Hanoi Highlights

Itinerary Route Map

Hanoi Highlights

1. Experience Asia at its raw, pulsating best in the labyrinthine streets of the Old Quarter.

2. Step into history, and a spiritual retreat from the busy streets, at the Temple of Literature.

3. Get an authentic taste of the city while exploring Hanoi’s intoxicating street food scene.

4. Wake at dawn to ease peacefully into another Hanoi day with the t’ai chi buffs along Hoan Kiem Lake.

5. Piece together the country’s ethnic mosaic at the wonderful Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.

Old Quarter

Home to 1000 years of history, the commercial quarter of the city evolved alongside the Red River and the smaller To Lich River, which once flowed through the city centre in an intricate network of canals and waterways that teemed with boats. Waters could rise as high as 8m during the monsoon. Dykes were constructed to protect the city and these can still be seen along Tran Quang Khai.

In the 13th century, Hanoi’s 36 guilds established themselves here, each taking a different street – hence the original name ‘36 Streets’. There are more than 50 streets in today’s Old Quarter, typically named Hang (merchandise) followed by the word for the product traditionally sold in that street. Thus, P Hang Gai translates as ‘Silk Street’. These days the street name may not indicate what businesses are there; otherwise there would be lots of P Hang Du Lich (Tourism Streets).

Exploring the maze of backstreets is fascinating: some open up while others narrow into a warren of alleys. The area is known for its tunnel (or tube) houses, so called because of their narrow frontages and long rooms. These tunnel houses were developed to avoid taxes based on the width of their street frontage. By feudal law, houses were also limited to two storeys and, out of respect for the king, could not be taller than the royal palace. These days there are taller buildings, but no real high-rises.

Opportunities to dispense with your Vietnamese dong are endless. As you wander, you’ll find clothes, cosmetics, fake sunglasses, bootleg DVDs and software, T-shirts, musical instruments, plumbing supplies, herbal medicines, jewellery, religious offerings, spices, woven mats and much, much more.

Some of the specialised streets include P Hang Quat, with its red candlesticks, funeral boxes, flags and temple items; and the more glamorous P Hang Gai, with its silk, embroidery, lacquerwave, paintings and water puppets. Finally, no trip to the Old Quarter would be complete without a visit to the Dong Xuan Market, rebuilt after a fire in 1994.

A stroll through the historic Old Quarter can last anywhere from an hour to the better part of a day, depending on your pace. However long, or whatever detours you might take, our walking tour will provide you with a heady dose of Vietnamese culture, lots of shopping opportunities and some insight into the city’s long history.

Along the western periphery of the Old Quarter is the ancient Imperial Citadel, which was originally constructed by Emperor Gia Long. Most of the ancient buildings were destroyed by French troops in 1894, and US bombers also did considerable damage, but the citadel has recently been opened for public viewing after significant restoration.

Bach Ma Temple

In the heart of the Old Quarter, the small Bach Ma Temple is said to be the oldest temple in the city, though much of the current structure dates from the 18th century and a shrine to Confucius was added in 1839. It was originally built by Emperor Ly Thai To in the 11th century to honour a white horse that guided him to this site, where he chose to construct his city walls.

Pass through the wonderful old wooden doors of the pagoda to see a statue of the legendary white horse, as well as a beautiful red-lacquered funeral palanquin.

Memorial House

One of the Old Quarter’s best-restored properties, this traditional merchants’ house is sparsely but beautifully decorated, with rooms set around two courtyards and filled with fine furniture. Note the high steps between rooms, a traditional design incorporated to stop the flow of bad energy around the property.

There are crafts and trinkets for sale here, including silver jewellery, basketwork and Vietnamese tea sets, and there’s usually a calligrapher or other craftsperson at work too.

Around Hoan Kiem Lake

National Museum of Vietnamese History

The wonderful architecture of the history museum was formerly home to the École Francaise d’Extrême Orient in Vietnam. It is an elegant, ochre-coloured structure built between 1925 and 1932. French architect Earnest Hebrard was among the first in Vietnam to incorporate a blend of Chinese and French design elements. Highlights include bronzes from the Dong Son culture (3rd century BC to 3rd century AD), Hindu statuary from the Khmer and Champa kingdoms, and beautiful jewellery from imperial Vietnam.

More recent history includes the struggle against the French and the story of the Communist Party. The breezy  garden café is a lovely spot for a drink.

Hoa Lo Prison Museum

This thought-provoking site is all that remains of the former Hoa Lo Prison, ironically nicknamed the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ by US POWs during the American War. Most exhibits relate to the prison’s use up to the mid-1950s, focusing on the Vietnamese struggle for independence from France. A gruesome relic is the ominous French guillotine, used to behead Vietnamese revolutionaries. There are also displays focusing on the American pilots who were incarcerated at Hoa Lo during the American War.

These include Pete Peterson (the first US ambassador to a unified Vietnam in 1995), and Senator John McCain (the Republican nominee for the US presidency in 2008). McCain’s flight suit is displayed, along with a photograph of Hanoi locals rescuing him from Truc Bach lake after he was shot down in 1967.

