Hanoi - our lowdown on Vietnam's second city
Combining canary-yellow French palaces with colourful and chaotic market streets dating back to the imperial dynasties, Hanoi is the place to soak up the atmosphere of old Vietnam.
Imagine the quintessentially chaotic Asian city, with scooters weaving between pedestrians beneath a tangle of power lines, and it’s quite possible you’re imagining Hanoi.
In contrast to the more modern, international feel of Saigon’s city centre, Hanoi still retains the flavour of Vietnam in the early twentieth century. This is particularly true of its Old Quarter, where rows of old-fashioned guild shops sell everything from copper pots to cakes, while live music drifts out of grungy bars into alleys crowded with plastic stools and street-food carts.
Hanoi isn't short on impressive monuments (the 11th century Temple of Literature and Ho Chi Minh’s brutalist mausoleum are two very different, but equally impressive, examples), but for us the Vietnamese capital is really all about soaking up the atmosphere of an old-style Asian city. It’s about getting up early for a syrupy egg coffee (yes, we said egg) while old ladies practise t’ai chi around Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s about staying up late to drink beers and eat bun cha barbecued pork with the locals. It’s about meeting people and getting to know the culture, whether that means exploring the morning food markets with a local chef or cutting-edge contemporary art with a young curator.
However you choose to experience it, it’s not hard to crack through Hanoi’s hard shell and into its warm and welcoming heart.