HA NOI VIETNAM
Vietnam’s capital races to make up for time lost to the ravages of war and a goverment that as recently as the 1990s kept the outside world at bay. Its streets surge with scooters vying for right of way amid the din of constantly blaring horns, and all around layers of history reveal periods of Frenchs and Chineses occupation - offering a glimpse into the resilience of ambitious, proud Hanoians.
Negotiate a passage past the ubiquitous knock - off merchants and you’ll find the original streets of the Old Quarter. Defiant real- deal farmers hwk their wares, while city folk breakfast on noodles, practise t’ai chi at dawn on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake, or play chess with goatteed grandfathers. Hanoi is undergoing a rapid transformation. You can dine onn the wild and wonderful at every corner, sample market wares, uncover an evolving arts scena, then sleep soundly in a little luxury for very little cost. Meet the people, delve into the past and witness the awakening of Hanoi on the move.
The site where Hanoi stands today has been inhabited since the Neolithic Period. Emperor Ly Thai To moved his capital here in AD 1010 naming it Thang Long.
The decision by Emperor Gia Long, founder of the Nguyen dynasty in 1802, to rule from Hue relegated Hanoi to the status of a regional capital for a century. The city was named by Emperor Tu Duc in 1831 from the words ‘Ha’ meaning ‘interior’, refering to its position alongside Song Hong.
From 1902 to 1953, Hanoi served as the capital of French Indochina and was proclaimed capital of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh during the August Revolution of 1945. The French restored control and the First Indochina War ensued until 1954. Following the Geneva Accords of the same year, the Viet Minh, having driven the French from the city, were able to return.
During the American War heavy US bombing destroyed parts of Hanoi and killed hundreds of civillians. One of the prime targets was the 1682m-long Long Bien Bridge. Us aircraft repeatedly bombed this strategic point, yet after each attack the Vietnamese managed to improve replacament spans and return road and rail services. It is said that the US military ended the attacks when US POWs were put to work reparing the structure. Today the bridge is renowned as a symbol of the tenacity and strength of the people of Hanoi.
It’s hard to believe that Hanoi’s milions of motorbikes and scooters would have been an uncommon sight as recently as the eaely 1990s, when most people got around on bicycles and the occasional Soviet-era bus. Today Hanoi’s conservationists fight to save historic Structures, as the city struggles to cope with a booming population, soaring pollution levels and an inefficient public transport system. It’s a case of ‘get in wuick’ before the voracious growth and hasty modernisation spurned on by Vietnam’s ‘free-market-friendly’ brand of communism drowns out history-rich Hanoi’s vibrant palette of Vietnamese, French, Russian and American influences.
Note that some museums are closed on Mondays and take a two-hour lunch break on other days of the week. Check opening hours carefully before setting off.
Hahoi’s historic heart, the ‘Old Quarter’, is home to over 1000 years of trade, commerce and activity, with no signs of slowing down. Although its name tends to evoke imagines of ancient lamp-lit streets lined with the wooden storefronts of traditional artisans, merchants and craftspeople, you’ll find the reality of the Old Quarter more gritty than romantic. In spite of this, the Old Quarter is what Hanoi is all about and adjusting your expections will help you make the most of your time.
You’re likely to find negotiating the narrow streets an intimidating experiencce, at cars and pedestrians pushing their way through the maze of countless coy-cat cheap hotels, shopfronts of knockoff wares and hawkers with their sizzling baskets, beneath an ever-present honking of horns and the heavy aromas of exhausted fumes, street food and sweat. Watch where you tread on the sticky pavements, employ a strategy and determination when crossing the street, and remember to look up when you can: glimpses of the old and the very old indeed peek out occasionally from behind garish, modern facades. You’ll gain your confidence soon enough, and when you do, there’s no better way to spend time here than to wander, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells, and immersing yourself in the unique flavours of Hanoi’s streetside kitchens. Carry your hotel’s calling card, and if you get lost, it’ll be a cheap cab or xe om ride back.
The Old Quarter evolved between the Song Hong and the smaller to Lich River, which once flowed through the city centre in an intricate network of canals and waterways. Waters could rise as high as 8m during the monsoon. Dykes, which can still be seen along Tran Quang Khai, were constructed to protect the city. In the 13th century, Hanoi’ s 36 guilds established themselves here, each taking a different streethence the Vietnamese ’36 pho phuong’. There are more than double that many streets in the area today, typically named Pho Hang followed by the word for the product traditonally sold there. Some of the specialised streets include P Hang Quat, with its rd candle sticks, funeral boxes, flags and temple items; and the more glamorous P Hang Gai, with its silk, embroidery, lacquerware, paintings and water puppets. Street names today do not always reflect the type of businesses in operation.