The vast prison complex was built by the French in 1896. Originally intended to house around 450 immates, records indicate that by the 1930s there were close to 2000 prisoners. Hoa Lo was never a very successful prison, and hundreds escaped over the years, many by squeezing out through sewer grates.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Legend claims in the mid-15th century Heaven sent Emperor Le Thai To (Le Loi) a magical sword which he used to drive the Chinese from Vietnam. After the war a giant golden turtle grabbed the sword and disappeared into the depths to restore the sword to its divine owners, inspiring the name Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword). Every morning at around 6am local residents practise traditional t’ai chi on the shore.

Ngoc Son Temple sits on an island in Hoan Kiem Lake. The ramshackle Thap Rua (Turtle Tower), on an islet near the southern end, is topped with a red star and is often used as an emblem of Hanoi.

Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution

A must for all budding revolutionaries, this museum enthusiastically presents a history of the Vietnamese Revolution.

Ngoc Son Temple

Hanoi’s most visited temple sits pretty on a delightful little island in the northern part of Hoan Kiem Lake. An elegant scarlet bridge, Huc (Rising Sun) Bridge, constructed in classical Vietnamese style and lined with flags, connects the island to the lake shore. The nearby Martyrs’ Monument was erected as a memorial to those who died fighting for Vietnam’s independence.

Surrounded by water and shaded by trees, the small temple is dedicated to General Tran Hung Dao (who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century), La To (patron saint of physicians) and the scholar Van Xuong. Inside you’ll find some fine ceramics, a gong or two, some ancient bells and a glass case containing a stuffed lake turtle, which is said to have weighed a hefty 250kg.

Vietnamese Women’s Museum

This excellent museum showcases women’s role in Vietnamese society and culture. Labelled in English and French, it’s the memories of the wartime contribution by individual heroic women that are most poignant. There is a stunning collection of propaganda posters, as well as costumes, tribal basketware and fabric motifs from Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups. Check the website for special exhibitions.

St Joseph Cathedral

The striking neo-Gothic St Joseph Cathedral was inaugurated in 1886, and boasts a soaring façade that faces a little plaza. Its most noteworthy features are its twin bell towers, elaborate altar and fine stained-glass windows. Mass times are listed on a sign on the gates to the left of the cathedral. The main gate is open during Mass.

Guests are welcome at other times of the day, but must enter via the compound of the Diocese of Hanoi, the entrance to which is a block away at 40 P Nha Chung. Walking through the gate, go straight and then turn right. When you reach the side door to the cathedral, ring the small bell high up to the right-hand side of the door.

West of the Old Quarter

Temple of Literature

About 2km west of Hoan Kiem Lake, the Temple of Literature is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture. Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, the temple is dedicated to Confucius (Khong Tu) and honours Vietnam’s finest scholars and men of literary accomplishment. Vietnam’s first university was established here in 1076. At this time entrance was only granted to those of noble birth, but after 1442 a more egalitarian approach was adopted and gifted students from all over the nation headed to Hanoi to study the principles of Confucianism, literature and poetry.

In 1484 Emperor Le Thanh Tong ordered that stelae be erected to record the names, places of birth and achievements of exceptional scholars: 82 stelae remain standing. The imposing tiered gateway (on P Quoc Tu Giam) that forms the main entrance is preceded by a curious plaque, whose inscription requests that visitors dismount their horses before entering.

Paths then lead through formal gardens to the Khue Van pavillion, constructed in 1802, beyond which is a large square pond known as the Well of Heavenly Clarity.

The northern side of this courtyard is marked by a low-slung pagoda housing an extraordinary statue of a majestic-looking Confucius, depicted with a goatee and bearing scarlet robes, flanked by four of his disciples.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex

This is a special place for many Vietnamese. To the west of the Old Quarter, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex is an important place of pilgrimage. A traffic-free area of botanical gardens, monuments, memorials and pagodas, it’s usually crowded with groups of all ages, from all over the nation, who have come to pay their respects. Within the complex are Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House and the Presidential Palace, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.

  • Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum

In the tradition of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is a monumental marble edifice. Contrary to his desire for a simple cremation, the mausoleum was constructed from materials gathered from all over Vietnam between 1973 and 1975. Set deep in the bowels of the building in a glass sarcophagus is the trail, pale body of Ho Chi Minh. The mausoleum is closed for about two months each year while his embalmed body goes to Russia for maintenance.

The roof and peristyle are said to evoke either a traditional communal house or a lotus flower, though to many tourists it looks like a concrete cubicle with columns.

The queue, which moves quite quickly, usually snakes for several hundred metres to the mausoleum entrance itself. Inside, adopt a slow but steady pace as you file past Ho’s body. Guards, in snowy-white military uniforms, are posted at intervals of five paces, giving an eerily authoritarian aspect to the slightly macabre spectacle of the body with its wispy white hair.

Note that wearing shorts and tank tops is not permitted so dress modestly, and maintain a respectful demeanour at all times; no talking. It’s also forbidden to put your hand in your pockets. Hats must be taken off, and you may also be requested to store day packs, cameras and phones before you enter. Photography is strictly prohibited in the mausoleum.

