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The distinctive and enchanting personality of Hanoi is one of a kind. Hanoi is made up of a unique integration between 21st-century innovation, tradition, resilience, and turbulence. Hanoi City continues to evolve to this day.

Hanoi, translated to mean “between rivers” in English, was granted its existing name from Minh Mang, the Nguyen Emperor in 1831. Shortly afterward, the French invaded Hanoi, and in 1940, the Imperial Japanese followed suit. Ho Chi Minh declared independence from the invading forces in 1945 in his infamous speech.

In 1946, the French came back to Hanoi to reoccupy it. In the 1950s, the French rule imposed was overthrown. The European influence on the city remains in cuisine, arts, literature, architecture. Even French-style villas remain, although the era’s depreciated paintwork is starting to show its age.

In 1954, Hanoi reclaimed their independence. This peace only lasted for a year as the city served as a battlefield between the Americans and the Vietnamese, a war that lasted between 1955 and 1975. The wreckage and devastation Hanoi endured were inconsolable, however, the ambitious, creative, and resilient citizens of Vietnam tirelessly worked to restructure their native land. While the repercussions of the wars haven’t gone away, Hanoi has developed significantly over the last several decades.

Today, Hanoi is a dynamic and diverse union of 21st-century ideals and traditional customs. A bevy of motorcycles are ridden past the temples and along the peaceful lakes. Remarkable French colonial structures integrate with narrow, tall Vietnamese homes in the Old Quarter. The mesmerizing buildings loom over the outskirts of the city.

In one regard, the dichotomy seems to separate the generations, however, the integration between eras distinguishes Hanoi from other towns.

Hoan Kiem Lake - Hanoi
Hoan Kiem Lake - The Symbol of Hanoi

See & Do

At sunrise, the city awakens as the locals gather around the outskirts of Hoan Kiem Lake to start their day practicing mild Tai Chi. Momentum is built with each passing minute until the entire area is abuzz with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Motorcycles ride around the lake while shoppers go back and forth from cafes to stalls to markets. Vendors sell their goods from baskets on bicycles. The only calmness during sunrise to sunset is the large Loc Vung trees situated along the lake’s edge, which shield inhabitants from the sun’s intense rays.

A brief stroll from the lake is the breathtaking Old Quarter, which embodies Hanoian tradition. At this place, each narrow alley and curved road is a path for something new to explore. The merchants have wares you can purchase, and the market allows you to bargain your way to a fair price. Your ears will be abuzz with a mix of a live orchestra, birds singing, and conversations among the locals. Patrons spill out to the roads as the crowds get bigger. The various structures that are built on top one another are surrounded by liveliness; you’ll notice lush green vegetation falling from the walls.

Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi Old Quarter

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long became part of the UNESCO Heritage List in 2010. With roots traced to the year 1010, this amalgam of structures, palaces, and gates at one timed housed the Vietnamese court (prior to its relocation to Hue). During the wars, most of the town’s structures were ruined. Now that peace is at hand, several of the ancient buildings can still be seen standing tall in Hanoi. One of these landmarks is the Hanoi Flag Tower. Located on Dien Bien street, this resilient building honors Hanoi’s history as it flies the Vietnamese flag.

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long - Hanoi
The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – Hanoi

Another place to explore Vietnamese culture and history is at the Museum of Ethnology. Various regions of regular life in Vietnam are showcased in this exhibit, specifically all 54 unique ethnic minority communities in the country. At the museum, you can learn about native traditions through photos, models, video footage, and artifacts.

Visitors can get a sense of the respect given to the revolution’s leader with a trip to the Ho Chi Minh Complex, a tribute to the beloved ‘Uncle Ho.’ Patrons can enter Ba Dinh Square, which is the area Ho Chi Minh declared independence in the mid-forties. You can check out Ho Chi Min’s Mausoleum and visit the memorable leader’s resting place. Thousands of Vietnamese residents pay homage to him each day on this spot.

A popular activity for children is the Water Puppet Theatre. Expertly-crafted wooden puppets are used as props to perform entertaining anecdotes about rural Vietnam life. Each performance is paired with live singers and musicians. The wittiness of the shows made them enjoyable for all audiences.

In the daytime, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about Quang Ba Flower Market, as it resides along the edge of a street. At nighttime, though, this market allures a lively bunch, the atmosphere filled with vibrant colors and the scent of freshly-cut flowers. The salespeople’s bicycles are filled with piles of flowers alongside the thin isles between stalls. It is impressive to see how they skillfully escape contact with passersby, taking into consideration how narrow these paths are. The market’s outer lane has several local restaurants, and though they look small in stature, the servings offered are plentiful.

Culture & Arts

The art scene in Hanoi has been through several transformations over the years. You can view detailed paintings and sculptures from the 11thto 14thcenturies, or ceramics and wooden craftwork from the 15thto the 18thcenturies. You can even view 19thand 20th-century European artwork. The Hanoi Museum of Fine arts brings tourists on a trip back in time, chronicling the art scene’s ongoing evolution. The Grand Old Building, which used to be an all-female educational institute, provides background on what life is like in Vietnam from the perspective of several gifted athletes.

