Hanoi is the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the center of culture, politics, economy and trade of the whole country. Located in the Red River Delta, in the center of North Vietnam. It is encompassed by Thai Nguyen, Vinh Phuc provinces to the north, Hoa Binh and Ha Nam to the south, Bac Giang, Bac Ninh and Hung Yen provinces to the east, Hoa Binh and Phu Tho to the west.
Situated on the bank of Red River, Hanoi is considered a pearl of Southeast Asia. With historic temples and pagodas, well-preserved colonial structures and exquisite cuisine, Hanoi offers its guests a unique and charming experience to be found nowhere else.
Hanoi used to be called Thang Long or the “Soaring Dragon”. This 1000-year-old capital of Vietnam has a gentle grace with shadowed boulevards,crowded themed streets and a variety of beautiful lakes, temples, pagodas and museums. Hanoi is best known for the emerald Hoan Kiem Lake and the vibrant Old Quarter with a myriad of boutique shops, restaurants and cafes. There are also a number of not-to-miss sites stamped with its traditional culture or French colonial influence: the National History Museum, Hanoi Opera House, French Quarter, One Pillar Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Temple of Literature, to name just a few.
Hanoi also makes a perfect base for travelers to explore the whole north of Vietnam: from the magnificent Halong Bay in Quang Ninh, the fairy tale Tam Coc-Bich Dong grottoes in Ninh Binh to the mind-blowing terraced rice fields and colorful ethnic culture in Sapa, Mai Chau or Ha Giang, all will capture your heart.
Hoan Kiem Lake - “Lake of the Restored Sword”: The name refers to a famous legend of the great Vietnamese hero, king Le Loi, who led a successful uprising against the Chinese in the 15th century. The Lake is still famous for its rare species of very large turtles, that occasionally appear!
Den Ngoc Son, “Temple of the Jade Mound”: Founded in the 14th century, and dedicated to Van Xuong, the God of Literature. Also worshiped here are the national hero General Tran Hung Dao, who defeated the Mongols in 1288; the physician La To;and a martial arts practitioner, Quan Vu. The red bridge was constructed in 1875.
ST. Joseph's Cathedral: Neo-Gothic cathedral built by the French in the late 1880’s, and partly financed by two lotteries. The stained glass windows are mostly French originals. The black marble tomb is where the last cardinal of Viet Nam was buried in 1990.
If the main door is closed, try the side entrance through the grey, iron gates, at 40 Nha Chung.
Former Residence of the French Governor of Tonkin: Built in 1918,now restored and used as the State Guest House for visiting VIPs. As you peer in, maybe note the elegant wrought-iron railings, pitted with bullet-mark souvenirs of the 1945 Revolution. The building appeared in the film, Indochine.
Opera House: Based on the neo-Baroque Paris Opera. The Ionic columns and grey slate tiles were imported from France. Opened in 1922,after taking 10 years to build, it was the jewel in the crown of French Hanoi. In 1945, the Viet Minh proclaimed the August Revolution against French colonialism from its balcony!
Vietnam Ethnological Museum: Constructed on the land of 9,500 square meters on Nguyen Van Huyen Street, Cau Giay District, around 8 kilometers from the city centre. The construction started at the end of 1987 and was completed in 1997. The mission of the Museum is to collect, document, research, preserve and exhibit the cultural and historic patrimony of the nation’s different ethnic groups. In its future planning, the Museum intends to present the cultures and civilization of other countries in South-East Asia and in the region as well. Highly recommended.
Women's Museum: Includes an informative ethnic minority display on the 4th floor. Highly recommended.
“Hanoi Hilton”: The nick name given to this former prison by American PoWs in the 1960’s. The previous US Ambassador to Vietnam, Mr. Peterson, was once a pilot who was shot down during a bombing raid on a northern village, and imprisoned here.
Originally, the French removed a whole village of earthen stove makers to build this prison, Hoa Lo (“furnace”) prison, where many Vietnamese nationalist leaders were imprisoned, and many were executed by French guillotine.
One inmate was Do Muoi, who escaped in 1945 and became general-secretary of the Communist Party nearly 50 years later. The French-built Supreme Court is located conveniently opposite.