Most of the visitors are Vietnamese and it’s interesting to watch their reactions. Most show deep respect for Ho Chi Minh, who is honoured for his role as the liberator of the Vietnamese people from colonialism, as much as for his communist ideology. This view is reinforced by Vietnam’s educational system, which emphasises Ho’s deeds and accomplishments.

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the changing of the guard outside Ho’s mausoleum –  the pomp and ceremony displayed here rivals the British equivalent at Buckingham Palace.

  • Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House

(Nha San Bac Ho: Map p62; admission 25,000d; summer 7.30-11am & 2-4pm, winter 8-11am & 1.30-4pm, closed Mon, closed Fri afternoon) This humble stilt house is where Ho lived intermittently from 1958 to 1969. Set in a well-tended garden, the house is an interpretation of a traditional rural dwelling, and has been preserved just as Ho left it. Just how much time he actually spent here is questionable, as the house would have been a tempting target for US bombers. In an adjacent building a sign proclaims, “Ho Chi Minh’s Used Cars” – in reality, automobiles he used during his life.

  • Presidential Palace

(Map p62; admission 25,000d; summer 7.30-11am & 2-4pm, winter 8-11am & 1.30-4pm, closed Mon, closed Fri afternoon) This restored colonial building was constructed in 1906 as the Palace of the Governor General of Indochina. It is now used for official receptions and isn’t open to the public. There is a combined entrance gate to the stilt house and Presidential Palace grounds on P Ong Ich Kiem inside the mausoleum complex. When the main mausoleum entrance is closed, enter from D Hung Vuong near the palace building.

  • Ho Chi Minh Museum

(Map p62 04-3846 3757; www.baotanghochim-inh.vn; admission 25,000d; 8-11.30 am daily & 2-4.30pm Tue-Thu, Sat & Sun) The huge concrete Soviet-style Ho Chi Minh Museum is a triumphalist monument dedicated to the life of the founder of modern Vietnam and to the onward march of revolutionary socialism. Mementos of Ho’s life are showcased, and there are some fascinating photos and dusty official documents relating to the overthrow of the French and the rise of com-munism. Photography is forbidden and you may be asked to check your bag at reception.

An Enlish-speaking guide costs around 100,000d, and given the quite surreal nature of the exhibition it’s a worthwhile investment.

(Map p62; P Ong Ich Kiem; admission 25,000d; summner 7.30-11am & 2-4pm, winter 8-11am & 1.30-4pm, closed Mon, closed Fri afternoon) The One Pillar Pagoda was originally built by the Emperor Ly Thai Tong who ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to the annals, the heirless emperor dreamed that he met Quan The Am Bo Tat, the Goddess of Mercy, who handed him a male child. Ly Thai Tong then married a young peasant girl and had a son and heir by her. As a way of expressing his gratidute for this event, he constructed a pagoda here in 1049.

Built of wood on a single stone pillar, the pagoda is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, the symbol of purity, rising out of a sea of sorrow. One of the last acts of the French before quitting Hanoi in 1954 was to destroy the original One Pillar Pagoda; the structure was rebuilt by the new government.

  • Vietnam Military History Museum

(Map p62; 04-3823 4264; www.btlsqsvn.org.vn; P Dien Bien Phu; asmission 30,000d, camera 20,000d; 8-11.30am & 1-4.30pm; closed Mon & Fri) Easy to spot thanks to a large collection of weaponry out front, the Military Museum displays Soviet and Chinese equipment alongside French- and US-made weapons captured during years of warfare. The centrepiece is a Soviet-built MiG-21 jet fighter, triumphant amid the wreckage of French aircraft downed at Dien Bien Phu, and a US F-111.

Adjacent is the hexagonal Flag Tower, one of the symbols of Hanoi. Acess is possible to a terrace overlooking a rusting collection of war matériel (equipment and supplies used by soldiers). Opposite the museum is a small park with a commanding statue of Lenin.

  • Fine Arts Museum

(Map p62; www.vnfarm.vn; 66 P Nguyen Thai Hoc; adult/concession 20,000/7,000d; 8.30am-5pm) Hanoi’s excellent Fine Arts Museum is housed in two buildings that were once the French Ministry of Information. Artistic  treasures from Vietnam abound, including ancient Champa stone carvings and some astonishing effigies of Guan Yin, the thousand-eyed, thounsand-armed goddess of compassion. Reproductions of antiques are available, but ask for a certificate to clear these goods through customs when you leave Vietnam.

Look out too for the remarkable lacquered-wood statues of robed Buddhist monks from the Tay Son dynasty. There’s also a large collection of contemporary art and folk-naive paintings.

Imperial Citadel

(Map p62; www.hoangthanhthanglong.vn; 19C P Hoang Dieu, main entrance; 8.30-11.30am & 2-5pm, closed Mon & Fri) Free Added to Unesco’s Wolrd Heritage List in 2010 and reopened in 2012, Hanoi’s Imperial Citadel was the hub of Vietnamese military power for over 1000 years. Ongoing archeological digs of ancient palaces, grandiose pavilions and imperial gates are complemented by fascinating military command bunkers from the American War – complete with maps and 1960s communications equipment – used by the legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap.