Exploring the maze of backstreets is fascinating; some open up while others narrow into a warren of alleys. The area is known for its tunnel houses, so called because of their narrow frontages and long rooms, developed to avoid taxes based on the width of their street frontage.By feudal law, houses were also limited to two storeys and out of respect for the king, could not be taller than the royal palace. Today, as Old Quarter real estate prices are at a premium, most of the streets are lined with narrow, hastily constructed, six to 10 storey buildings.
A stroll through the historic Old Quarter can last from an hour to a day, depending on your pace and demeanour, during which opportunities to dispense your fissuls of Vietnamese dong are endless.
Bach Ma Temple
In the heart of the Old Quarter, the small Bach Ma Temple is said to be oldest temple in the city, though much of the current structure dates from the 18th century and a shrine to Confucius was added in 1839. It was originally built by Emperor Ly Thai To in the 11th century to honour a white horse that guided him to this site, where he choose construct his city walls.
Pass through the wonderfull old wooden doors of the pagoda to see a statue of the legendary white horse, as well as a beautiful red-lacquered funeral palanquin.
One of the Old Quarter’s best-restored properties, this traditional merchants’ house is sparsely but beautifully decorated, with room set around two courtyards and filled with fine furniture. Note the high steps between rooms, a trsitional design incorporated to stop the flow of bad energy around the property.
There are crafts for sale here, including silver jewellery, basketwork and Vietnamese tea sets, and there’s usually a calligrapher or other craftperson at work too.
Dong Xuan Market
The largest covered market in Hanoi was originally built by the French in 1989 and almost completely destroyed by fire in 1994. Almost everything you can think of from fresh produce to clothing, souvenirs, consumer goods and traditional arts and crafts can be found inside.
Hanoi Ceramic Road
Spanning almost 4km along the Song Hong dyke, from its terminus at the Long Bien Bridge, this ceramic mosaic mural project was commenced in 2007 and completed in 2010 for Hanoi’s 1000th-birthday celebrations. Made from ceramics produced at nearby Bat Trang, the colourful mural depicts different periods in Vietnam’s history and is the combined work of many local and international artists. It retains its Guinness World Record for being the largest ceramic mosaic on the planet.
Long Bien Bridge
A symbol of the nacity and resillience of the Hanoian people, the Long Bien Bridge was bombed on several occations during the American War, and on each, quickly repaired by the Vietnamese. Designed by Gustave Eiffel the bridge, used by trains, mopeds and pedestrians its original appearance. It’s colourfully illuminated at night.
Around Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake
Legend claims in the mid-15th century Heaven sent Emperor Ly Thai To a magical sword, which he used to drive the Chineses from Vietnam. After the was a giant golden turtle grabbled the sword and disappered into the depths of this lake to restore the sword to its divine owners, insoiring the name Ho Hoan Kiem. Every morningat 6am local residents pactise traditional t’ai chi on the shore.
The ramshackle Thap Rua on an islet near the southern end, is topped with a red star and is often used as an emble of Hanoi.
National Museum of Vietnamese History
Built between in 1925 and 1932, this architectually impressive museum was formerly home to the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient. Its architect, Ernest Hebrard, was among the first in Vietnam to incorporate a blend of Chinese and French design elements. Exhibit highlights include bronzes from the Dong Son culture, Hindu statuary from the Khmer and Champa kingdoms, jewellery from imperial Vietnam, and displays relating to the French occupation and the Communist Party.
Hoa Lo Prison Museum
This thought-provoking site is all that remains of the former Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the ‘Hanoi HIlton’ by US POWs during the American War. Most exhibits relate to the prison’s use up to the mid-1950s, focusing on the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France. A gruesome relic is the ominous French guillotine, used to behead Vietnamese revolutionsaries. There are also displays focusing on the American pilots who were incarcarated at Hoa Lo during the American War.
These pilots include Pete Peterson and Senator John MaCain. MeCain’s flight suit is displayed, along with a photograph of Hanoi locals rescuing him from Truc Bach Lake after being shot down in 1967.