Used as a prison until 1994, it is now Hanoi Towers, a commercial complex, but one section has been retained as a museum. Well worth a visit, and is often open when some other museums are closed.
Temple of Literature: Ha Noi’s most revered temple complex and Viet Nam’s principal Confucian sanctuary, dedicated in 1070. Viet Nam’s first university was founded here, in 1076, but most of the buildings were destroyed by French bombs in 1947, leaving few traces among the weeds. One of the few remnants of the Ly king’s original city, despite past reconstructions. Many reconstructed buildings rose from the rubble as part of Ha Noi’s 990th birthday celebrations in 2000.
Army Museum: An excellent museum, tracing the story of the People’s Army from its foundation in 1944, but really telling national history from the 1930’s to the present-day. Special displays on Dien Bien Phu (1954), and the Spring Campaign (1975). Highly recommended for an understanding of Vietnam’s long struggle for independence and reunification.
Climb the 1812 flag tower for some great views of Ha Noi.
The Old Quarter (“36 Streets”): Known as “Venice of the Far East”by early explorers and traders, due to the constant flooding.
From the 13th century, 36 distinct guild areas set up. Streets are named after the original merchandise - ‘Hang’ means selling.
While the various streets started out as villages, usually specializing in one particular craft or product, today the Old Quarter, with some 100,000 people in only 100 hectares, has one of the highest population densities in the world.
Under feudal law, houses were limited to 2 storey and could not be taller than the Royal Palace.
Note the typical tube houses, which can be as little as a couple of metres wide, but extend back as far as 150 metres!
Hang Bac (“Silver Street”) is perhaps Vietnam’s oldest urban thoroughfare.
Hang Ma - Selling paper products for at least 500 years - burnt offerings to the ancestors.
Hang Quat - Bright red prayer flags for funerals and festivals.
Long Bien Bridge: The first bridge across the Red River, it was originally named Paul Doumer Bridge after the French Governor-General, in its inaugural year, 1902. During the American War, it was one of Viet Nam’s most heavily defended targets, which the U.S. never managed to completely destroy.
Dong Xuan Market: Ha Noi’s largest covered market. Originally built in 1889, it was the biggest trading centre in northern Viet Nam. After a major fire in 1994, it was reopened in 1996, its old façade intact.
Bat Trang Pottery Village was founded approximately 600 years ago and has remained the biggest ceramic centre of Vietnam. Its products are admired worldwide for creativity, vivid colors and sophisticated decorations.
Duong Lam Ancient Village is a valuable heritage of the ancient civilization in Red River Delta. It is a typical image of a traditional village in Vietnam.
Thay Pagoda was built around 11th century in shape of the Chinese character “Tam” that means “Heart”. Its first master was Tu Dao Hanh, the father of Vietnamese water puppetry. The first puppet show was played on the central lake of this pagoda.
Tay Phuong Pagoda sits on top of a hill in Yen Village, Ha Tay province. The pagoda boasts a great collection of 80 exquisite statues,including many sculptures, masterpieces of the ancient Vietnam civilization,dated back to 7th century A.D.
Ha Long Bay (literally “Bay of Descending Dragon”) is a must see for any visitor to Vietnam. Proudly being recognized twice as a World Heritage Site, Halong features thousands of limestone islands dotting a spectacular seascape. Some middle islets are also home to amazing grottoes and pristine beaches with emerald and calm water.
The formation of Halong archipelago is yet to be revealed. Legend has it that long time ago, Vietnam was frequently attacked by invaders from the sea. One time when the enemy approached the coast, a giant dragon suddenly appeared to help Vietnamese people chase them away. She threw fire into the invaders and created a wall of mountains on the sea to protect the country. The islands we see in Halong Bay now are remaining parts of this magical wall.
Now, you can truly live the legend. Grab a paddle to go kayaking in the pristine bay or simply take a leisure cruise trip around its magnificent settings. Of course, you can savor Halong splendor within one morning but it is much more fascinating to enjoy a stunning sunset or a starry night on decks of an elegant junk.