Hanoi is often thought of as a bright light for Asian cities, and with good reason. Through the country’s breakneck development the city’s historical remnants have survived, reflected in its landscape and culture. Many travelers enjoy Hanoi as the city has a palpable energy that courses through the streets.
The French influence is also abundantly clear here, more so than in other places, from the city layout and architecture to the croissants and baguettes on sale, and Hanoi is a rich location for street photography.
The city’s history is perhaps most colorfully reflected in the Old Quarter. Here streets are densely packed, which adds to the appeal, and is a tribute to the character of the neighborhood. The road names indicate the shops you’ll find on them and each name begins with ‘Hang’ (meaning ‘shop’) followed by the good being sold (such as ‘Gai’, meaning silk). This is a great place to get lost in the chaos, and shop by trade as opposed to the department store model most people are accustomed to.
Food is also a highlight and an assortment of intriguing eateries dot the street fronts, and you can also find upper end dining in Hanoi with a view on top of the city’s few high-rise buildings. The Hanoi Fountain on the roundabout in the center of the quarter is the focal point for the many national celebrations as well as the weekly night market occurring every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday which is a great way to spend an evening.
The Temple of Literature
Dedicated to scholars and writers and built in 1070, this temple is actually a temple complex that features a range of interesting attractions such as the romantically named ‘Lake of Literature’ and a number of courtyards. Also of note is the Steale of Doctors where visitors will find 82 turtles carved from blue stone and considered holy creatures in Vietnam. In the days of old visitors thought it lucky to pat the turtles on the head in the hopes that some of their magic would rub off, although sadly this is no longer allowed in order to stop the stonework from being eroded.
Hoan Kiem Lake
In keeping with the theme of turtles, as you wander around Hanoi there is a lake in the Hoan Kiem district believed to be a holy place that is home to a mythical turtle made famous by a Vietnamese legend. The turtle is said to still inhabit the lake and there are sightings from time to time, although with many real turtles now also in residence it may well be a case of mistaken identity. Visitors enjoy the tranquility and serenity that surrounds the lake which is also famous for changing color throughout the day, making it the perfect spot for an afternoon walk.
Hanoi has a lot of style and panache about it, with a definite French influence mixed with a fully Vietnamese vibe that makes it a highlight of the north of Vietnam and visitors often find that it is one of the places they enjoy the most out of the entire country. Much of it can be visited on foot which only adds to its charm and the old parts of the city are a reminder of how Hanoi would have been years ago.