Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, is a fusion of eastern and western influences, with quite a bit of French culture lingering from its days as a colony. There are French landmarks, French architecture and a French influence in the cuisine. That adds an interesting flavor to the city. But if you wanted French you'd go to France. What makes Hanoi such a fascinating metropolis is not only its past but its present and future. This is one of the most vibrant cities in the now-vibrant nation of Vietnam, which has bounced back from the devastation of the war and is rushing forward.
That said, any visit to Hanoi should include a visit to some of the wartime sites like Hoa Lo Prison. It's now a museum with exhibits that look back at the French colonial regime and at the jail's days as the "Hanoi Hilton," when it housed American prisoners. Hanoi also has its own Army Museum and Vietnamese People's Air Force Museum, where tanks, planes and canons used during the war are showcased. For a different kind of museum attraction, visit the Museum of Ethnology (Bao Tang Dan Toc Hoc), where you can occasionally see locals showing off ethnic costumes. But don't dwell on the war. Hanoi residents don't. Make sure to visit some of the many other attractions in the city. There are many temples with beautiful architecture, including the charming Ngoc Son Temple, which stands on the shores of scenic Hoan Kiem Lake and is perfect for picture taking. It has displays of mummified giant turtles, which younger tourists will find interesting. A good way to get a feel for the city overall and find places to spend more time later is to book one of the many city tours. The torrent of traffic is a sight worth seeing in itself.
Dining and Nightlife
Vietnamese Cuisine is a hodgepodge of many different influences, all of which come together in a delicious combination. Eating by the sidewalk in Hanoi's downtown area is particularly popular and this is where you'll find the most authentic, simple yet mouthwatering choices. Park yourself at a plastic table and enjoy a bowl of spicy pho, a savory sandwich or barbecued chicken on lively "chicken street." If you want to splurge, Hanoi also has many upscale restaurants, trendy bars and entertainment venues, particularly in the Hoan Kiem District. If you're adventurous, slide over to La Mat, just across the river from downtown, and try a plate of cobra. If you want to learn yourself how to cook Vietnamese, attend a half-day class at one of the city's many culinary schools, like the Hanoi Cooking Centre or Hoa Sua Cooking School.
Most visitors to Hanoi pick up at least one piece of beautiful Vietnamese fabric as a souvenir. One of the best places to find fabric is at Cho Hom in Pho Hue. Or for deals on a wide variety of merchandise, try the vibrant Dong Xuan market. Bargaining is considered something of a sport here, so don't be shy.
90B, Nguyen Huu Huan, Hoan Kiem
Đinh Tiên Hoàng
Dien Bien Phu, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam
23C Hai Ba Trung