10 Ways to See Hanoi
Hanoi celebrated its 1000th birthday on 10/10/10. For those who want to catch the essence of this venerable city's character, here are ten tempting activities to keep you busy there.
1. Slurp down a bowl of pho
Vietnam's cuisine is nutritious, attractive and extremely diversified. The national dish pho (pronounced 'fur'), generally eaten for breakfast, is a case in point. There are thousands of variations of this noodle soup, with an endless range of herbs and spices added to the broth. So head for a street food stall, point at a steaming bowl of noodle soup, squat on a midget-sized stool and get slurping.
2. Take a walk round Hoan Kiem Lake
Few cities can boast a tranquil lake in their geographical center, much less one bordered by shady trees. In the lake are two of the city's most photographed attractions -- the Tortoise Tower and the bright-red The Huc Bridge, which are also illuminated at night. However, the most atmospheric time for a 30-minute stroll round its perimeter is at dawn, when it bustles with joggers and t'ai chi practitioners.
3. Take a ride in a cyclo round the Old Quarter
It seems appropriate to explore one of the city's oldest areas using one of the city's oldest forms of transport -- the 'cyclo', or bicycle taxi. Passengers sit in front of the rider, allowing an unobstructed view of the congested streets, but you'll need nerves of steel at the junctions where vehicles fly at you from all directions.
4. Stroll past colonial mansions in the French Quarter
While the Old Quarter is all commerce and frantic activity, the French Quarter is a quieter area of tree-lined boulevards and beautifully restored mansions hidden behind tall hedges. This classy corner of town is also home to some of Hanoi's trendiest restaurants and bars.
5. Take time out in the Temple of Literature
If there's one ancient building you have to see in Hanoi, it's the Temple of Literature -- a sanctuary of Confucianism and Vietnam's seat of learning for almost 1000 years. Admire the elaborate gateways, the swooping tiled roofs, the trim lawns and tranquil pond, then enjoy a performance of traditional music in the Music Room.
6. Pay your respects to Uncle Ho
It is impossible to overestimate the influence of Ho Chi Minh on his homeland, and a visit to his mausoleum is both an unusual and moving experience. Dress respectfully for the occasion, and sense the adulation for Vietnamese's foremost hero among the constant stream of visitors.
7. Delve into Vietnamese history
Few countries have gone through such a turbulent history as Vietnam, and the best place to get an overview is at the History Museum, which began life as L'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Oriente in the 1930s. The exhibits include dioramas of battle scenes, paintings of the imperial court and images of a young Ho Chi Minh.
8. Get off the tourist trail
As with any capital city, the real culture of Hanoi is to be found in the backstreets, not the tourist areas, where everything can appear staged. So wander away from the city center, equipped with a phrase book and camera, and make a few new friends.
9. Go shopping for silk and traditional crafts
There are plenty of shops and boutiques with eye-catching window displays where you can spend your dong on a range of traditional crafts and textiles. Silk is a great buy, and comes in a dazzling range of colours, while other neat souvenirs are water puppets and propaganda posters.
10. Watch a water puppet performance
Operated by a complex system of levers and pulleys, these aquatic buffoons are a unique form of Vietnamese entertainment. The sketches, which involve dragons slicing through the water and maidens dancing on the surface, keep audiences rapt and performances are accompanied by traditional musicians.