Hanoi, Vietnam’s second largest city and the country’s capital is located in the north of the country, in the heart of the Red River delta.
It is far slower in pace than Ho Chi Minh City, and has retained an old world charm, where ancient buildings mix with French colonial architecture and modern skyscrapers. It combines Eastern, Western, Chinese and French influences.
Hanoi was founded in 1010, and celebrates its 1,000th anniversary in October 2010. In 1888 it was the center of government of the Indochina Union under the French. In 1954 it was made capital of the independent Vietnam.
The lively capital has many facets, the Old Quarter with a maze of narrow alleys, the French Colonial Quarter with stately villas and grand boulevards, the historic Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, as well as numerous parks and lakes.
The city provides a great base for further exploration of northern Vietnam, for example Halong Bay, a famous UNESCO natural wonder with unusual limestone islets emerging from the green waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, the fertile Red River Delta, and the pristine Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam’s oldest and largest natural reserve.
Hanoi has a humid tropical climate, under the influence of South and Northeast monsoons. Summers, lasting from May to September, are hot and humid with the highest temperatures reaching 35°C with frequent showers. Winters (November to March) are dry and can be quite cold, with the lowest temperatures around 8°C. Springtime is characterized by light rainfall.
The hottest month is June and the coolest is January. The nicest weather in Hanoi is in autumn and beginning of winter. The humidity is lower and the weather is perfect.
January average temperature 16 deg Celsius 20 mm rainfall February average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 28 mm rainfall March average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 46 mm rainfall April average temperature 24 deg Celsius, 91 mm rainfall May average temperature 27 deg Celsius, 183 mm rainfall June average temperature 29 deg Celsius, 229 mm rainfall July average temperature 30 deg Celsius, 257 mm rainfall August average temperature 29 deg Celsius, 297 mm rainfall September average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 251 mm rainfall October average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 147 mm rainfall November average temperature 21 deg Celsius, 46 mm rainfall December average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 13 mm rainfall
Noi Bai International Airport lies 35 km north of downtown. Note that Hanoi is served by fewer direct flights than Ho Chi Minh City.
Taxi: taxis can be hired at the airport but be clear and persistent about your destination as the driver may want to drop you at a hotel of their choice where they take a commission. Public bus: a ride takes an hour and costs 5,000 dong. Shuttle buses cost $2 (or 30,000 dong).
Taxis are the easiest and safest transportation in the city; however make sure the meter is on.
PEDICAB / CYCLO
Pedicabs are useful for shorter trips and can be flagged down anywhere. Note that most drivers don’t speak English. It is best to agree on the price before the ride.
Public buses are very cheap but crowded and slow. They can be difficult to use if you are not familiar with the language.
CAR/ MOTORBIKE RENTAL
Renting a car is a good option, especially as they come with a driver who can maneuver in the chaotic city traffic. Motorbikes are another story. You should be extremely careful when driving, as there are many motorbike accidents involving tourists. Park the motorbike on the sidewalk and lock the front wheel.
Crossing a street can be a daunting experience. The best way is to follow the locals and proceed slowly and steadily into the road.
Halong Bay is a true natural wonder where unusual limestone islets emerge from the green waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. These dramatic rock formations were created by wind and wave erosion, and are resplendent with sea caves and grottoes, many containing stalagmites and stalactites. The best known cave is Hang Dau Go, a large grotto with strange rock formations. The Cat Ba Island is also a must for visitors. Half the island is a national park where one of the world's rarest primates, the golden-headed langur lives in its natural habitat. The bay lies 160 km from Hanoi, covering an area of over 900 square kilometers. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and with over 3,000 limestone islands and islets it is the world’s largest karst seascape. The best way to experience this breathtaking beauty is by taking any number of cruises available from nearby Halong City. Note that the bay is wrapped in misty fogs from February to April, which can make it even more mysterious or …not there at all.
THE RED RIVER DELTA
The Red River Delta is a fertile rice-growing region with lush green riverside fields. Travel off the beaten path by renting a bicycle to explore the countryside and visit little handicraft villages, pagodas and rice fields. Day trips can be booked through local agencies.
CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK
The Cuc Phuong National Park was established in 1964 and is Vietnam’s oldest national park and largest national reserve, located in the province of Ninh Bionh, 120km southwest of Hanoi. The park encompasses a vast expanse of wilderness and is home to an important primate rescue and reintroduction program – making it the most important biodiversity site in Vietnam. The park combines rich cultural and wildlife heritage and stunning scenery, where magnificent limestone mountains rise up from the green rice-terraces. You can also observe the traditional stilt houses of the Muong hill-tribe.
Hanoi’s French Quarter is marked by grand boulevards and elegant French colonial buildings. The quarter’s main thoroughfare is Trang Tien, a busy shopping street with numerous cafés, bookshops, art galleries and hotels. The area features the stately Opera House, which is based on the Paris Opera House. Not far from there is Hanoi's Museum of History, which offers a good overview of Vietnam’s history from prehistoric times to the end of the Second World War. The building’s architecture is a striking mixture of French Colonialism and Vietnamese elements.
