Hoan Kiem Lake
Along with being the cultural center of Hanoi, from predawn until about 6 to 7am, the lake becomes something like an Olympic training camp. Going along the walking paths and wide road that circles the lake, hoards of locals work up a sweat, taking advantage of the morning cool and greeting the day with, as a Vietnamese friend put it, "a breath of fire." Groups doing calisthenics and light aerobics to loud taped music stand next to ranks of white-clad, slow-moving tai chi practitioners, martial arts groups, and even ballroom-dancing clubs. Joggers and speed-walkers circle the lake, and you'll spot solo exercisers doing all kinds of strange contortions or practicing meditation.
Join in! It's a great way to start the day and get into the rhythm of Hanoi life (you'll be wanting a siesta after lunch, like most locals), and it's a unique time when you can travel anonymously, unharried by sellers in the park. You always find someone going your speed, and if solo at the beginning, you're sure to meet up with friendly locals along the way. Hoan Kiem at dawn is a real scene and a great place for people-watching and a little morning wake-up. It's a similar scene near the Botanical Gardens and in Thong Nhat Park (formerly Lenin Park) overlooking Bay Mau Lake in the south end of town. Get your run in before 6:30am, though, when traffic starts to snarl.
Bicycles are easily rented from almost any hotel for about $1 a day, and though Hanoi motorbike traffic is chaos defined, you can pick your way through traffic and see more of town with your own wheels. Take extreme caution.
Spas & Fitness
The fitness center at Metropole Hotel (tel. 04/3826-6919), has top-end equipment, a sauna, and a Jacuzzi, with day rates for nonguests.
Vietnam hasn't quite run with the ball in Asia's current spa revolution, but most hotels offer basic massage services, and the larger upmarket properties have deluxe spas. Try the Metropole, the Caravelle, the New World, or the Sheraton.
Small massage storefronts (the nonseedy variety) are all over town. Affordable and convenient to the town center for a rest while shopping or exploring the city is the second-floor Thanh Gia (38 Le Thai To St.; tel. 04/3828-8196), where a 30-minute neck and shoulder massage costs just $5. It's open daily from 11am to 11pm.
QT Salon and Spa offers good massage and beauty services from its two locations: 26-28 Le Thai To, on the western edge of Hoan Kiem lake (tel. 04/3928-6116), and on the second floor of the Hilton Hotel.
For hair and nail treatments for ladies, look for Andre at the Y-Not? Salon, near Nha Tho Cathedral (1A Nha Chung St.; tel. 04/3928-5198).
King's Island Golf Resort and Country Club is just 35km (22 miles) north of Hanoi and offers your best chance to hit the links near Vietnam's capital. A fine international course is set among the Ba Vi Mountains, and the club (open to visitors) has a whole range of services, from bungalow rentals to good pro services, equipment rentals, and dining. The course is in the town of Son Tay in Ha Tay Province. Call for reservations in Hanoi at tel. 034/686-555 or 04/3772-3160.
Chi Linh Star Golf and Country Club is just east of King's Island, some 68km (42 miles) from Hanoi, on the road to Haiphong. The club recently hosted the Carlsberg Masters Open. With two fine courses, Chi Linh also offers a host of services and welcomes day guests. It costs just $55 for 18 holes on a weekday and $75 on the weekend. Contact the office in Hanoi at tel. 04/3771-9006, or book through the useful website www.chilinhstargolf.com.vn.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.