The citadel’s leafy grounds are also an easy-going and quiet antidote to Hanoi’s buslte.

Ambassadors’ Pagoda

(Map p62; 04-3825 2427; 73 P Quan Su) The official centre of Buddhism in Hanoi, the Ambassadors’ Pagoda attracts quite a crowd on holidays. During the 17th century there was a guesthouse here for the ambassadors of Buddhist countries; today there are about a dozen monks and nuns based here. Next to the pagoda is a shop selling Buddhist ritual objects.

Quan Thanh Temple

(Map p62; P Quan Thanh) Shaded by huge trees, Quan Thanh Temple was established during the Ly dynasty (1010-1225) and was dedicated to Tran Vo (God of the North), whose symbols of power were the tortoise and the snake. A bronze statue and bell date from 1677. The temple is on the shores of Truc Bach Lake, near the intersection of D Thanh Nien and P Quan Thanh.

French Quarter

Hai Ba Trung Temple

Two kilometres south of Hoan Kiem Lake, this temple was founded in 1142. A statue shows the two Trung sisters (from the 1st century AD) kneeling with their arms raised in the air. Some say the statue shows the sisters, who had been proclaimed the queens of the Vietnamese, about to dive into a river. They are said to have drowned themselves rather than surrender in the wake of their defeat at the hands of the Chinese.

Greater Hanoi

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology

(04-3756 2193; www.vme.org.vn; D Nguyen Van Huyen; admission 40,000d, guide 100,000d, camera fee 50,000d; 8.30am-5.30pm Tue-Sun) Occupying a modern structure, the terrific collection here features well-presented tribal art, artefacts and everyday objects gathered from across the nation. Displays are well labelled in Vietnamese, French and English. For anyone with an interest in Vietnam’s minorities, it’s an essential visit – though it is located way out in the suburbs. The museum is in the Cau Giay district, about 7km from the city centre and around 200,000d each way in a taxi.

Local bus 14 (3000d) departs from P Dinh Tien Hoang on the east side of Hoan Kiem Lake and passes within a couple of blocks (around 600m) of the museum – get off at the Nghia Tan bus stop and head to D Nguyen Van Huyen.

In the grounds are examples of traditional village houses – a Tay stilt house, an impressive Bahnar commual structure and a Yao home. Don’t miss the soaring, thatch-roffed Giarai tomb, complete with risque wooden statues.

A fair-trade craft shop sells books, beautiful postcards, and arts and crafts from ethnic communities.

Tay Ho (West Lake)

The city’s largest lake, Tay Ho is 15km in circumference and ringed by upmarket suburbs. On the south side, along D Thuy Khue, are seafood restaurants, and to the east, the Xuan Dieu strip is lined with restaurants, cafes, boutiques and luxury hotels. You’ll also find two temples on its shores; the Tay Ho and Tran Quoc pagodas. A pathway circles the lake, making for a great bycycle ride. For bike rental contact the Hanoi Bicycle Collective.

Two legends explain the origins of Tay Ho, which is also known as the Lake of Mist and the Big Lake. According to one legend, Tay Ho was created when the Dragon King drowned an evil nine-tailed fox in his lair, in a forest on this site. Another legend relates that in the 11th century a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Khong Lo, rendered a great service to the emperor of China, who rewarded him with a vast quantity of bronze. The monk cast the bronze into a huge bell, the sound of which could be heard all the way to China, where the Golden Buffalo Calf, mistaking the ringing for its mother’s call, ran southward, trampling on the site and turning it into a lake.

The geological explanation is that it was created when Song Hong (Red River) overflowed its banks. The flood problem has been partially controlled by building dykes – the highway along the eastern side of Tay Ho  is built upon one.

Tay Ho Pagoda

(P Tay Ho) Jutting into West Lake, beautiful Tay Ho Pagoda is perhaps the most popular place of worship in Hanoi. Throngs of people come here on the first  and the 15th day of each lunar month in the hope of receiving good fortune from the Mother Goddess, to whom the temple is dedicated.

Tran Quoc Pagoda

One of the oldest pagodas in Vietnam, Tran Quoc Pagoda is on the eastern shore of Tay Ho, just off D Thanh Nien, which divides this lake from Truc Bach Lake. A stela here, dating from 1639, tells the history of this site. The pagoda was rebuilt in the 15th century and again in 1842.

Truc Bach Lake

Separated from Tay Ho only by D Thanh Nien, this lake is lined with flame trees. During the 18th century the Trinh lords built a palace on the lakeside; it was later transformed into a reformatory for wayward royal concubines, who were condemned to spend their days weaving pure white silk.

Activities

Sports & Swimming

Daewoo Hotel Fitness Centre

(04-3835 1000; www.hanoidaewoohotel.com.vn; 360 D Kim Ma) Situated 5km west of Hoan Kiem Lake along D Kim Ma, the Daewoo Hotel Fitness Centre has a day-use fee of US$25 for all facilities, including the pool. There’s also a good spa.

