To say the big Vietnamese cities are busy is an understatement, but whereas some might argue Ho Chi Minh has also increasingly become ‘Westernised’, Hanoi continues to retain it’s traditional old world charm – and we hope that always stays the case. To walk around Hoan Kiem Lake with a super strong (and sweet) Vietnamese coffee in the morning, whilst locals exercise, chat and enjoy each others company, is a joy to behold. And for those of you who like a taste of South East Asia with four distinct seasons, Hanoi is certainly your place. When we arrive its hovering at around 12 degrees and it’s easy to see why nearly everyone seems to be wearing ‘North Face’ coats.
Hanoi is Vietnams capital and second largest city. The estimated population is fast closing in on 8 million (and every one of them seems to own a motorbike!) The city offers a wonderful collage of history as visitors step back in time to enjoy periods when the influences of China, France and others shaped the architecture, culture, religion and cuisine. Today the city is evolving to meet the challenges of increasing tourism, as this captivating city opens its heart to all those who wish to sample her delights.
Aside from being the base to explore the broader attractions of Northern Vietnam, such as Halong Bay and Sapa, Hanoi offers the visitor a range of magical experiences. For the adventurous (or some might say foolish), many of these experiences are within walking distance of the old quarter (but taxis are cheap and plentiful). Must sees include the Temple of Literature (open from 08.00 to 17.30 daily), the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (times vary depending on the season, and dress code and behaviour are strictly enforced), Ngoc Son Temple, St Josephs Cathedral, the Flag Tower & Citadel.
Shoppers are well catered for as Hanoi offers top end shopping malls, and an old quarter with hundreds upon hundreds of small business retailers. What’s sort of wonderful is that many themes are clubbed together, so that you have shoe street, coffee street, beer street etc… And then there’s the Night Market, which operates on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The market itself has many things you’ll see elsewhere, but what is so great is that they close off various streets (including those on the North side of Hoan Kiem Lake) and it is bliss being able to walk around without the fear of being hit by a motorbike.
Lovers of Museums will enjoy visiting the Vietnam National Museum of History, the Fine Arts Museum, Women’s Museum and Ho Chi Minh Museum. And if you haven’t seen one before, make sure you catch a traditional Water Puppet Show.
Whilst you can use credit cards at all the usual places, such as hotels and restaurants, Vietnam is big on cash. If you plan to use public transport, visit museums, eat street food or browse the local retailers make sure you have some cash on hand. The local currency is the Dong and there are around VND 17,800 to A$1.00.* In addition to this it’s not unusual to see people using US dollars (just make sure that if you do the same, the notes are in good condition).
*At time of writing this article
As mentioned at the beginning of the blog, Hanoi has seasons and in Winter it does get cold, so if you’re flying from elsewhere in South East Asia makes sure you bring something warm. The seasons themselves are pretty much aligned with those in the Northern Hemisphere – so the Summer months are May through to August, and Winter is from November through to February.
Hanoi is served by Noi Bai International Airport, located in the Soc Don District, which is about 15kms from the city centre. Whilst that doesn’t sound too far, even with an improved Airport Highway (via the new Nhat Tan Cable-Stay Bridge) it can easily take an hour or so depending on traffic. The international terminal (T2) was upgraded in 2015 and generally we found the facilities to be good.
Vietnam Airlines offers direct flights to Hanoi from Sydney, but other airlines go via Ho Chi Minh (SGN), including Jetstar. For those already based in South East Asia, there are direct flights from all the usual favourites, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Manila etc.. (and prices are competitive).
In addition to Flights, Hanoi is also the origin/departure point for the Reunification Express, which runs all the way down to Ho Chi Minh City.
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