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Pocket Guide: Hanoi

Visiting Hanoi

Known as “the city of lakes”, Hanoi is 2,000 years old and has been the capital of Vietnam for half of that time. The city is a melting pot of Asian, Chinese and French influences, and this can be seen in its variety of centuries old architecture. This ancient urban space will beguile your senses with its street food aromas, blaring car horns and soaring red pagodas. As you wander through Hanoi’s winding streets, past a bewilderment of parks, temples, stalls and stores, you might suddenly realise that you’re lost. But you’ll also realise that you don’t mind at all — not while there are delicious local delicacies to sample in a shaded place while you watch Hanoi life bustle by.

Where to stay in Hanoi

You have a number of interesting areas to choose from when deciding which of the various hotels in Hanoi to stay in. Hanoi is made up of various districts and the most popular ones for visitors are the Old Quarter, the French Quarter, the Ba Dinh District and the Tay Ho District. The Old Quarter is the main tourist hotspot due to its Buddhist temples and colonial architecture. It’s divided up into streets which are named after the trades they were traditionally associated with, for instance, cotton, herbs and silk. To this day, you can still find shopkeepers selling the same goods in those streets, although they now mingle with more modern shops, bars and boutiques. The French Quarter is the government hub and also houses foreign embassies. It’s an affluent area of luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants and designer brand shops, plus various museums and galleries. The Ba Dinh district contains sites of political and historical interest from Vietnam’s recent turbulent past. It’s a relatively relaxed area and although it doesn’t have the bustle of the Old Quarter, or upscale glamour of the French Quarter, it’s appealing for that very reason. Instead, it offers a pleasant range of traditional restaurants, affordable hotels and local bars. If you’re looking for a more tranquil place to stay that brings you closer to nature, then the Tay Ho district might be perfect for you. Located on the stunning shoreline of Hanoi’s West lake, it’s a hub of upscale hotels, restaurants and nightlife, yet there’s also a beautiful botanical garden to escape to nearby. The city centre is also easily accessible from this area.

Accommodation choices in Hanoi

Hotels in Hanoi offer accommodation to suit a range of budgets. There are many good Hanoi hotels so you are spoiled for choice, it’s just a question of deciding which area and facilities are right for you. The 5 star Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, in the historical centre, is a luxury option. The hotel includes three restaurants, a spa and an outdoor pool. The 3 star Amorita Boutique hotel, near Hoan Kiem lake in the historical centre, is a mid-price choice with free Wi-Fi, minibars in rooms and cable TV. Also situated near Hoan Kiem lake, the Gecko Hotel offers 3 star low-budget accommodation, including free Wi-Fi, cable TV and a restaurant.

What to do during your stay in Hanoi

Hanoi isn’t known as the city of lakes for nothing — it has over 100 to enjoy, both natural and manmade. Three of the main ones are the Hoan Kiem lake (Sword lake), famous for the islet at the centre of its waters that hosts Tortoise Tower (also known as Turtle Tower), a site linked to an ancient legend. The magical Thien Quang lake is known for being a particularly romantic spot due to its floral aromas, while beautiful West lake is close to three villages famous for flower growing, plus Hanoi Botanical Garden, Tran Quoc Pagoda and Tay Ho Temple.

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is a former royal enclosure that is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. South of this citadel is the 11th century Temple of Literature, dedicated to the Chinese sage Confucious. It’s home to the Imperial Academy university and is a fascinating site of statues, pavilions and gardens. Other main attractions in Hanoi include the Perfume Pagoda, a huge area of Buddhist temples and shrines built into the Huong Tich mountains, the historic Long Bien bridge across the Red river, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the former Hoa Lo Prison and the Museum of Vietnamese Women. Bustling Dong Xuan market is a haven for street foods, while the red and gold Bach Ma temple is said to be the oldest in the city and was originally built in honour of a horse. For an evening of entertainment you may want to head to the Hanoi Opera House. Built in the early 1900s, it’s considered to be an architectural highlight of the city.

Attractions outside of the city include Halong Bay, home to over 2,000 islands, and Cuc Phuong National Park, which is Vietnam’s largest nature reserve and based in the Red river delta.

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