The capital of Vietnam, Hà Nội, is a bustling metropolis with plenty of motorbikes to watch for when crossing the street. Somehow, through the anarchy of traffic, locals and intrepid visitors can quickly fall into the rhythm and cross safely to try local eateries. Sidewalks are littered with low-level seats and plenty of noodle bowls, spring rolls and green leaves. Brush up on your Vietnamese to know what type of meat you are eating if you want to avoid acceptable local alternatives such as dog meat. In the evening, the sidewalks seem to expand with locals sprawling out with food and beer as they socialize together.
Autumn is the most beautiful time of year to visit. The trees turn into stunning orange and yellow hues, the perfect time to stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake.
Remnants of French colonial architecture are visible in colorful buildings, small in width, long in depth, with arched windows and verandas. This architecture is also visible in the Presidential Palace, which Ho Chi Minh refused to live in after a brief period and, instead, lived in the servants' quarters located in the back. Tourists can visit the Palace Botanical Gardens to see both quarters.
Many visitors wait in line to see the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh (aka Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh or Uncle Ho), which was constructed in his honor, but ironically against his wishes
Highlights from Hanoi
- Take a stroll around Hoàn Kiếm Lake and spot the endangered soft-shell turtles rumored to live in the water.
- Đồng Xuân Market is an indoor market found at the northern end of the street by the same name. Dong Xuan street becomes a night market on the weekend (Friday-Sunday) without the intimidating daytime traffic.
- Learn more about Ho Chi Minh by visiting the Mausoleum or Museum.
- Many locations sporting the same name, but the Temple of Literature in Hanoi is the most famous and recommended.
- Relax by visiting the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater in the evening. Tickets may need to be purchased in advance.
Hints and Tips for Hanoi
- If you buy a tour to nearby areas such as Halong Bay or Sapa, compare with various tour operators. Offers available in most hotels tend to be more expensive. Some say this is a scam while hotel employees may argue that tour operators can afford lower prices due to bulk sales. As a foreigner, you will probably be overcharged more than once. Along these lines, be wary of scams.
- You may have to apply for a visa in advance depending on your nationality. Some tourists claim visa websites can be used, however, there are many reports of online scams, so the most secure route is visiting an embassy.
- Pay attention when crossing the streets. You may find some cross-streets with traffic lights, but you'll probably have to cross a hectic street sooner or later if you want to explore. One of the best ways to get the hang of it is by copying locals and keeping your eyes and ears open.
- Prepare for a sweltering summer and freezing winter. A warm jacket, scarf, hat and water-proof shoes are worthwhile during the November-March winter that can take unprepared travelers by surprise (this advice is doubled if you are heading to Halong Bay or anywhere on the eatern coast).
- There is a saying that "Vietnam is a country, not a war!" It is advised to keep this in mind when speaking of Vietnamese history, politics or its current state as a much more peaceful country, maybe with the exception of motorbikes.