The prison complex was built by the French in 1896. Originally intended to house 450 inmates, records indicate that by the 1930s there were close to 2000 prisoners. Hoa Lo was never a very successful prison,and hundreds escaped its walls over the years.
Museum of Vietnamese Revolution
Inaugurated in 1959 and housing over 40,000 exhibits, the histories of conflict and revolutation within Vietnam, from the liberation movements against the French occupation, to the establishment of the Communist Party and the Socialist republic of Vietnam, are enthusiastically presented here.
Ngoc Son Temple
Meaning ‘temple of the Jade Mountain’, Hanoi’s most visited temple sits on a small island in the norhtern part of Hoan Kiem Lake, connected to the lakeshore by an elegant scarlet bridge, constructed in classical Vietnamese style. The Temple is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao, La To and the scholar Van Xuong.
This photogenic monument, which depicts a woman with a sword and two men holding guns and a torch, was erected as a memorial to those who died fighting for Vietnam’s independence.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum
This excellent museum showcases women’s role in Vietnamese society and culture. Labelled in English and French, it’s the memories of the wartime contribution by individual heroic women that are most poignant. There is a stunning collection of propaganda posters, as well as costumes, tribal baketware and fabric motifs from Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups. Check the website for special exhibitons.
ST Joseph Cathedral
Hanoi’s neo-Gothic St Joseph Catheral was inaugurated in 1886, and boast a soaring facade that faces a little plaza. Its most noteworthy features are its twin bell towers, elaborate altar and fine stained-glass windows. Entrance via the main gate is only permitted during Mass: times are listed on a sign on the gates to the left of the cathedral.
At other times, enter via the Diocese of Hanoi compound, a block away at 40 Nha Chung. When you reach the side door to the cathedral, to you right, ring the small bell high up on the right-hand side of the door.
West of the Old Quarter
Temple of Literature
Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, the Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius (Khong Tu). Inside you’ll find a pond known as the ‘Well of Heavenly Clarity’ , a low-slung pagoda and statues of Confucius and his disciples. A rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture, the complex honours Vietnam’s finest scholars and those of literary accomplishment. It is the site of Vietnam’s firsy university, established here in 1076, when entrance was only granted to those of noble birth.
After 1442 a more egalitarian approach was adopted and gifted students from all over the principles of Confucianism, literature and poetry. In 1484 Emperor Ly Thanh Tong ordered that stalae be ercted to record the names, palces of birth and achievements of exceptional scholars: 82 of 116 stelae remain standing. Paths lead from the imposing tiered gateway on Quoc Tu Giam through formal gardens to the Khue Van pavillion, constructed in 1802.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex is an important place of pilgrimage for many Vietnamese. A traffic-fee area of botanical gardens, monuments, memorials and pagodas, it’s usually crowded with groups of Vietnamese who come from far and wide to pay their respects to ‘Uncle Ho’. Within the complex are Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s Silt House and the Presidental Palace, Ho Chi Minh Museum and the One Pillar Pagoda.
Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
In the tradition of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is a monumental marble edifice. Contrary to his desire for a simple cremation, the mausoleum was constructed from materials gathered from all over Vietnam between 1973 and 1975. Set deep in the building in a glass sarcophagus is the frail, pale body of Ho Chi Minh. The maysoleum is usually closed from 4 Sep to 4 Nov while his embalmed body goes to russia for maintenance.
Dress modestly: wearing shorts, tank tops or hats is not permitted. You may be requested to store day packs, cameras and phones before you enter. Talking, putting your hands in your pockets and photography are strictly prohibited in the mausoleum. The queue snakes for several hundred metres to the mausoleum entrance and inside, filing past Ho’s body at a slow but steady pace. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the changing of the guard outside Ho’s mausoleum - the ceremony displayed here rivals the British equivalent at Buckingham Palace.
Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House
This humble, traditional stilt house where Ho lived intermittently from 1958 to 1969 is set in a well-tended garden adjacent a carp-filled pond and has been preserved just as Ho left in. From here, you look out on to Hanoi’s most opulent building, the beautiful, beaux-arts Presidentaial Palaca, constructed in 1906 for the Governor General of Indochina. It’s now used for official receptions and isn’t open to the public. Visitors may wander the ground if you stick to the paths.
