Best Date to Visit: Nov-Dec, Mar-Apr
Expense: Very Cheap
Things to Do: Sightseeing, Food Tours
Points of Interest: St Josephs Cathedral, Old City, Ho Mi Chin Mausoleum, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hoa Lo Prison, Ho Chin Min Museum, Halong Bay (Out of city excursions), ect.
Hanoi the capital city of Vietnam (socialist republic of Vietnam) and lies north of the country. Always known to be the capital of north Vietnam, however it was also chosen capital of the whole country after its reunification with the south. Colonised by multiple dynasties and nations including the French, Chinese and Japanese throughout history, the city developed but slowly compared to other capitals around the world.
Arriving at Noi Bai airport my first impressions of the city is that it was very clean compared to my home country Philippines, furthermore there was also much less traffic but considering it was 10pm it might just be the case of everyone being home. Arriving near our hotel (at the old quarter) we entered much tighter roads somewhat filled with moving traffic, a bit less organisation and messier than my first impressions. It looked dangerous and my thoughts started to turn, however when we got to our hotel in La Siesta Trendy the Vietnamese hospitality began to show, a delightful welcome which I rarely get from many of my travels. Heading out filled with plenty of money, gadgets and other valuables I remember asking the hotels guest relation officer if the city was safe. Very confidently he answered ‘Hanoi is very safe’ and from my experience I felt like it was one of the safest place I’ve been to even for a third world country.
The centre of tourism in Hanoi is the ‘Old quarter’ which is the bustling tight district full of traditional shop-houses and restaurants (canteens). Tourists love this area due to its unique lifestyle and preserved 13th century architecture. Many stroll these streets to experience the typical way of dining from the many street foods and canteens, many places are out on the streets with stalls and temporary light tables but there are fancy air-conditioned restaurants as well.
Hoan Kiem district, is known as Hanoi’s city centre, the main hub and most luxurious for tourists. Being very chaotic and somewhat a messy city I was shocked to see luxurious shops such as Prada, Armani, Louis Vuitton and more alike. Moreover the upper class hotels (such as Hilton) and restaurants can be found here. Apart from its resident luxuries, Hoan Kiem has plenty of attractions as well. ‘Hoan Kiem Lake’ which centres the city is probably Hanoi’s cover attractions, surrounded by a large ring road and a belt of greenery, tourists come to relax and have a walk and getaway from the busy streets. At the edge of the lake there is ‘Ngoc Son temple’ which stands on its own little island which is accessible through ‘Huc Bridge’ which in itself is a popular photo point. In the middle of ‘Hoan Kiem Lake’ you will see a little monument called the ‘Turtle tower’ or, here there are many legends but most formidable is to commemorate a warrior named Le Loi and the mystical sword he used to free the Vietnamese people from its Chinese occupants. A bit further away from the lake but still within ‘Hoan Kiem’ area is ‘St Joseph’s cathedral’ which was built by the French Indochina establishment, here masses takes place for the many Catholics in the country. Other than these attractions there are many more markets, shops and restaurants around the area.
Ba Dinh which is unofficially known as the ‘French quarter’ is the political centre of the city, where many different nation’s embassy lie. Ba Dinh is much cleaner and more organised than other parts of Ha Noi. The district has many of the capitals historical and cultural monuments and museums most notable being the ‘Ho Chi Minh mausoleum’ which stands tall in the centre of ‘Ba Dinh square’, here the most iconic leader of Vietnam is laid to rest. A 5 minute walk from the mausoleum is the ‘One Pillar Pagoda’ which is in the middle of a serene garden built on a single stone pole made out of wood. Museums such as the ‘Vietnam military’ and ‘Fine Arts Museum’ are also found here alongside religious place of worship such as the ‘Quan Tanh Temple’ and ‘Cua Bac’ a roman catholic church built by the French. The ‘Presidential House’ which has great historical significance is also a good place to go, designed by the French the building was intended for to be the main office of Ho Chi Minh, but he opted for amore traditional Vietnamese building. Other points of interest are the ‘Hanoi flag tower’, ‘Temple of literature’ and the ‘Thang Long, Imperial Citadel’ which all have impressive architecture and significance to the country.
Overall Hanoi is very much undeveloped compared to other capitals around the world. They don’t have many of the bare necessities such as rail transport, traffic regulations and malls but the city is fabulous on what it does offer. Firstly the people, although they do not speak any English and it is very hard to communicate, they really are good people and do not try to cheat other people no matter how vulnerable, such as taxi drivers helping passengers without the sign of tapping the fares. The city is also very safe, I didn’t once feel I was in any danger or a target for theft. In my opinion I felt safer in Hanoi than traveling in Manila, Hong Kong, Barcelona and even London. I can confirm this as my phone which I dropped in my taxi, was returned very quickly after help from my hotel, after giving the taxi driver a little reward I just though to myself that wold never happen in other countries. Prices in Vietnam are also very cheap including taxis, restaurants and many products, currencies used are their own Vietnamese Dong but US Dollars are used in many upper class establishments. Hanoi is more for the adventurous individual as people looking for class would be very disappointed, its more for culture and the experience of another way of living. An open mind is required visiting the Capital. I would most definitely come back and I highly recommend to visit here.