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Vietnam’s graceful capital is steeped in history, atmosphere and culture. It has the characteristic buzz and energy of Vietnamese cities, but not to the frenzied degree of Ho Chi Minh city. French-style boulevards lead to lakes where locals gather to catch-up over coffee, practise t’ai chi or play chess. Leafy lanes filled with ancient pagodas and architectural delights mingle amongst hotels, shops and restaurants ranging from traditional to modern. The heart of Hanoi is its historic Old Quarter with its maze of historic streets brimming to bursting point with hawkers, shops, Pho and street food stalls; local-style cafes and beer joints, temples and of course motorbikes weaving around the mayhem and parked all over the narrow sidewalks. Historic and cultural highlights include Hoan Kiem Lake, home to a legendary turtle who’s over 100 years old, and the ancient Ngoc Son Temple that sits a top the lake; the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where you can pay the respects to the nation’s beloved former leader; the National Museum of Vietnamese History where intriguing ancient collections are housed in elegant architecture that fuses Chinese and French design; Hoa Lo Prison Museum, infamously named the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ where US POWs were detained during the War; and the serene Temple of Literature, dating back to 1070 and where Vietnam’s first university was founded.
Hanoi is famous for its sensational street food and an essential part of your Hanoi experience is to hit the street stalls of the Old Quarter to sample the best local (Pho and Bun Cha) and regional specialties. For those who prefer to sample street-food style favourites or international fare in more stylish eateries, Hanoi doesn’t disappoint, it has an excellent selection of dining options to suit every taste and budget.
As is expected of a capital city, Hanoi has a lively nightlife scene (although most places shut at 12 due to an enforced curfew), ranging from street-side Bia Hoi joints, beer clubs and cafes to Western-style pubs, bars and clubs.