- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Go to Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi 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.
Late night beer joints, food stalls spilling out across the street and a peaceful lake for a morning stroll. Hanoi offers an eye–popping introduction to Vietnam.
The bustling, narrow streets of the Old Quarter are the ultimate expression of Vietnam’s can–do attitude. Businesses sprawl across the narrow paths, selling everything from flip-flops to locally grown coffee. In between it all you’ll find workers taking a nap on their scooters or locals cooking up treats over an open fire.
Food fanatics will find so much to love here. Don’t be put off by pulling up a child–sized chair at any one of the street side carts which dot the Old Quarter and the edges of the blissful Hoa Kiem Lake. Vietnamese food is unquestionably among the most delicious in all of Asia. Try banh mi (baguettes with cold cuts, chilli and fresh leaves) which marries Asian flavours with the fresh bread from the country’s French colonial past. Hanoi’s seafood is also legendary.
There are plenty of other excellent cultural highlights, from the ancient Temple of Literature and its peaceful gardens to the thought provoking and politically charged Hoa Lo Prison, which once housed Vietnamese prisoners during French rule and was nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton by the U.S. troops held there during the war.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is an intriguing relic of Vietnam’s history and, signifying its historical and cultural importance, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Standing 40 metres high, the central flag tower is the most recognizable feature of the Imperial Citadel and is often used as a symbol of Hanoi. This was the centre of ancient Hanoi and served as the political centre for eight centuries. Located in Ba Dinh, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is close to many other tourist attractions.
Water Puppet Theatre
The ancient art form of water puppetry has a long association with Hanoi and there are several theatres where guests can enjoy this uniquely Vietnamese take on Asia’s puppet tradition. The original – and widely regarded as the best – theatre in town is the Thang Long Puppet Theatre. Puppets dance and slide elegantly over the liquid stage, controlled by a whole troupe of puppet masters hiding behind a screen.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Ho Chi Minh has left an indelible mark on Vietnamese history and he is revered in Hanoi as the country’s greatest leader. Nicknamed ‘Uncle Ho’ by locals, his preserved body is now laid to rest in a glass case in the Ba Dinh area of Hanoi. This is more than a tourist attraction, it is a part of living history and a visit here stays long in the memory. The sombre building was modeled after Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow.
The Perfume Pagoda
The Perfume Pagoda is a dramatic temple complex believed to have been first built in the 15th century. This series of Buddhist temples are built into a mountain range in a maze of alleyways carved into the rock with rich forests and flowing streams all around. Located around 60km south of Hanoi in the Son Mountains the journey here is an experience in itself: first you must take a two hour journey by car or bus before travelling by boat to the foot of the mountains.
Dong Xuan Market
Dong Xuan Market is the largest of its kind in Hanoi. This sprawling complex has several floors of fashion, apparel and souvenirs at some of the best prices in the city. Even if you’re not interested in printed T-shirts or cheap sunglasses, it is still fascinating to see the comings and goings of the local traders, and there is a wet market on the ground floor where the sights and smells of exotic produce assault the senses.
Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi Old Quarter is a fascinating area of the city where visitors can enjoy many fine examples of colonial architecture packed along narrow streets. Endless packs of scooters, motorbikes, bicycles and cars weave around traders selling fruit and souvenirs and narrow shop houses sell delicious Vietnamese food for pennies. The Old Quarter brings to life what many people imagine Hanoi to be, and exploring this area on foot is highly recommended for all visitors to Vietnam’s capital city.