HANOI | Living the Parisian Grace and Asian Pace
As daylight started to break into the horizon and the aroma of hot coffee dominated the thin air, the alleys of the Old Quarter started to get filled. Iron accordion shutters cranked after another and street vendors took their places to mark the start of another busy day. Welcome to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, The Land of the Blue Dragon.
Hanoi has come to live for more than a thousand years. It was the nucleus of power since its settlement in 1010 by its Chinese founders. In 1802 the Nguyen Dynasty dawned the glory of Hanoi by moving the imperial seat to Hue. The wars of time divided and reunited the nation. After the Vietnam War in 1975, Hanoi regained its recognition as the seat of power, governance and commerce of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Being the hub of the French Indochina colonial rule for over half a century, Hanoi is left with remarkable French heritage most evident in its architectural styles. The Old Quarter is among those places that have retained a lot of the old French aesthetics. Adaptations of the neo-classical Parisian styles like blue wooden shutters against the pale yellow paint, wrought iron balconies shaded by curved awnings and masonry ornaments.
Taking inspirations from its ancient Chinese traditions and European colonial styles, Hanoi has evolved into an exciting urban masterpiece where the East shines with the West. It is a bustling capital city where international brands place its business address filled with vibrant community of expats. It is also the center of conventions and various expositions in trade and travel, arts and culture.
Hanoi is relatively a small capital city and is best taken either on foot or scooter. Experience the contrasts of Vietnamese lifestyles through its ancient temples, quaint alley cafes and the sophisticated urban hotspots in a slow pace we call the Asian way.
TEMPLE OF LITERATURE
Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, the Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher from whom we keep in perpetuity the Golden Rule “do not do unto other what you do not want done to yourself”. Honored in this thousand-year old temple are the finest Vietnamese scholars and literary heroes.
THE OLD QUARTER
Often the inspiration of many writers, scholars and artists, the Old Quarter defines Vietnam from its ancient state in 1010 until its liberation from the Chinese, Japanese, French and American colonizers. It is the busiest district laid out in a labyrinth of knockoff souvenir shops, travel services, restaurants, cafes and hostels. Its worn-out ambience showcases the country’s unique classical features desired by anyone who comes to Hanoi. Today, the Old Quarter is famous among backpackers who do the Southeast Asian swing for its cheap hostels and access to tour services.
HOAN KIEM LAKE
Hoan Kiem Lake lies at the heart of Hanoi. The age-old trees that line along the still waters immortalize the legends of a royal sword and the golden turtle god. This charming spot is everyone’s rendezvous for a lazy walk or a quiet lounge. Surrounded by cafes and rooftop restaurants, Hoan Kiem Lake is a good way to start or end your day in Hanoi.
THE HANOI OPERA HOUSE
One of the greatest architectural masterpieces during the French colonial period that have stood mighty to this day is the Hanoi Opera House. Built in 1901 and completed in 1911, the Opera House is home to countless art performances and significant assemblies that helped formed its nation. The European styles of the Renaissance Period heavily influenced its building design. Restored to its full glory, it still stands prominently along the August Revolution Square where luxury hotels and stores comfort the high-end travelers.
WATER PUPPET SHOWS
An art form that takes it beginnings in 11th century in Northern Vietnam, water puppetry is a unique Vietnamese experience. The most popular and highly acclaimed puppetry ensemble the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater holds daily matinee and gala performances at 57B, Dinh Tien Hoang Street (just around Hoan Kiem Lake).
HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM & MUSEUM
Located on the huge and heavily guarded Ba Dinh Square is the mausoleum of Vietnam’s great man, Ho Chi Minh, more popularly known as Uncle Ho. It also houses a museum dedicated to his accomplishment and the One Pillar Pagoda dating back to 1049 constructed by Ly Thai Tong.
HANOI FLAG TOWER
Vietnam endured the wars of time and in many occasions there was never a flag flying on its land. At the heart of the city is the 200 year-old Hanoi Flag Tower that stands as a symbol of its pride after being liberated from several wars. Since 1986, the Vietnam flag mightily flies on its pole overlooking the bustling city.
ST JOSEPH’S CATHEDRAL
Dubbed as the Notre Dame of Hanoi, this Gothic Revival church on Hoan Kiem District was constructed in 1886. Being one of the first churches built by the French in Indochina, this home to nearly 400 million Catholics in Vietnam is the oldest church in Hanoi.
MONUMENTS, TEMPLES & ART DECO BUILDINGS
Owing its religious beginnings to Buddhism, Hanoi is filled with age-old and new temples that exhibit elaborate construction and masonry embellishments. Noticeably around the key district convergence zones are lovely parks with huge monuments of its national heroes. Art deco buildings during the French colonial period also stand side-by-side with the modern skyscrapers providing awesome architectural contrasts.
Hanoi never lost its touch of charm to the contemporary landscapes of modern capital cities. Despite the daily grinds of commercial advancements, this small city keeps the grace of its French colonial past in an Asian pace.
Experience the Timeless Charm of Vietnam. Come to Hanoi.
HOW TO GET THERE
- International and domestic flights are widely available. Most commercial airlines fly direct to Hanoi.
- Contact your airline provider for schedules and promotions.
- Hanoi can be accessed by bus or train from Saigon, south of Vietnam.
- Buses from Saigon to Hanoi leave at Pham Ngu Lao, the famous backpacker district. Tickets are widely available from the travel agencies around the area.
- The Reunification Express, Vietnam’s national railway system is also an alternative mode of transport from Saigon to Hanoi.
WHERE TO STAY
Budget Hostels & Luxury Hotels
- The Old Quarter is the most famous area for those traveling on a budget.
- Hostels abound in this area. Prices range between $10-25 for private rooms and $5 for dorm rooms.
- High-end hotels are widely available within the August Revolution Square.
- Beware of scams in Hanoi. From hotel bookings to tour packages, scams are all around. Make sure you double-check anything before paying. Recommended travel agency is Sinh Cafe around the Old Quarter.
- Riding cyclos can be ridiculously tricky and expensive. Some would book you on a cheaper price (usually 150,000 VND per hour) but changes it to about 5x after the tour. They will then show you a laminated tariff that is NOT approved by their transportation agencies. Unless there are no extra routes in your agreed price, always stick to what was quoted.
- Many taxi drivers do not put the meter down. Make sure you demand for it before departure. They can be very aggressive and sometimes they curse passengers.
- Vendors on the streets selling souvenirs can be very annoying. If you tinker their stuff they always expect you to buy. If you don’t they will follow you on the road until either one of you gives in. Be firm to say NO.
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