Hash House Harriers

(www.hanoih3.com; from 1.30 pm Sat) From the uninitiated, these are drinkers with a running problem. The ‘hash’ meets at the American Club (04-3824 1850; www.facebook.com/AmclubHanoi; 19-21 P Hai Ba Trung).

MOD Palace Hotel

(04-3825 2896; 33C P Pham Ngu Lao; admission 65,000d; 6am-8pm) In central Hanoi, the MOD Palace offers day use of its pool, which is big enough for laps and open all year. It gets very busy with children in the afternoon. Buy a ticket at the hotel’s reception first.

Hanoi Water Park

(04-3753 2757; 9am-9pm Wed-Mon Apr-Nov) Hanoi Water Park is around 5km north of the city centre and has pools, slides and a lazy river. Entry costs 120,000d for those over 110cm tall, and 70,000d for shorter people, translating roughly to adults and children. Again, it gets extremely busy here on hot summer afternoons. It’s a 15-minute taxi ride from central Hanoi on the northern edge of Tay Ho.

King’s Island

(04-3772 3160; www.kingsislandgolf.com; weekday/ weekend from US$90/130) King’s Island, 45km west of Hanoi, close to the base of Ba Vi Mountain, is north Vietnam’s first 36-hole golf course. The course offers lakeside or mountain-view play. There is also a popular course at Tam Dao Hill Station.

Zenith Yoga

(0904 356 561; www.zenithyogavietnam.com; 16 P Duong Thanh; one-off class 250,000d) Yoga, Pilates and meditation classes are all available at this centrally located studio. Downstairs is the Zenith Café with lots of soothing teas and healthy vegetarian food. Check the website for the schedule of classes. There’s also another Zenith Yoga branch (0904 356 561; www.zenithyagavietnam.com; 111 P Xuan Dieu) near Tay Ho.

Massage &Spa

Hanoi has many spas and massage centres.Rates are less than in the west, so it’s a great place for a little indulgence.

La Siesta Spa

(04-3935 1632; www.zenspa.vn/lasiesta; 32 P Lo Su) Spa, massage and beauty treatments across two floors of the Hanoi Elegance Diamon Hotel.

QT Anam Spa

(04-3928 6116; www.qtanamspa.com; 26-28 P Le Thai To) Excellnet spa, massage and beauty treatments near Hoan Kiem Lake.

Courses

Hanoi cooking centre

(04-3715 0088; www.hanoicookingcentre.com; 44 P Chau Long; per class US$55) Excellent interactive classes including market visits and a special Kid’s Club – handy if your children are aspiring chefs. The Hanoi Cooking Centre also runs a highly recommended walking tour exploring Hanoi’s street-food scene, and cookery classes conclude with a shared lunch in its elegant restaurant.

HANOI FOR CHILDREN

Hanoi is a fun city for children thanks to the all-action Old Quarter and the city’s many parks and lakes. Wandering the Old Quarter can be tiring for young ones, and you’ll have to maintain a watchful eye for motorbikes, but there are enough diversions to keep them entertained, and plenty of ice-cream shops and fruit markets for those little treats along the way. If they like to cook their own food, book them in for a special Kid’s Club session at the Hanoi Cooking Centre.

Boating is a fun family activity and there is the choice of bigger boats on Tay Ho or pedal-powered boats in Lenin Park. Hanoi Water Park is a great place to take children to cool off, but it is only open half the year. Come evening, there is only one place for any self-respecting child to be in Hanoi and that is at a water-puppet show – a Punch and Judy pantomime on water.

Hidden Hanoi

(0912 254 045; www. Hiddenhanoi.com.vn; 147 P Nghi Tam, Tay Ho; per class without/with market tour US$45/55) Offers cooking classes from its kitchen near the eastern side of Tay Ho. Options include seafood and village food menus. Walking tours (per person US$20 to US$25) exploring the Old Quarter and Hanoi street food are available. Hidden Hanoi also offers a language study program (per person from US$200), including two field trips.

Highway 4

(04-3715 0577; www.highway4.com; 3 Hang Tre; per class US$50) Classes begin at its Old Quarter eatery, incorporate a cyclo ride and market tour, and continue on to Highway 4’s Tay Ho restaurant, the House of Son Tinh. And yes, you can learn how to make its signature catfish spring rolls. Also on offer are cocktail-making classes using Highway 4’s traditional Son Tinh liquors.

Hanoi Foreign Language College

(04-3826 2468; 1 P Pham Ngu Lao) Housed in the History Museum compound, this is a branch of Hanoi National University where foreigners can study Vietnamese for about US$15 per lesson.

Hanoi Language Tours

(0901 352 2605; www.hanoilanguagetours.com; per person from US$150) Courses from two to 10 days focusing on language and cultural essentials for travellers, expats and business people.

Tours

Hidden Hanoi and the Hanoi Cooking Centre also offer interesting tours with a foodie slant, visiting markets and eating street food.

