most European city in Vietnam, Hanoi is home to nearly 2 million people.
Less vibrant and more reserved than its cousin to the south, Hanoi is
a great place to explore on foot. If Ho Chi Minh City is defined by hustle
and bustle and people on the go, Hanoi's trademark is green parks and
tranquil lakes. The city is divided into districts, many of which take
their name from a lake within the district's boundaries. Each district
has its own charms.
The geographic and spiritual center of Hanoi is Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword).
A broad path encircles the lake, attracting residents to its shores throughout
the day. At dawn you'll find young and old walking, jogging, practicing
Tai Chi and playing badminton. After dark, young couples walk hand-in-hand
or seek privacy under the trees and on the numerous park benches at the
To the north and west of the lake is Hanoi's famed Old Quarter with its
confusing maze of narrow cobblestoned streets. Home to numerous guest
houses, mini-hotels, art galleries, restaurants and shops, the Old Quarter
is worth a day of aimless wandering and discovery. Many visitors, particularly
backpackers, choose this area as their base in Hanoi.
South and east of the lake, the wide tree-lined boulevards of the old
French quarter offer a stark contrast to the confusion of the Old Quarter.
The French colonial influence, obvious throughout the city, is particularly
evident here. Many colonial villas are now home to embassies, upscale
hotels and restaurants.
Those spending more than a couple of days in Hanoi will want to explore
other areas of the city as well. Scenic Ho Tay (West
Lake) has become the preferred address for expats in recent years. In addition to a sophisticated dining scene and several upscale hotels, including the Sheraton and Inter-Continental, it boasts numerous historic sites and temples.
Hanoi awakes early, with activity in the parks beginning before sunrise
and winding down by 7 a.m. Most offices, stores and museums open around
7:30 am, closing for lunch between 11 and 1, and reopening again until
5 p.m. Most restaurants stop serving at10 p.m.
Hanoi has four distinct seasons. Winters can actually be quite chilly;
although snow is foreign to Hanoi residents. Summers are hot and rainy.
Probably the best time to visit is spring and fall.