Address: Hoan Kiem District
The old quarter is home to arts and crafts shops that have been there for a thousand years. The area consists of 36 meandering streets that used to be canals, but were filled by the French colonists. The streets were named according to the original trades practiced there – Hang Ma (votive decorations), Hang Gai (Silk Street), Hang Thiec (Tin Street), Hang Dong (Bronze Street), etc. This is a good place to hunt for souvenirs, as well as good eating, with many restaurants offering traditional Vietnamese as well as international cuisines. There are numerous temples and sacred sites dotted all around the area that are often overlooked and worth exploring.
CHO DONG XUAN MARKET
To the north of the Old Quarter lies the largest covered market in the city, Dong Xuan, which offers great shopping for fabrics and souvenirs. There is also a late night outdoor market offering traditional street food. The improvised pavement beer bars selling local fresh beer ‘bia hoi’ start in the late afternoon and are an ideal place to watch the world from a Vietnamese viewpoint.
THE TEMPLE OF LITERATURE
Address: Pho Van Mieu Phone: (04) 942 1061 Open: daily 7:30 am – 6:00 pm (summer) / 8:00 am – 5:00 pm (winter)
The Temple of Literature was established in 1070 and became the nation’s first university in 1076. It consists of a complex of buildings and courtyards and was once an exclusive establishment where Confucius’ principles were taught. In the third courtyard you can see 82 stone tablets mounted on tortoises, featuring the names of the graduates. The complex also features a Confucius temple.
Address: Ong Ich Kiem Street (Ba Dinh District) Open: daily, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
The famous One-Pillar Pagoda is located between the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Museum. It is a famous Buddhist temple, regarded as one of the most iconic temples in Vietnam. It was built by emperor Ly Thai Tong, to commemorate the long-awaited birth of an heir. The original pagoda was destroyed during the French War but was reconstructed in 1955.
HO CHI MINH MAUSOLEUM
Address: Ba Dinh Square Open: Tues.–Thurs. 7:30–10:30 am; Sat. and Sun.: 7:30–11 am
The Mausoleum features the embalmed body of the deceased Ho Chi Minh, exhibited to the public in a glass box. The building was modeled after Lenin’s Tomb in Moscow. It is situated in Ba Dinh Square, where Ho Chi Minh announced national independence in 1945 and is the site of the subsequent annual celebration.
HOA LO PRISON (HANOI HILTON)
Address: 1 Hoa Lo St (Hoan Kiem District) Phone: 84 4 824 6358 Open: Tues. – Sun.: 8:00 am - 11:30 am & 1:30 pm - 4:30 pm
The infamous prison was constructed by the French in 1896 for political prisoners but was taken over by the Vietnamese in 1954 to be used as a war prison during the Vietnam War. Only a portion of the original complex is preserved and features a guillotine room, the female prison, the political prison, and the courtyard that connects to the original tunnels used by the Vietnamese revolutionaries’ to escape in 1945.
Hanoi is a cosmopolitan city and offers a good selection of restaurants and cuisines from gourmet Vietnamese and classic French to Asian fusion. In general, Vietnamese cuisine is light, and based mostly on fresh vegetables with spicy sauces.
Street food is available almost everywhere. Most locals would eat at their favorite neighborhood vendor. The most frequent items at the stalls include Pho - noodle soup with either beef or chicken, cha ca - fish and rice noodles, and roast duck.
Sophisticates and expatriates usually dine later, after 7 pm. The up-market restaurants, especially those in the French Quarter expect patrons to dress well. Reservations are recommended on the weekends.
Here are a few recommendations for restaurants:
Address: 16 Nam Ngu Phone: 824-6097
This iconic restaurant is located in a beautiful old villa with an interior courtyard, facilitating indoor and outdoor dining. The dishes served here represent the best of local cuisine and are beautifully presented.
Cha Ca La Vong
Address: 14 Cha Ca Phone: 825-3929
The specialty of this restaurant is a noodle and fish dish cooked in a hot pot with dill.
Address: 14-16 Nha Tho Phone: 825-6334
This establishment is located near Hanoi's oldest cathedral and is characterized by a trendy atmosphere and a menu combining Western-style and Vietnamese food. It is a popular hangout for expatriates as well as locals.
Address: 23 Hai Ba Trung Phone: 826-7782
Other than the abundance of Asian food there are also many Western-style eateries to be found. This one offers good ribs, pizza and Mexican food.
Hanoi is the city of festivals. Most are associated with religion and faith. Some of Vietnam’s most important festivals take place in January.
Tet Nguyen Dan
It is considered the biggest festival and celebrates the Lunar New Year. It is celebrated for a whole week and is primarily a family holiday.
Dong Fa Festival
The festival celebrates the victory of King Quang Trung with various processions, games, competitions, war stories, colorful dragon fires and other activities.