Bloom Microventures

( 04-387 6594; www.bloom-microventures.org/vietnam) Tours an ethnic minority village in Hoa Binh province, around 70km west of Hanoi. It’s a good opportunity to see how micro-loans are funding rural entrepreneurs, and is an excellent insight into Vietnamese rural life. Most tours run on a Saturday. Check the website for timings.

Food on Foot

( 04-3990 1733; www.vietnamawesometravel.com; 19B P Hang Be, US$25) Excellent value, street-food walking tours around the Old Quarter. Look forward to around four hours of tasty eating and drinking, including beer and rice wine.

Hanoi Kids

(0978 162 283; www.hanoikids.org; by donation) This volunteer organisation partners visitors with Hanoi teens and young adults wishing to improve their English-language skills. Tours are customised to the needs of visitors and can include Hanoi sights like the Temple of Literature and Hoa Lo Prison Museum, street food and market visits. It’s best to arrange tours online a couple of weeks before you arrive in Hanoi.

Hanoi Street Food Tours

(0904 517 074; www.streetfoodtourshanoiblogspot.com) Exploring Hanoi’s street food with tours run by a couple of passionate. Hanoi foodies so you’re guaranteed the best the city can offer. Full-day tours run to six hours, and evening tours with bia hoi, snacks and noodles are also great. Tours can be customised to different interests. Check the website for occasional blog posts from co-owner Tu.

Vietnam in Focus

(0122 435 1929. 0121 515 0522, www.vietnaminfocus.com; per person US$80) Journalists Colm Pierce and Alex Sheal run photographic tours exploring Hanoi life, including the Old Quarter, markets and the Long Bien Bridge. Tours usually include a meal and can be customised to photographers of all levels, even beginners. Check the website for details of longer tours to more remote destinations like Moc Chau, Ha Giang and Ba Be National Park.

Festivals & Events

Tet

(Tet Nguyen Dan, Vietnamese Lunar New Year, 04-3928 2618; late Jan or early Feb) During the week preceding Tet, there is a flower market on P Hang Luoc. There’s also a colourful, two-week flower exhibition and competition, beginning on the first day of the new year, that takes place in Lenin Park near Bay Mau Lake.

Quang Trung Festival

(Feb/Mar) Wrestling competitions, lion dances and human chess take place on the 15th day of the first lunar month at Dong Da Mound, site of the uprising against the Chinese led by Emperor Quang Trung (Nguyen Hue) in 1788.

Walking Tour Old Quarter

Start Ngoc Son Temple

End P Nha Tho

Length 3,5km; minimum two hours

Start at the Ngoc Son Temple on Hoan Kiem Lake. Return over the red Huc Bridge, to the Martyrs’ Monument. Follow P Dinh Tien Hoang to the Water puppet Theatre. Head north on P Hang Dau to Hanoi’s shoe shops. Cross P Cau Go to P Hang Be and the local market on P Gia Ngu.

Back on P Hang Be, continue north to P Hang Bac. Look out for the artisans hand-carving intricate gravestones. Next head up P Ma May to the Memorial House at No 87.

Return to P Hang Bac, passing jewellery shops, to house 102, which includes a fully functioning temple. Retrace your steps and head up narrow P Ta Hien, popular for after-dark bars. Turn left on P Hang Buom to the Bach Ma Temple, and continue to Cua O Quan Chuong, the well-preserved Old East Gate. Continue along Lan Ong to the pungent fragrances of herb merchants.

Double back to P Thuoc Bac and head south past the tin-box makers, opposite the mirror shops on P Hang Thiec. Continue left towards shops selling Buddhist altars and statues along P Hang Quat.

Head south past P Luong Van Can’s toy shops, and continue along P Hang Gai for elegant silk shops. Head south on P Ly Quoc Su to St Joseph Cathedral, and the cafes on P Nha Tho and P Au Trieu.

Vietnam’s National Day

Celebrated with a rally and fireworks at Ba Dinh Sq, in front of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. There are also boat races on Hoan Kiem Lake.

CAMA Festival

(ww.camafestival.com; Oct) Hanoi’s Club for Art and Music Appreciation (CAMA) brings an eclectic bunch of performers to the city for an annual one-day music festival at the American Club. Festival-goers can look forward to electronica, Laotian DJs and rowdy-as-hell Burmese punk – anything goes. It’s also a good chance to see local bands and Djs, and catch up with the city’s expat crew.

In May CAMA also hosts a festival of music from ASEAN countries, and throughout the year different edgy and arty events are held at the Cama ATK bar.

Sleeping

Much of Hanoi’s cheap accommodation is located in or around the Old Quarter. We receive numerous complaints about budget-hotel owners pressuring guests to book tours with them. Some travellers have even been turfed out into the street for not complying, while others have found mysterious taxes added to their bills. In addition, Old Quarter traffic is oppressive, particularly around Hang Be, Hang Bac and Ma May.

Emerging areas for good-value accommodation include around St Joseph Cathedral, and on and around P Hang Dieu on the western edge of the Old Quarter.

