Hectic, full-on and all-enveloping, Hanoi’s street life charges along at a relentless pace. With ‘Whacky Races’ style traffic, open-air street stalls and a constant bustle of noise and smells, you are swept up and spun round until you feel like some sort of whirling dervish.
My advice is to go with the flow and see where you end up. Located on the banks of the Red River – over 1,700 kms north of Saigon (Ho Chi Ming City) – the energy of Vietnam’s capital mixes all its history up in one outing. Fun, frenetic and sometimes frightening (especially when running, or riding, the moped gauntlet), the city offers up communist banners bearing red sickles, freshly baked baguettes, street-wok vegetable cook-ups, the faded French Quarter, roadside sport’s action, blaring political speeches and military insignia. And all this to the backdrop of a frantic collection of scooters, bicycles and buses – often massively overloaded.
Visiting the city’s classic tourist attractions is as much fun as parking up roadside and watching the world go by. On Nomadic Thoughts itineraries we always allow time to enjoy the exciting diversity of tourist attractions, as well as building in opportunities to experience the city’s local Southeast Asian, Chinese and colonial French cultures.
Despite recent modern developments across the wider metropolis areas, the Old Quarter in the heart of Hanoi retains its character with a maze of narrow streets and the Dồng Xuân Market. Whether travelling on two feet or four, or on wheels, you soon begin to appreciate the city’s 1,000 year old history, with its wide selection of temples, political memorials, museums, ancient citadels and fun theatre performances.
The Thang Long Citadel, at the centre of Hanoi, stands as a monument to Vietnam’s history and culture, and is recognised as a UNESCO Heritage Site. In contrast the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum allows for reflection on more recent times.
Additional favourites of mine also include the Temple of Literature, the French Quarter Opera House, the Temple of Literature and Perfume, and the Ly Quoc Su & Tran Quoc Pagodas. Furthermore, for a country recently in wars involving France, The USA, China and Russia, their proud collection of War Museums is impressive.
Be careful though. You are sure to be seduced, if not over-run by, the vibrant street scene in and around central Hanoi which, with all its chaos and vibrancy, continues to be one of the resounding heartbeats of Vietnam.