There is a combined entrance gate to the stilt house and Presidential Palace grounds located on Ong Ich Kiem inside the Ho Chi MInh Mausoleum Complex. When the main entrance is closed, enter from Hung Vuong.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
The huge consrete Soviet-style Ho CHi Minh Museum is a triumphalist monument dedicated to the life of the founder of modern Vietnam and to the onward march of revolutionary socialism. Mementoes of Ho’s life are showcased, and there are some fascinating photos and dusty official documents relating to the overthrow of the French and the rise of communism. Photography is forbidden and you may be asked to check your bag at reception. An English-speaking guide costs around 100,000 and given the quite surreal nature of the exhibition it’s a worthwhile investment.
One Pillar Pagoda.
The One Pillar Pagoda was originally built by the Emperor Ly Thai Tong who ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to the annals, the heirless emperor dreamed that he met Quan The Am Bo Tat, the Goddess of Mercy, who handed him a male child. Ly Thai Tong then married a young peasant girl and had a son and heir by her. As a way of expressing his gratitude for his event, he constructed a pagoda here in 1049.
Built of wood on a single stone pillar, the pagoda is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, the symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow. One of the last acts of the French before quiting Hanoi in 1954 was to destroy the original One Pillar Pagoda; the structure was rebuilt by the new goverment.
Vietnam Military History Museum
Easy to spot thanks to a large collection of weaponry at the front, the Military Museum displays Soviet and Chinese equipment alongside French - and US- made weapons captured during years of warefare. The centrepiece is a Soviet-built MiG _ 21 jet fighter, triumphant amid the wreckage of French aircraft downed at Dien Bien Phu, and a US F-111.
Adjacent is the hexagonal Flag Tower, one of the symbols of Hanoi. Access is possible to a terrace overlooking a rusting collection of war materiel. Opposite the museum is a small park with a commanding statue of Lenin.
Fine Arts Museum of Vietnam
This excellent Fine Arts Museum is housed in two buildings that were once the French Ministry of Information. Treasures abound, including ancient Champa stone carvings and some astonishing effigies of Guan Yin, the thousand-eyed, thounsand-armed goddless of compassion. Look out for the lacquered statues of Buddhist monks from the Tay Son dynasty and the substantial collection of contemporary art and filk-naive paintings. Guided tours are available for 150,000.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
Added to Unesco’s World Heritage List in 2010 and reopened in 2012, Hanoi’s Imperial Citadel was the hub of Vietnamese military power for over 1000 years. Ongoing archaeological digs of ancient palaces, grandiose pavilions and imperial gates are complemented by fascinating military command bunkers from the American War - complete with maps and 1960s communications equipment -used by the legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap.
The leafy grounds are also an easygoing and quiet antidote to Hanoi’s bustle.
The official centre of Busshism in Hanoi, the well maintained and otherwise peaceful Ambassadors’ Pagoda attracts wuite a crowded on holidays. During the 17th century there was a guesthouse here for the ambassadors of Buddhist countries, today about a dozen monks and nuns are based here. Located next to the pagoda is a shop that sells Buddhist ritual objects.
Quan Thanh Temple
Shaded by huge trees, Quan Thanh Temple was estalished during the Ly dynasty and was dedicated to Tran Vo, whose symbols of power were the tortoise and the snake. A bronze statue and bell date from 1677. The temple is situated on the shores of Truc Bach Lake, which is near the intersection of Thanh Nien and Quan Thanh.
Despite its evocative moniker, today’s French Quarter lacks the style and elegance of days past. Its once-glamorous cillas, annexed by the Communist Party for govermnent offices and repatriation housing, stand in disrepute, desperate for restoration. Many, occupying some of Hanoi’s prime development sites, have already been demolished infavour of taller, shinier things. Those that have been best maintained serve as the offices for Hanoi’s foreign embassies and diplomatic of a cycle completing itself here; in creating a Parisian-style city befitting their new area of governance, the French Colonialists appropriated and razed whatever traditional Vietnamese dwellings and monuments stood in their way.
Occupying an area south of Hoan Kiem Lake, west of the Song Hong as far as Hanoi train station and south of Thong Nhat Park, it’s well worth a visit to this quieter part of town for a stroll among the embassies and crumbling villas, contemplating what once was and what once could have been.
Hai Ba Trung Temple
Two kilometres south of Hoan Kiem Lake, this temple was founded in 1142. A statue shows the two Trungsisters kneeling with their arms raised in the air. Some say the statue shows the sisters, who had been proclaimed the queens of the Vietnamese, about to dive into a river. They are said to have drowned themselves rather than surrender in the wake of their defeat at the hands of the Chinese.