Co Loa Festival
The Vietnamese celebrate the 5 elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth on the 6th day of Tet with musical performances and sacrifices, and adorn temples with colorful flags.
Date: October 10, 2010
On October 10, 2010 the city of Hanoi will celebrate its one thousandth anniversary. It will be a huge celebration, starting one month prior to the day.
Cow Racing Festival
The festival gives a glimpse into the ethnic culture of the country. It is celebrated annually on the last day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar and pays tribute to the forefathers. The Khmer people visit a pagoda and invite the spirits of the fore-fathers to join them for dinner. The festivities are accompanied by a meticulously-organized cow race, which is the central event of the celebration.
Hanoi starts partying early. Locals usually gather in the ‘bia hoi’, mini bars selling fresh beer, which appear after 5 pm on the city streets, especially in the Old Quarter around the junction of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen streets. During the weekdays, most places in the Old Quarter close down at midnight although other parts of town stay open longer. Nightclubs: Hanoi has only one nightclub which offers after-hours dancing - the Apocalypse Now club at 5C Hoa Ma. There is no cover charge but alcohol prices are inflated.
Cafés play an important role in Hanoi’s social life. Old and young gather there night and day to drink, smoke, talk, and watch the world go by. Vietnamese coffee is very strong. Many drink it on ice either with or without milk.
For traditional entertainment, see a Water Puppetry performance. The best venue is
The site of present-day Hanoi has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. In 1010 the emperor Ly Thai To pronounced it the capital, naming it Thang Long (Soaring Dragon) because he claimed to have seen a dragon fly out of the river. Hanoi became the hub of administration and home to the nation's first university, the Temple of Literature. It remained the capital of Vietnam until 1397 when the capital was moved to Thanh Hoa. In 1408 Vietnam was attacked by the Chinese but they were repelled in 1428. The city was renamed Dong Kinh (Eastern Capital), the name that the Europeans eventually applied to all of northern Vietnam (also pronounced as Tonkin.) In the 13th century the Old Quarter emerged as a maze of alleys, each named after the merchandise sold there. Despite freedom from Chinese rule the city was still in turmoil and border struggles with China continued. To add to the instability, the dynasties were shifting constantly. In 1802 Hanoi lost its capital status, as Emperor Gia Long united the northern territory and made Hue the new national capital. In 1831 the city was renamed Hanoi (the city in a bend of the river) by the emperor Tu Duc and downgraded to the status of a provincial capital. In 1848 France started a series of attacks on Vietnam to conquer it for commercial, strategic and religious expansion and in 1887 it became the capital of French Indochina. The French built colonial villas, tree-lined boulevards and their mark can still be seen in the city today.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
Anti-colonialism gave rise to discontented local organizations and the most successful opponents were the Communists. After the defeat of the Japanese in 1945, the Communists under Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in Hanoi's Ba Dinh Square. The French countered with a violent confrontation but after 8 years of guerilla warfare the Vietnamese celebrated victory over the French in 1954. After the Geneva Conference in July 1954, the French evacuated Hanoi and the city became the capital of North Vietnam. The country was partitioned into the Communist North and US-supported South. The 1956 general elections were supposed to reunite the country but were not held and hostilities escalated into full-fledged warfare, known as the American War. During the US bombardment of Hanoi between 1965 and 1968, three quarters of the population were evacuated from the area by the government. The city was left in ruins. In 1973 the US pulled out and in 1976 the Communists reunited North and South Vietnam to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with Hanoi as its capital. After the war much of the northern part of the country was ruled by a strict police state but by the 1980s Vietnam started opening up, allowing foreign investment and tourism started to develop.
The city is now starting to show the effects of foreign influence and continues to grow and expand.
Do not place chopsticks vertically in a bowl – it has strong connotations with death. Also, it is considered bad luck if you eat all the rice from your bowl – instead, you should leave a few grains for the gods as a way of showing thanks.
If eating with a family it is polite to wait until the oldest member starts eating. Remove your shoes when entering a religious site. Donations are expected when visiting pagodas and temples.
Do not wear shorts away from the beach. Ask permission before taking photos of people. Avoid public display of affection.
It is very disrespectful to touch someone’s head. Also, do not touch anyone on their shoulder. Items should be passed with both hands. Summoning someone with a finger is considered rude.
Hanoi is generally a safe destination; however, some precautions should be taken. Travelers are advised to be cautious when using public transportation, as it is easy to fall prey to thieves and pickpockets in the crowded terminals and buses. Take standard travel precautions before going out, such as not showing your money or leaving your purse, bags, or wallet unattended.
If you are in need of medical attention, ask to be taken to Hanoi French Hospital (HFH), which is the only international establishment in the city.
Traffic in Hanoi is very chaotic so be cautious when crossing roads and streets, especially around the Old Quarter. The best way is to cross the road walking slowly and steadily, or follow one of the locals.
Emergency Phone Numbers
Police 113 Fire Brigade 114 Ambulance 115 Hanoi French Hospital (04) 574 1111