While in Hanoi, you will eventually come across traditional Buddhist temples and pagodas honoring Buddhist tradition and Vietnamese culture. To get a sense of tranquility from the hustle and bustle in the streets, this is the place to be. Check out the gorgeous Tran Quoc Pagota, or talk a walk on Hoan Kiem Lake’s infamous red bridge. You will likely cross paths with Jade Mountain Temple (aka Ngoc Son Temple) resting calmly on its island.

Constructed in the 11thcentury, the Temple of Literature is a complex devoted to the famous scholar, Confucius. It played host to Vietnam’s first national university, and today, is a tribute to art and literature. Its stunning green garden and architecture are a source of inspiration from some of Vietnam’s most brilliant minds.


The temple of literature - Hanoi
The temple of literature - Hanoi

Festivals & Events

Each weekend, the Old Quarter’s streets are sectioned off – motorcycles can’t pass through so that people on foot can explore the night market. The market goes from Dong Xuan Market to Hoan Kiem Lake. You will find a wide variety of deals from stalls that cascade down the road. There are musical performances on the roads with large audiences surrounding them. Ta Hien and Ma May is where most people to escape from the hectic market street walkways.

Tet, which is short for Tet Nguyen Dan, is a very important Vietnamese culture celebration. It marks the start of the new lunar year. Vietnamese residents across the country prepare extensively for for the pending celebrations. Taking place at the start of February (or as early as the end of January), this vibrant festival goes on for a few days on average, sometimes even for a full week, if not more! People have fun interacting with family, tasting various dishes, and engaging in social activities. New Year’s Eve, much like with most western cultures, is celebrated outdoors. On this night, people offer items to the gods in exchange for a coming year of prosperity.

February is also the month another festival takes place in Hanoi – the Co Loa Festival, which lasts for ten days during the first lunar month (starting on the 6th). Taking place in the Dong Anh region and hosted at the An Duong Vuong Temple, you can hear about the story of the King of Au Lac, An Duong, who carried an otherworldly crossbow. There are plenty of vibrant decorations and isles of high-ranking leaders seen during this ceremony. The captivating rituals, which involves an incense offering, are passed from one generation to the next. The festival comes to a close on the lunar month’s 16thday marked by a fireworks show and performances involving martial arts, flag dancing, wrestling, and human chess.

Co Loa Citadel - Hanoi
Co Loa Citadel – Hanoi

The Snake Festival is another special event that takes place in Hanoi, specifically in Le Mat, Long Bien. The legend involves a princess captured by a giant water snake. Activities involve natives catching carp by jumping into the lake and an intricate snake dance with a reenactment of the snake legend.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a family-friendly event that takes place on the eighth lunar month’s 15thday. This fascinating gathering attracts a flow of people to the roads shopping for vibrant carp lanterns. Others are there to see the lively lion dances that always draw a large crowd. Weeks ahead of the festival, you will notice several stalls making their way to the area to sell conventional moon cakes. These tasty rice sweets tend to be exclusive to the Mid-Autumn Festival, making them quite sought after.

Food & Drink

Hanoi’s primary attraction is also one of its most unique. You will be surrounded by colorful local produce. You will see vendors serving street-meat across from women carrying baskets of cakes and fresh fruit. There’s plenty to eat and drink in Hanoi!

A beloved dish in Hanoi is Bun Cha. It consists of vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, pork strips, and patties. This dish is particularly savory courtesy of its fish-based broth. The sweet and sour taste will have you clamoring for more.

Pho is another Vietnamese food mainstay. Although there are slight variations in the dish based on where you eat it from. Hanoian Pho is served hot, and the broth itself is somewhat transparent in comparison to the way it’s served further down south. The dish is often sold by several of the side-road restaurants. Just follow the aromatic scent in the air to find some!

The coffee in Vietnam is in a league of its own. You can find a steaming brew just about everywhere, including trendy bars, cafes, and road stands. Once the scent leaves the windows and doors of these cafes, your nostrils will be tempted to have a cup. Vietnamese citizens have their own way of making coffee – a phin, which is a metal filter, is used to prepare the dark, creamy taste of the beverage. There are several ways to enhance the coffee when it’s ready – viscous condensed milk being the most popular addition to it around here. Egg coffee is another tradition in Vietnam. This elegant dessert-style coffee comes with an egg yolk mixed with condensed milk.

At nighttime, Hanoi comes alive. The main roads flicker from fairly lights crossing over each other. The best places to take in the view is at Bia Corner, which is on Ta Hein street and Ma May. Local Bia Hoi can be consumed at his spot, and best of all, it’s inexpensive, light, and freshly brewed. You will be sipping on one cup after another all night, it’s so good. Motorcycles have narrow pathways to get through because of all the plastic chairs from bars spreading out to the streets, that’s how popular this place becomes at night. The sound of the crowd goes from a light murmur to an explosion of chatter. There are live musical performances from all kinds of artists at these bars, particularly on weekends when the night market is expanded (via road closures in the central town).

Bun Cha Hanoi
Bun Cha Hanoi

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