Hanoi Opera House
This French-colonial 900-seat venue was built in 1911. On 16 August 1945 the Viet Minh - run Citizens’ Committee announced that it had taken over the city from a balcony on this building.
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
This fabulous collection relating to Vietnam’s ethnic minorities features well-presented tribal art, artefacts and everyday objects gathered from across the nation, and examples of traditional village houses. Displays are well labelled in Vietnamese, French and English. If you’re into anthropology, it’s well worth the approximately 200,000d each - way taxi fares to the Cau Giay district, about 7km from the city centre, where the museum is located.
Local bus 14 departs from Dinh Tien Hoang on the east side of Hoan Kiem Lake and passes within 600m of the museum - get off at the Nguyen Tan bus stop and head too Nguyen Van Huyen.
The city’s largest lake, known as both Ho Tay and West Lake, is 15km in circumference and ringed by upmarket suburbs, including the predominantly expat Tay Ho district. On the south side, along Thuy Khue, are seafood restaurant, and to the east, the Xuan Dieu strip is lined with restaurants, cafes, boutiques and luxury hotels. A pathway circles the lake, making for a great bicycle ride.
Tay Ho Pagoda
Jutting into Ho Tay, beautiful Tay Ho pagoda is perhaps the most popular place of worship in Hanoi. Throngs of people come here on the first and 15th day of each lunar month in the hope of receiving good fortune from the Mother Goddess, to whom the ttemple is dedicated.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
One of the oldest pagoda in Vietnam, Tran Quoc is on the eastern shore of Ho Tay, just off Thanh Nien , which divides this lake from Truc Bach Lake. A stela here, dating from 1639, tells the history of this site. The pagoda was rebuilt in 15th century and again in 1842.
Truc Bach Lake.
Separated from Ho Tay only Thanh Nien, this lake is lined with flame trees. During the 18th century the Trinh lords built a palace on the lakeside; it was later transformed into a reformatory for wayward royal concubines, who were condemned to spend their days weaving pure white wilk.
Lotte Tower Observation Deck
The city’s best views can be found on the 65th floor of the landmark. Lotte building, opened in 2014, in the western corner of Hanoi’s Ba Dinh district. From this uninterrupted vantage point, high above Hanoi’s hustle and bustle, one can consider the site of the Old Quarter relative to the sheer scale of Hanoi’s voracious growth. The tower also houses a hotel, all manner of restaurants, a rooftop bar and a department store on its lower floors. Lotte Tower is around 20minutes by taxi to the Old Quarter.
Sports & Swimming
Hash House Harriers
For the uninitiated, these are drinkers with a running problem. Check the website for details.
Ho Tay Water Park
If you’re desperate for a swim, this water park 5km north of the Old Quarter on the norhtern edge of Ho Tay has pools, slides and a lazy river. It gets extremely busy here on hot summer afternoons and might not satisfy everyone’s standards for safety and hygience.
Opened in 2013 as part of the Royal City Mega Mall complex, the Vinpearl Water Park and Vinpearl Ice Rink are among a bunch of attractions appealing to travelling families. There’s also a bowling alley, cinema complex,games area and , of course, shopping for Mum and Dad. Royal City is situated about 7km southwest of the Old Quarter.
Hanoi Cooking Centre
Excellent interactive classes, including market cisits and a special Kid’s Club - handy if your children are aspiring chefs. The Hanoi Cooking Centre also runs a highly recommended walking tour exploring Hanoi’s street-food scene, and cookery classes conclude with a shared lunch in its elegant restaurant.
Offers cooking classes from its ketchen near the eastern side of Ho Tay. Options include seafood and village-food menus. Walking tours exploring the Old Quarter and Hanoi street food are available. Hidden Hanoi also offers a language-study program, including two field trips.
Blue Butterfly Cooking Class
In this popular cooking class, you’ll meet your chef/ teacher in the restaurant kitchen and be accompanied on a shopping trip to the kitchen where you will instructed in the preparation and cooking of three dishes. Once the class is over, enjoy the fruits of your labour in the restaurant.
Hanoi language Tours
Courses from two to 10 days focusing on language ad cultural essentials for travellers, expats and businesspeople.
Hidden Hanoi and the Hanoi Cooking Centre also offer interesting tours with a food slant, visiting markets and street food sstalls.
