, sleep soundly in a cosy hostel room for very little cost or find pleasure in luxury of the Hilton. Enjoy the hustle-bustle and bargaining at Hanoi`s authentic markets as much as spend thousands of dollars in the opulent shopping malls.
In spite of the pollution, smog and heavy traffic, the number of Westerners seeking for work in Hanoi is on increase. Especially, teaching English seems to be a very popular job and also well-rewarded. Children of Hanoi are very respectful and humble. And they absolutely love learning English!
The locals are rather indifferent to the concept of tourism compared to other South-East Asian countries. In fact, some visitors would suppose that Vietnamese are insensitive, arrogant and rude people with no manners, just because they do not over-smile. However, they are just less pushy and rather focused on their everyday routine and work. Actually, Hanoi people are incredibly diligent, honest and fair. If they do not work you will likely find them relaxing in the park, playing badminton or cooking and spending time with their families.
It is said that Hanoi has the ability to steal one`s heart and many would likely agree. Regardless of all its drawbacks (without which Hanoi would not be the same place) the capital of Vietnam is rated a one of the best worldwide travel destinations.
WHEN TO TRAVEL
The best time to visit is March-May (cooler and dry weather) and October-November for warm and clear days. However, Hanoi has high humidity year-around and heavy rains may occur any time unexpectedly. Never mind though, it will not affect your travels at all.
Suggested time to spend in Hanoi is 3-4 days (excluded Ha Long Bay and NimhBinh)
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to Hanoi
By Eva Bodova
Wednesday 8 February 2017
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