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Hanoi City Guide


Hanoi, the capital and second largest city in Vietnam, is a fascinating blend of East and West, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French design from its colonial past. Known by many names down the centuries, Thanh Long (City of the Soaring Dragon) is the most evocative, largely unspoiled by modern architecture of the 1970s and 80s, and is now going through a modernisation that is making it a rising star in Southeast Asia.

Hanoi is a city of stunning visual and audio contrast. The rickety sounds of cyclos (pedicabs) fight for airwaves amidst the blasting horns of motorbikes, and the Nike swoosh wallpapers the French-styled building façades in the Old Quarter. The city is fairly spread out and cyclos or motorbike taxis will get you from one area to another. Once you have picked a spot, wandering on your feet affords the best view of Hanoi's chaotic street life.


Hoan Kiem

The Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi's commercial nucleus, ripples out from the lake of the same name. The lake's name means Lake of the Restored Sword, according to a legend dating back to the mid-15th century. A magical sword, having been found in the lake by the then emperor, and used to fend off the invading Chinese, was snatched by a giant golden tortoise and returned to its home in the depths. The tranquil, 18th-century Ngoc Son Temple occupies an island in the northern part of the lake.

Today the lake and its immediate surrounds offer more than water, greens and folklore. In the pre-dawn light, Hanoians transform the area into an outdoor gymnasium, complete with badminton courts, exercise pavilions and tracks for speed walkers and slow chugging joggers. During the day, the area acts as a magnet for tourists and those who feed off them-postcard sellers, black-market money changers and shoe-shine boys. At twilight, families stroll, friends sip fruit juices in outdoor cafés and lovers seek privacy in the shadows of the trees.

The area surrounding the lake beckons travellers with eats, treats and sleeps. The main post office, the ANZ Bank (with ATM machine), supermarkets and film-developing stores, which line the lake's circumference, satisfy mundane needs. Museums, including the Vietnam History Museum, the Geology Museum, the Museum of Vietnamese Revolution, the Maison Centrale and the Vietnam Women's Museum, congregate in an area slightly south and west of the lake.

The district also offers a variety of entertainment. For live performances, check the Hanoi Opera House, the Central Cultural House and the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre. For a view of the big screen, Fansland Cinema, New Age Cinema and the Alliance Francais Cinema show foreign films. For more literary pursuits, the Thang Long Bookshop stocks an extensive selection of foreign and local authors, as does the nearby Hanoi Bookshop. For the weary, hungry or thirsty, numerous hotels, restaurants, cafés and pubs provide a place to recharge.

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