Wander through ancient streets in the Old Quarter and admire the rich mix of merchant houses, colonial villas and temples.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter first took shape in the 13th century and still forms the heart of the city. The intoxicating atmosphere of the area’s 36 ancient streets offers a vivid glimpse into the past. Amongst its rich mix of merchant houses, colonial villas and ancient temples, you’ll find some of the capital’s best street food and plenty of night life options.
Hanoi is a city born of struggles for independence. Having broken free from one thousand years of Chinese occupation in the 10th century, it faced many years of regional conflict before coming under French rule from 1883 to 1954. That influence is keenly felt, from the wide, tree-lined boulevards, to the deeply entrenched pavement café culture.
A city of contrasts, conical-hat-wearing women shouldering baskets of fruit now weave between pedicabs, armies of motorbikes and growing ranks of high-end cars. The rise of the car, as well as shopping malls and skyscrapers, is testament to the rapid development since economic liberalisation in the 1990s.
In the face of huge change, Hanoians are passionate about protecting their traditions and culture. Most of the high-rises are springing up on the outskirts of the city, while the megamalls are slotting into life with seeming ease, leaving the centre relatively unscathed.
To get the most from Hanoi, take a cue from the city's residents and enjoy it slowly. Locals are seldom rushed – they’ll tell you they leave that to their southern counterparts in Ho Chi Minh City.
From April to May, Hanoi's trees burst into bloom with purple, orange, white and red flowers. During this time sky is blue and it's not too warm. June, July and August can be extremely hot and wet, while September through November offers some beautiful days. The winter months of December to February are often grey, drizzly and cool.
Singaporeans and citizens of other ASEAN member states can visit Vietnam for 30 days without a visa. Visitors arriving directly from other countries must arrange for a visa in advance.
Vietnam Dong. In town, ATMs can be found easily, while almost all banks offer a foreign currency exchange service.
The best way to reach the city from the airport is by taking a taxi. Numerous firms stand outside - look for the yellow and white Noi Bai taxis. Prices are fixed and written on a board at the rank. In the city cheap metered taxis are everywhere. Some are more reputable than others - stick to Mai Linh and ABC. The other option are the Xe om, motorcycle taxis that can be found on almost every corner. Haggle your price, then hang on tight!
Hanoi is a safe city; crime against tourists remains uncommon and is treated extremely seriously by the authorities. That said, pickpocketing does occur, particularly at the night market, so it is advisable to only carry what you need. Hanoi traffic is notorious, and care should be taken when crossing the road and stepping out of shops. Simply walk slowly when crossing and the bikes will weave around you. Tap water is not safe to drink, but ice is generally fine. Hanoi is not malarial, but there is a small risk of Dengue fever and cases are on the Rise, so take standard bite prevention precautions.
|How are you?||Moi vi-uhk te nao?|
|Fine, thanks||Van tot, kam urn|
|Excuse me! (to get attention, to get past)||Sin choo i!|
|Thank you||Kam urn|
|What's your name?||Ten ban la ji?|
|My name is…||Ten toi la…|
|Pleased to meet you||Rat voo-i dew-urk lam kwen|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Ban ko Facebook/Twitter kog?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Internet cafe ur doh?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Toi ko tei goi se taxi ur doh?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Tram se boo-yit/tram se lur-a ur doh?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Mot ve mot chi-yoh/koor hoi den…|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||Ban ko fog kog cho mot/hai gew-ur-i?|
|When's check out?||Ki nao tra fog?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Ban ko te jur-i ti-yoh mot na hag/kwan rew-uru gon kog?|
|A table for two, please||Sin cho mot ban cho hai|
|A menu, please||Cho sem tur-k dur-n|
|The bill, please||Voo-i log cho sem hwa durn|
|Where's the toilet?||Na vei shin ur doh?|
|Help!||Kur-ew toi vur-i!|
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The Old Quarter
The Old Quarter is one of the oldest parts of Hanoi. It evolved in the 13th century, when artisan guilds were concentrated along each lane. The guilds developed independently and were separated by walls and gates. Today the streets remain a buzzing hive of frenzied commercial activity. The new tradespeople still cluster along each street by speciality, but the trade doesn’t necessarily match the street name. Silver jewellery and gravestones can still be found on Hang Bac (Silver Street), but they now share the space with tourist spots. Hang Gai is the place to head for Hanoi's famous silk. Best seen by cyclo (pedicab).
Temple of Literature
Built in 1070, the picturesque Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius. When it was first built, the Quoc Tu Giam, or School of the Elite of the Nation – Vietnam’s first university – adjoined the temple’s grounds. Nowadays the temple is a popular place for young graduates to have their class photos taken. It is also a magnet for undergraduates who come to pray for luck in their exams. As a result, you can expect plenty of opportunities to talk to young enthusiastic Vietnamese. The temple grounds comprise five distinct courtyards, each of which has its own unique story. You can hire a guide to show you around.
St Joseph’s Cathedral
Gothic in style, with distinctive square towers, St Joseph's Cathedral was consecrated on Christmas night in 1886. It occupies the site of the Bao Thien Pagoda, which was razed by the French to make way for the cathedral. Celebration of Mass resumed here in 1990 after being banned for more than 30 years. On Sundays, the worshippers are packed inside while the square in front fills with people on their motorbikes. This square is also a popular place to sit with an iced lemon tea. If you head down Au Trieu Street, down the side of the cathedral, you'll find some great little boutiques.
