Introduction

Hanoi (Vietnamese: Hà Nội), the capital of Vietnam, and also its second largest city, is a fascinating blend of East and West, combining traditional Sino-Vietnamese motifs with French flair. It is largely unscathed from the decades of war, and is now going through a building boom, making it a rapidly developing city in Southeast Asia.

nvading forces from every direction agree: Hanoi makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more than a thousand years, through several invasions, occupations, restorations, and name changes. The Chinese conquered the imperial city of Thang-Long in 1408 and renamed it Tống Bình. Le Loi repelled the invaders in 1428 and ascended the throne, becoming known as Lê Thái Tổ (黎太祖); for his efforts, a slew of legends about his heroic exploits, many centred around the Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter.

 

The Nguyen Dynasty gave the city its modern name of Ha Noi in 1831, but they had transferred power to Hue by then; it remained there until 1887, when the French made Saigon and then Hanoi the capital of all French Indochina. It changed hands again in 1954, when it was ceded to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh after almost a decade of fighting, and it became the capital of North Vietnam; Saigon was the rival in South Vietnam. Upon reunification in 1976, it assumed that title for the entire country.

The first institution of learning in Vietnam, Quoc Tu Giam, was founded here in the 11th century. Nine hundred years later, the first western-style universities in Vietnam were also founded in Hanoi. The city is one of the leading centres of scientific study and research in the country. Hanoi retains much of its older charm of bygone eras, despite the battles that have raged over it; conflict had the side effect of making it largely oblivious to modern architecture, and as a result, few buildings in the city centre area are higher than five stories. The Old Quarter is second only to Hoi An for uninterrupted stretches of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, well-preserved on dense warrens of narrow, wonderfully atmospheric streets. It trades the commercial boom and sprawl of Ho Chi Minh City in the South for a more understated charm, worth enjoying for an extra day or two, and with countless transport options and travel agents, it makes a perfect base for exploration of the North.

 

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As you walk along the street, you may find that people start talking to you. It is a cultural norm there to make conversation with strangers. They might ask you where you are from and other general questions. It takes a while to get used to that. However, there are times when you find this friendliness extremely helpful, such as when you are lost or need help.

 

The Tourist Information Centre, ☎ +84 4 926 3366, Dinh Tien Hoang, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, can provide a fairly useful map although bewilderingly, the blow-up of the Old Quarter is missing, making it useless in that part of town. The Centre also offers free internet and English-language advice.

There are self-help interactive screen information booths around the Old Quarter but their purpose is to superficially conjure an image of coming-of-age “Vietnam has arrived” impression to the unsuspecting passer-by. An example was an inquiry typing out the American Embassy as prompted by an empty field, then it flashed on to the next interactive page asking for which district (one may not be aware that the US embassy has branches in every district) – smart and amazing!

Consistently ranked among the world’s top 10 destinations by TripAdvisor, the city and its surrounding region get more tourists every day.

 

One Pillar Pagoda

Travellers find the One-Pillar Pagoda either charming and lovely or utterly pointless, depending on how many tour groups are crammed into the small grounds at the time of their visit. Entrance: Free

Address: Tucked away between the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum

 

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National Museum of Vietnamese History

1 Trang Tien St. 8AM-11:30AM, 1:30PM-4:30PM. This is a collection from Vietnamese history from about 1,000 years back until 1945. Many antiques along with replicas where the originals are in situ. Entrance: 15,000 dong for students 8,000 dong and under 15, 2,000 dong. 15,000 dong for a camera/30,000 dong for a video

Address: 25 Ton Dan, Trang Tien, Dong Da, Ha Noi / 8AM-11:30AM, 1:30PM-4:30PM

 

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Temple of Literature

The Temple of Literature was founded in 1070 and established as the country’s first university six years later. The courtyard features numerous stone tablets, each mounted on the back of a tortoise, with the names of graduates over the centuries.

Address: 58 Quoc Tu Giam, Dong Da, Hà Noi

 

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Hoan_Kiem_Lake

A pleasant park in the centre of town, within easy walking distance from anywhere in the Old Quarter. It’s the locals’ favourite leisure spot, and a great place to watch people practising tai chi in the morning or to sit and read in the afternoon. Hoan Kiem means “returned sword”, and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle, which grabbed the sword and carried it down to its depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had come

Address: Central Hanoi

 

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Ngoc Son Temple

Extends out into the lake, with small but attractive grounds, displays on Vietnamese history and, more memorably, displays on the giant turtles, including a mummified specimen. The site is frequently very crowded with tourists. Entrance 30,000 dong

Address: Dinh Tien Hoang, Hang Trong, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi


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Ly Thai To Statue & Park

The park faces Hoan Kiem lake with a beautiful view of the busy Hang Bai street and the serenity of the willows on the bank of the lake. Once known as Chi Linh Garden, then Indira Gandhi Park, many Hanoians view this mini-park as their favourite place because it is a symbol of the integration of modernity and tradition. One would surely encounter a group of youths who is practising hip-hop and break dance while at the same time, meeting a three-generation family enjoying a walk in the park

Address:

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Ho Tay WestLake

Mostly a residential hub of the well-to-do. Hotel Intercontinental and Hanoi Sheraton are on this lake front. The shores are occupied by numerous fishermen

Address: Northwest of the city


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Ho Tay WestLake

This prison was built by the French at the turn of the 20th century, in classical French prison design. This is where the French imprisoned and executed many of the Vietnamese revolutionaries. Now a museum (2/3 of the prison was torn down to make way for the Hanoi Towers), the museum exhibits the brutal French colonial regime and the struggle of the Vietnamese people against imperialism in chilling details. The prison was also known as the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War as it held American POW’s shot down.

Address: 1 Tran Hung Dao, Hoa Lo, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi. Entrance 20.000 VND

 

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