If Saigon is the frenetic, commercial heartbeat of Vietnam, then verdant and historic Hanoi is the sedate, intellectual soul of the country. Its leafy boulevards, serene lakes and sweeping white French colonial architecture set the scene as tourists and locals go about their business at a pleasingly civilised pace.
Most travellers base themselves in the central Hoan Kiem District, in the vicinity of lovely Hoan Kiem Lake, whose pathways and surrounding greenery is the site of much activity as the sun rises. Don’t be surprised to see graceful schools of tai chi-ers moving as one as the sun rises, and Hanoi health fanatics doing jogging laps before work. As the day falls, couples stroll there for privacy and children wrap-up their games.
Northwest of the lake is the legendary Old Quarter with its winding alleyways and hundreds of quaint shops, guesthouses, galleries, and places to eat. Tourists flock into locals' establishments, open long after the doors have shut elsewhere in the city. It’s also crammed with temples and monuments to ponder over between eating and shopping.
Ba Dinh District, to the west of the lake, is the place to head for a little historic enlightenment – The Mausoleum, the Museum of Ho Chi Minh and the Hanoi Old Citadel all reside there – and the Old French Quarter, south of the lake, will transport you back to the days before the French realised that the Vietnamese were a force to be reckoned with. Upscale restaurants, hotels and embassies now occupy the stunning white villas.Read More