Quan Thanh Temple
Set between West Lake and Truc Bach Lake, Quan Thanh Temple was originally built during the Ly dynasty (1010–1225). It has a huge bronze bell and a 4-tonne bronze statue of Tran Vu, guardian deity of the north, to whom the temple is dedicated. The courtyard is a beautiful open space and makes a great place to take a breather from the city. The street that runs along the perimeter of Truc Bach Lake is famous for its street stalls that serve pho cuon (tender minced beef wrapped in rice noodles with herbs), and is a popular nightspot among Vietnamese teenagers.
Thong Nhat Park
Thong Nhat Park is a large pleasant area shaded by scores of massive trees. It was built by volunteer workers, many of whom still use the park to this day. Designed around the large Bay Mau Lake (Ho Bay Mau), it operates a number of children’s rides and a small railway during the weekend. Swan pedalos are also available. The real draw here is the atmosphere. The best times to visit are early morning before 8am and around 5–6pm when the park is bustling with walkers, joggers, open-air aerobics classes and badminton games. Avoid the rest of the day when the park is often deserted.
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Hanoi’s most modern museum, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology brilliantly details the lives and history of the country’s 54 ethnic minorities. The main area was designed by a member of the Tay ethnic group in the form of an ancient Dong Son drum. Outside, original ethnic minority houses have been rebuilt and visitors can wander freely around them. Climbing the stairs to the tall stilt house is a big hit with kids. Displays are labelled in English and French and, for a small extra fee, a guide is available. The museum is wheelchair-friendly. A free water-puppet show takes place every afternoon.
Hanoi has one of the world’s most exciting street food scenes, so planning a trip around your stomach is a breeze. For a truly Hanoian breakfast, hit one of the capital’s oldest pho (noodle soup) joints, Pho Gia Truyen (49 Bat Dan). Place your order for rare (tai) or well-done (chin) beef, then muscle your way to a table with the locals.
Walk off breakfast in the Old Quarter en route to Ly Quoc Su Street, where a tiny hole-in-the-wall eatery sells all sorts of quick snacks, including the addictive banh goi – Hanoi’s take on the meat pasty.
Come lunchtime, the air is filled with the scent of pork belly and herbed patties grilling for the capital’s quintessential lunch – bun cha. For one of the best, jump into a pedicab for quick ride to the French Quarter’s Huong Lien (35 Le Van Huu Street).
After lunch, veer north to Truc Bach lake and the Chau Long fresh produce market (Chau Long Street). Not for the squeamish, everything from skinned frog to pig's head is graphically displayed. Staying local, grab an afternoon bite on the Truc Bach island. Ngu Xa street is always buzzing with people out to share a plate of pho cuon (tender beef and herb rolls). The spot opposite the beautiful Than Quang pagoda is a winner.
Every evening, nearby Tran Vu Street comes alive with a crop of excellent lake-side BBQ seafood stands – the perfect way place to round-up your Hanoi food odyssey.
Pho Gia Truyen, Ly Quoc Su Street, Huong Lien, Chau Long Market, Tran Vu Street.
With its scores of lakes, tree-line avenues and intimate cafes and restaurants, Hanoi is a top choice for a weekend of romance. Kick-start your day with a cycle ride around the streets of the Old Quarter. Cosy up in one seat for added romance and make like a local and pose for some photos around Hoan Kiem lake.
Get dropped off in front of St Joseph’s Cathedral. Here, a small square is surrounded by ice lemon tea places that are hugely popular with young couples. Take a seat or head up to the tiny balcony of the Hanoi House café – a great spot for people watching over a sinh to – fruit shake.
Next, strike north and hire bikes at the Hanoi Bicycle Collective (Alley 31, Xuan Dieu Street). Ride the shores of West Lake, past flower gardens, lotus ponds and peaceful temples. For lunch, try Da Paulo (Dang Thai Mai Street) for a perfect Italian pizza. Either head up to the wood-beamed second floor, or – even more romantic – order take-out and sit on a lake-side deckchair out front.
Back at the southern edge of the lake, hire a swan pedalo. No matter if your energy is running low - nobody pedals too far or too fast. This is all about idly drifting out onto the water and enjoying the late afternoon light.
Get off the water just before sunset and take a stroll between Truc Bach and West Lake to the Sofitel Plaza Hotel. Up on its top floor, the Summit Lounge has the best sunset views in the city and serves up great cocktails.
Old Quarter, St Joseph’s Cathedral, West Lake, Sofitel Plaza Hotel.
To get a fix on the capital’s contemporary art scene, first head to Manzi Art Space, a café-cum-gallery housed in a beautifully restored colonial villa. Works by Vietnamese and international artists hang and a small shop on the second floor is the place to pick up a piece by emerging talent.
Next, make your way to the Museum of Fine Arts, the capital’s primary exhibition space. Works by Vietnam’s most renowned artists are on show, many of which depict the conflicts that plagued the country throughout the 20th century. This is also a great place to bag a propaganda poster – originals and re-prints are sold.
Just over the road, the Temple of Literature was once attached to Hanoi’s first university and now functions as a place of worship. Hordes of students come here to pray for luck in their studies and they’re always keen to chat with visitors to practise their English skills.
Next visit the Vietnamese Women’s Museum (36, Ly Thuong Kiet). Here you’ll gain an insight into the pivotal role of women in the country’s recent history and also learn about some of the 54 ethnic minorities that make up the nation’s rich cultural tapestry.
Come sundown, those hungry for some traditional culture should take a seat at the intimate and atmospheric Ca Tru Theatre (87 Ma May St). Set in an ancient house, just 25 pond-side seats are available for each show. For something more contemporary, check out the schedule at L’Espace (24, Trang Tien) which stages regular live events.
Manzi Art Space, Museum of Fine Arts, Temple of Literature, Vietnamese Women’s Museum , Ca Tru Theatre, L’Espace.