Hanoi is one of Asia’s most visually exciting cities. The capital is home to Vietnam’s best museums and some of its most important monuments. But the real draw is its street life - a frenetic clash of old and new set amidst the narrow lanes of the old quarter and tree lined boulevards peppered with fading relics of French empire.
Museums are not Vietnam’s strong suit but the capital is home to the best of an underwhelming national collection. The Vietnam History Museum is a good place to get your head around thousands of years of history without much focus on the war that dominates most other museums. Its setting in one of the city’s most dramatic French colonial buildings is also impressive.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum, close by his mausoleum in Ba Dinh square, was a Soviet sponsored dedication to Uncle Ho that was completed just as the Soviet Union was collapsing. It’s a must for museum buffs.
Hoa Lo, also known as the Hanoi Hilton is another worthwhile museum stop. Renowned as the prison where US POWs, including US Senator John McCain, were held during the Vietnam War, the French also made good use of it holding some of Vietnam’s most celebrated national leaders here in barbaric conditions.
Hanoi's war museum is a good place to see some well earned crowing about the country's modern military achievements.
The city's old quarter teems with atmosphere. Cast your eyes above the crammed shopfronts for a glimpse of the traditional houses of the the 36 guild based streets. Walk amidst the grand edifices of the French quarter and explore Ba Dinh Square with its museums and imposing colonial era government buildings. A visit to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in the heart of the square is an inescapable rite for visitors.
Hoan Kiem Lake is Hanoi’s spiritual heart and a great spot for an early morning or late afternoon walk as the city gets its daily hit of exercise.
Hanoi is where Vietnam's story begins and the city confidently asserts itself as the centre from which political and cultural power radiates. The locals will be sure to tell you as much.
You can easily spend two or three days wandering, eating and visiting Hanoi’s sights. It’s also the staging point for travel north to Sapa, Halong Bay, Mai Chau, Hoa Lu and the Perfume Pagoda.
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