Hanoi Free Tour Guides
There’s no better way to experience the real Hanoi than with this not-for-profit social organisation run by a team of over 400 volunteers staff and guides comprising students and ex-students, speaking a multitude or languages. A variety of suggested tours are available, or work with your guide to tailor your own itinerary. Book online.
Tours an ethnic minority village in Hoa Binh province, around 70km west of Hanoi. It’s a good opportunity to see how micro-loans are funding rural entrepreneurs, and offers an excellent insight into Vietnamese rural life. Most tours run on a Saturday. Check the website for timings.
Vietnam Awesome Travel
A wide range of good-value walking tours, including the popular Food on Foot street-food walking tours around the Old Quarter. An array of day trips and longer guided tours are also available. See the website for details.
This volunteer organisation partners visitors with Hanoiteens and young adults wishing to improve their English- languag skills. Tours are customised to the needs of visitors and can include Hanoi sights like the Temple of Literature and Hoa Lo Prison Museum, or street-food and market visits. It’s best to arrange tours online a couple of weeks before you arrive in Hanoi.
Hanoi Street Food Tours
There’s a local company running tours under the same name, but we continue to recommend this pricier, private option, run by Tu and Mark, a couple of passionate Hanoi foodies. Tours can be customised to different interests.
Sophie’s Art Tour
These fascinating tours are based on the lives of artists who studied, fought, witnessed and documented major changes in 20th-and 21st-century Vietnam, and will be appreciated not only by art lowers, but those who want to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of Vietnam’s unique history and culture.
Vietnam in Focus
Journalist Colm Pierce and Alex Sheal run photographic tours exploring Hanoi life, including the Old Quarter, markets and Long Bien Bridge. Tours usually include a meal and can be customised to photographers of all levels, even beginners. Check the website for details of longer tours to more remote destinations like Moc Chau, Ha Giang and Ba Be National Park.
Gay Hanoi Tours.
The inimitable Tuan offers personal and small group walking tours that explore the lesser-known, real-life corners of the ancient city. While tours aren’t gay themed, Tuan, a gay Hanoian man, offers a unique perpespective on his beloved hometown, regardless of your sexuality.
Friends of Vietnam Heritage
Staffed mainly by volunteers from the international expat community, this not-for-profit organisation produces various publications, hosts walking tours aimed at preserving Hanoi’s heritage and culture.
Festivals & Events
During the week preceding Tet, there is a flower market held on Hang Luoc. There’s also a colourful, two-week flower exhibition and competition, begining on the first day of the new year, that takes place in Thong Nhat Park near Bay Mau Lake
Quang Trung Festival
Wreslting competitions, lion dances and human chess take place on the 5th day of the first day of the first lunar month at Dong Da Mound, site of the uprising against the Chinese led by Emperor Quang Trung.
Full Moon Festival
This festival, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, begins on 15 August. Singing, dragon dances, and the giving and receiving of moon cakes and money, are some of the reasons why this lively festival is so popular with children.
Vietnam’s National Day
Celebrated with a rally and fireworks at Ba Dinh, in front of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. There are also boat races on Hoan Kiem Lake.
Hanoi is an international city, whatever you budget, it’s availble here. If you’re just flown in, get stuck into the local cuisine, which is tasty, fragrantly spiced and inexpensive. And don’t miss the essential experience of dining on Hanoi’s street food.
If you’re been up in the hills of northern Vietnam subsisting on noodles and rice, the capital’s cosmopolitan dining, including Japanese, French, Italian and Indian, will be a welcome change.
Clean and tidy New Day attracts locals, expats and travellers with its broard menu. The staff always find space for new diners, so look forward to sharing a table with some like-minded fans of Vietnamese food.
While this simple, somewhat grubby little restaurant is by no means a member of the famous Ho Chi Minh - based chain whose name it has appropriated, it does have genunely friendly staff, good food in the style of Hue and a picture menu to ease you into the almost-street-food experience.
This sprawling restaurant serves delicious Indian cuisine from a huge menu with a decent selection of vegetarian options. Thaili set meals are both filling and exellent calue. There’s also free wifi.
This is the original location of a restaurant family famed for adapting Vietnamese cuisine for Western palates, although with incresing popularity it becomes harder to please everybody: check the website for locations. Come for small plates to share, cold beer and funky decor.
Cha Ca Thang Long
Bring along your DiV cooking skills and grill your own succulent fish with a little shrimp paste and plenty of herbs. Cha ca is an iconic Hanoi dish, and while another nearby more famous cha ca eatery gets all the tour -bus traffic, the food here is actually better.