Expect to pay US$25 to US$30 for a decent budget room. For around US$30 to US$50, rooms are loaded with gadgets and facilities including air-con, satellite TV, wi-fi, a computer and minibar. Hanoi has several efficiently run hostels, and dorm beads range from US$5 to US$9.

Comtemporary boutique hotels are also emerging, with tariffs around US$50 to US$75 a night. Above US$100, you’re looking at luxury hotels with pools, fitness centres and restaurants.

Most budget and midrange hotels include free internet access. While top-end hotels levy a charge. Always check whether tax and service is included in the quoted price.

Old Quarter

May De Ville Backpackers

( 04-3935 2468; www.maydevillebackpackershostel.com; 1 Hai Tuong, P Ta Hien; dm US$6, d US$30-35) A short walk from Ta Hien’s bars, May De Ville is one of Hanoi’s best hostels. Dorms are spotless and it also has a movie room. Doubles are good value.

Hanoi Backpackers 2

( 04-3935 1890; www.hanoibackpackershostel.com; 9 Ma May; dm US$7.50, tw & d US$25) Options range from spotless dorms to designer doubles, and there’s a restaurant and bar downstairs. The relaxed team at reception arranges well-run tours including excursions to Halong Bay and Sapa.

Hanoi Hostel 1

( 0972 844 804; www.vietnam-hostel.com; 91C P Hang Ma; dm/d/tr US$6/16/21) Well-run and clean with lots of tours on tap and plenty of information about onward travel to China or Laos. Look forward to a more local location outside of Hanoi’s backpacker scrum.

Hanoi Hostel 2

( 0972 844 804; www.vietnam-hostel.com; 32 P Hang Vai; dm/d/tr US$6/18/21) It’s same, same but not really different at the Hanoi Hostel’s second Old Quarter location. Still clean and well-run, and with the option of a private family room for four people (US$25).

Hanoi Rendezvous Hotel

(04-38285777; www.hanoirendezvoushotel.com; 31 Hang Dieu; dm/s/d/tr US$7.50/25/30/35) Deliciously close to several brilliant street-food places, Hanoi Rendezvous features spacious rooms, friendly staff and well-run tours to Halong Bay, Cat Ba Island and Sapa.

Camel City Hotel

( 04-3935 2024; www.camelcityhotel.com; 8/50 Dao Duy Tu; r $17-30) A family owned operation in a quiet lane just a short walk from the after-dark attractions on P Ta Hien. Rooms are trimmed with Asian design touches and service is friendly.

Hanoi Lucky Guesthouse

( 04-3824 5732; www.hanoiluckyguesthouse.com; 14 P Bat Su; r $24) Tucked away on quiet P Bat Su, the Hanoi Lucky Guesthouse is a bustling little spot with an eager young English-speaking crew on reception. Rooms are simple but very clean.

Thuy Nga Guesthouse

( 04-3826 6053; thuyngahotel@hotmail.com; 10D P Dinh Liet; r US$12) This homely little place is run by an accommodation family and has six rooms with natural light, a TV and fridge. Pop outside for lots of good bars.

Serenity Hotel

( 04-3923 3549; www.hanoisenerityhotel.com; 1B P Cua Dong; s/d from US$18/20) Spacious rooms and a quieter location outside of Hanoi’s backpacker hub add up to one of Hanoi’s best budget sleeps. Be prepared to tackle up to six flights of stairs.

Thu Giang Guesthouse

( 04-3828 5734; www.thugianggh.com; 5A P Tam Thuong; dm US$5; r US$7-17) Hidden at the end of a narrow alley, this modest place is owned and run by a hospitable family that understands travellers’ needs. There’s a second branch for overspills at 35A P Hang Dieu.

Manh Dung Guesthouse

( 04-3826 7201; lethomhalong@yahoo.com; 2 P Tam Thuong; r US$12-18) Slightly more salubrious than other nearby guesthouses; has a lift but most rooms are on the small side.

Hanoi Elite

( 04-3828 1711; www.hanoielitehotel.com; 10/5032 Dao Duy Tu; r US$50-55) It’s surprising what you can find in the most narrow and hidden-away of lanes in the Old Quarter. Hanoi Elite features cool and classy décor, top-notch staff and the kind of touches – rainforest shower-heads, breakfasts cooked to order and in-room computers – you’d expect only from more expensive accommodation.

Art Trendy Hotel

( 04-3923 4294; www.arttrendyhotel.com; 6 Hang But; r US$45-70) One of Hanoi’s newer hotels, Art Trendy enjoys a quiet location on the western edge of the Old Quarter. Rooms are stylish and relatively spacious, and there’s a real can-do attitude and friendly style from all the exceptional staff. Each room has a laptop, and breakfast includes warm baguettes, omelettes and fresh fruit.

Calypso Legend Hotel

( 04-3935 2751; www.calypsolegendhotel.com; 11A Trung Yen, P Dinh Liet; r US$50-58, ste US$80-85) Tucked away in a small lane, it’s a bit of a mission to find the Calypso Legend, but definitely worth it. Red and white combines for romantic décor, and the reception team is unfailingly friendly and helpful. To find the hotel, walk up P Dinh Liet away from the lake, and turn right into Trung Yen, a quiet lane with no traffic.

