Think it's all tin hats and Jane Fonda? Think again. Though it’s not the quiet, tranquil capital of yore, this enchanting historic gem is bursting with French colonial architecture, Confucian values, Buddhist temples, socialist art, romantic atmosphere, great food and fabulous shopping. Just watch those motorbikes!
Taking Hoan Kiem Lake as the centre, the French Quarter lies to the south and south west, north is the bustling Old Quarter, residential nabe Tay Ho flanks West Lake to the north west, and west is Ba Dinh, home to Uncle Ho. Right, off with you...
Need to Know
- Getting Around: Quickest way around town is by motorcycle. Pop on a helmet – it’s the law. And to cross the road, step out like Moses, and behold, the red moped sea will part before thee. Tarry not at the curb, lest thou grow old and incontinent
- Cash is King: Dollar vs dong, it’s all money, honey
- Street food: Some of the finest food in Hanoi is found roadside, though you’ll have to mind the non-existent decor and sometimes brusque service. If you want the best buns, banhs and pho Hidden Hanoi (see Activities) runs excellent street-food tours for brekkie, lunch or dinner.
- Pickpockets: Beware of light-fingered rogues, especially around New Year – keep your hand on your dong
- Hawkers: Ignore them completely. One word from you will unleash a discourse on why you MUST buy
- Service: Food, service and hospitality can be patchy, but they are improving so be patient, Patty
- Tet: aka Lunar New Year – happens between mid-Jan and mid-Feb. Lots of shops close, but the lead up is fun. Have an out-of-town escape plan for the down days.
- Art Scene: Rapidly developing, though not always for the best. Make sure you are getting the real deal, not a shameless rip-off.
- Feel Good Retail: Mekong Plus (the amalgamation of Mekong Quilts and Mekong Creations) offers fabulous handmade quilts and cushion plus nifty prods, with proceeds benefitting not just the 340 female employees, but the wider community too via micro-financing, scholarships, and health, hygiene and agricultural education programs