This hip restaurant-cum-lounge has a real vibe as well as great cooking. The stunning dining rooms, complete with rich silk drapes, evoke the feel of an opium den, while the huge rear courtyard comes into its own on summer nights. Menu-wise there’s everything from pizza and pasta to mod-Asian fusion creations.
Experience the mood and flavor of 1950s Indochina at this elegant restaurant located in a beautiful restored French colonial house with a cobbled courtyard. The fusion French-Vietnamese cuisine is not a always entirely successful, but it’s still worth popping in for coffee or a drink. Two-course lunches are good value.
Around Hoan Kiem Lake
Masterchef Vietnam contestant Minh Thuy’s eponymous restaurant is tucked away in backpacker central and worth your attention. It’s cheap, clean and serves mouth-watering Vietnamese food with some very original European twists and plenty of vegetarian options. Highly recommended.
This stylish, popular little cafe adjacent to Joseph Canthedral has walls covered in propaganda art and an East-West menu. Plenty of wine by the glass is on offer and the coffee has a real kick. Good for breakfast also.
Kem Dac Biet Trang Tien
It’s barely possible to walk down the road to get to this parlour on hot summer nights, such is its popularity.
Le Petit Bruxelles
For a little taste of Europe, visit this spotless Belgian restaurant on a quiet side street for mussels, frites, fondue and beef bourguignon. The balcony is a great spot to sit and ponder your next over a cold Belgian beer.
Hanoi Social Club
On three funky levels with retro furniture, the Hanoi Social Club is the city’s most cosmopolitan cafe. Dishes include potato fritters with chorizo for breakfast, and pasta, burgers and wraps for lunch or dinner. Vegetarian options feature a mango curry, and the quiet laneway location is a good spot for an end-of -day coffee, beer or wine. The Hanoi Social Club also hosts regular gigs and events. Check its Facebook page for what’s on.
Housed in a restored 19th-century villa, Madame Hien is a tribute to French chef Didier Corlu’s Vietnamese grandmother. Look forward to more elegant versions of traditional Hanoi street food; the ’36 streets’ fixed menu is a good place to kick off your culinary knowledge of the city.
West of the Old Quarter
Popular with expats in the know, this qiurky spot directly on the train tracks won’t be for everyone, but those who like it, will love it. A wide range of Vietnamese cuisine is cooked to order by the eccentric owner-chef who ferments her own rice wine, it’s strong and delicous.
One of a small chain, Net Hue is well priced for such comfortable surroundings. Head to the top floor for the nicest ambience and enjoy Hue-style dishes like banh nam.
Quan An Ngon
This branch of a number of small same-named kitchens turns out street-food specialities from across Vietnam. Try to visit just outside the busy lunch and dinner periods, or consider Quan An Ngon’s newest branch in a lovely French villa just north of the Old Quarter.
Nha Hang Koto Van Mieu
Stunning, four-storey, modernist cafe-bar-restaurant overlooking the Temple of Literature, where the interior design has been taken very serioudly, from the stylish seating to the fresh slowers by the till. Daily specials are chalked up on a blackboard, and the short menu has everything from exellent Vietnamese food to yummy pita wraps and beer-battered fish and chips. Koto is a not-for-profit project providing career training and guidance to disadvantaged children and teens.
One of Hanoi’s few 24/7 establishments, a five-minute walk from Hanoi train station, does excellent coffee, all-day breakfast and decent burgers and wraps. A little slice of Kiwi cafe culture-Puku means ‘stormach’ in New Zealand’s indigenous Maori language.
This sophisticated eatery in a restored French Colonial villa with a courtyard outside and starched white tablecloths inside was once host to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. Serving traditional Hanoian and Vietnamese spacialities with aplomb, you’ll enjoy the selection and find the best value for money if you dine in a group.
Moto-san Uber Noodle
Brainchild of Hanoi artist, journalist and designer Nguyen Qui Duc, this wonderful noodle stall seats eight eager eaters. The menu is simple, miso, soy, or shio ramen and spicy banh mi thit kho, sandwiches with killer hot sauce a la central Vietnam,Sake and beer are, or course, readily available.
Sit at tables downstairs or grab a more traditional spot on the floor upstairs and discover excellent Vietnamese food, with some dishes inspired by the ethnic minorities of Vietnam’s north. Definite standouts are the heavy and robust sausages, zingy and fresh salads, and duck with starfruit. Try to come with a group so you can explore the menu fully.
Nha Hang Ngon.
With a focus on authentic flavours from around Vietnam, this joint gets popular with locals and visitors alike. It’s inn a delightful restored French villa and courtyard.
Surrounded by local cafes on ‘Coffee St’, Izakaya Yancha serves izakaya-think Japanese tapas - in a buzzy and friendly atmosphere. Secure a spot near the open kitchen and work your way through lots of Osaka-style goodies, including exellent tuna sashimi and miso with udon noodles.
Chay Nang Tam
Dishes of vegetables that look like meat, reflecting an ancient Buddhist tradition designed to make carnivore guests feel at home.
This stylish bistro is set in a restored whitewashed French cilla arrayed arounda breezy central courtyard. French cuisine underpins the menu- La Badiane translates as ‘star anise’ - but Asian and Mediterranean flavours also feature. Menu highlights include the sea bass tagliatelle with smoked paprika, and prawn bisque with wasabi tomato bruschetta. Three-course lunches priced from 325,000 are excellent value.
In a chic modern space, Pots’n Pans specialises in innovative fushion dishes blending Vietnamese and European influences. An excellent wine list partners dishes like crispy boudin, black seasame noodles, mushrooms, chilli jam and tamarind-and-coconut sauce.
Tim Ho Wan
Do yourself a favour and reserve a window table at the Hanoi branch of this lagandary Hong Kong dim sum chain, high above the city on the 36th floor of the Lotte Tower. Bring a friend or six and an empty stomach, and we guarantee you won’t regret it.
Italian-owned deli with excellent bread, cheese and salami, as well as homemade pasta and sauces. It’s north of central Hanoi in the Tay Ho restaurant strip on Xuan Dieu.
Maison de tet Decor
Sumptuous, healthy and organic wholefoods are presented with aplomb in this, one of Hanoi’s loveliest settings,an expansive, airy villa overlooking Ho Tay.
An interesting spot for cuisine from the Hmong, Muong and Thai ethnic minoritiestry the grilled chicken with wild pepper-traditional Vietnamese ruou (wine) made from apricots or apples, and more challenging snacks like grilled ants’ eggs and crickets. If insects aren’t your thing, it’s still a fun night sitting at the low tables eating exellent Vietnamese dishes.
Mau Dich 37.
Styled after a goverment run food shop from the improverished period after 1976, Mau Dich 37 is a unique exercise in nostalgia. Waiters are dressed as state workers, and diners queue to ‘purchase’ coupons that can be exchange for food. The menu focuses onn robust northern flavours, and features a few challenging dishes like braised frog and snails with ginger leaves.
Hanoi’ best Indian flavours feature at this cosy lakeside spot sandwiched between the la (hotpot) restaurants on Truc Bach Lake. The ambience is more authentic at the rustic downstairs tables, and menu standouts include a superb kadhai chicken that will definitely have you ordering a seeond beer.
This Tay Ho terrace cafe with a Mexican tinge ticks all the right boxes with a mellow buzz and a creative, healthy menu of delicious sandwiches and salads soured from organic ingredients. Also great for breakfast or a juice if you’ve been cycling around the lake.
Hanoi’s eclectic drinking scene features grungy dive bars, a Western-style pub or two, sleek lounger bars, cafes and hundreds of Bia hoi joints.
However, as the no-fun police supervise a strict curfew, and regulary show up to enforce the closure of places that flout this law, there’s minimal action after midnight. Lockin action after midnight does occur, though ask around in Hanoi’s hostels to find out which bars are currently staying open beyond the witching hour.
The best places for a bar crawl include traveller-friendly Ta Hien in the Old Quarter, and Ngo Bao Khanh near the northwest edge of Hoan Kiem Lake. An alternative scene popular with expats, is in the Ha To Lake area on Xuan Hoi.
Hanoi is definitely not a clubbers’ paradise, and the often-enfored midnight curfew means dancing is pretty much confined to the bar-clubs in and around the Old Quarter.
Nguyen Qui Duc’s unofficial clubhouse for the underground arts scene’s latest incarnation is this dark and quirky colonial bar in the French Quarter. Obligatory red accents, reworkings of art deco furniture and plenty of recycled ironwork feature heavily. The highlight of the cool cocktail list is the sweet mojito.