Do The Hustle

Hanoi is not only the political capital of Vietnam, it is also the capital of hotel hustles. Copycat and fly-by-night hotels abound. These will rent a building, appropriate the name of another hotel, and then work with touts to bring unwitting tourists to their ‘chosen’ accommodation. Visitors who question the alternative location are told the hotel has moved and it is not until they check the next day that they realise they have been had. These hotels overcharge on anything they can, often giving a price for the room on check-in and a price per person on check out. The best way to avoid this is to prebook a room by phone or email. This way, you know the hotel is still open, still in the same location and not full.

Airport taxis and minibuses often work in partnership with these copycat hotels, as they give the biggest commissions, and there have even been reports of desperate Westerners working in tandem with these hotels, steering backpackers their way. Confirm an airport transfer with your first night’s accommodation to avoid this hassle.

If you come across any dodgy hotels, guesthouses, travel companies or other business, report them to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism to hopefully pressure the cowboys into cleaning up their act.

Tirant Hotel

( 04-6269 8899; www.tiranthotel.com; 38 Gia Ngu; s/d from US$55/65) Trendy décor, switched-on staff who speak excellent English, and spacious bedrooms all conspire to make this one of central Hanoi’s best hotels. The buffet breakfast is definitely worth lingering for, and the huge Grand Suite (US$145) is quite possibly the Old Quarter’s best room.

Art Hotel

( 04-3923 3868; www.hanoiarthotel.com; 65 P Hang Dieu; s/d from US$30/45) The young, friendly and welcoming crew at the Art Hotel make this well-located spot really stand out. Rooms are spacious with spotless bathrooms and wooden floors, and within a 30m radius you’ll find some of Hanoi’s best opportunities for partaking in the city’s great street food.

Nova Hotel

( 04-3923 3366; www.hanoinovahotel.com; 75 P Hang Dieu; US$25-448) On the western edge of the Old Quarter, P Hang Dieu has good-value midrange hotels. The Nova exemplifies what any place in this part of town needs to offer: spacious bedrooms, balcony views and spotless modern bathrooms.

Tu Linh Palace

( 044-3923 0154; www.tulinhpalacehotels.com; 2B P Hang Ga; s/d from US$25/28) Clean and spacious rooms in a less busy area of the Old Quarter. Wooden floors and modern Asian design add up to a chic ambience; the bathrooms in the deluxe rooms are especially stylish.

Classic Street Hotel

(04-3825 2421; www.classicstreetphocohotel.com; 41 P Hang Be; r US$32-45) This place on ever-busy Hang Be has cosy rooms with large beds and satellite TV. Plenty of paintings and ceramics brighten up the communal spaces and corridors.

Hanoi Guesthouse

( 04-3935 2572; www.hanoiguesthouse.com; 85 P Ma May; d/tr from US$26/38) Recently relocated to bustling P Ma May, the Hanoi Guesthouse has newly decorated rooms, and a very central location right in the middle of all the action, with bars, restaurants, travel agencies and shopping right outside.

Around Hoan Kiem Lake

Madame Moon Guesthouse

( 04-3938 1255; www.madammoonguesthouse.com; 17 Hang Hanh; r US$23-27) Keeping it simple just one block from Hoan Kiem Lake, Madame Moon has surprisingly chic rooms and a (relatively) traffic-free location in a street filled with local cafes and bars.

Hanoi Backpackers Hostel

( 04-3828 5372; www.hanoibackpackerhostel.com; 48 P Ngo Huyen; dm US$7,50 ; r US$25) An efficient, perennially popular hostel now occupying two buildings on a quiet lane. It’s impressively organised, with custom-built bunk beds and lockers, and the dorms all have ensuite bathrooms.

Central Backpackers Hanoi

( 04-3938 1849; www.centralbackpackerhostel.com; 16 P Ly Quoc Su; dm US$5) This well-run hostel is in close proximity to good cafes and street eats. It’s a pretty social spot, possibly due to the free beer everynight from 8pm to 9pm.

Especen Hotel

( 04-3824 4401; www.especen.vn; 28 P Tho Xuong & 41 P Ngo Huyen; r $22-25) This budget hotel near St Joseph Cathedral has spacious and light rooms in an almost tranquil location (by Old Quarter standards anyway). A second branch is nearby.

Hotel Thien Trang

( 04-3826 9823; thientranghotel24@hotmail.com; 24 P Nha Chung; r US$12-22) This place enjoys a quiet location in the stylish Nha Tho area. Its spacious rooms retain a degree of period character alongside somewhat less pleasing modern additions.

6 on Sixteen

( 04-6673 6729; www.sixonsixteen.com; 16 P Bao Khanh; r US$72) Adorned with designer textiles, ethnic art and interesting locally made furniture, 6 on Sixteen has a welcoming ambience. There are just six concisely decorated rooms, but lots of shared areas to encourage guests to  mingle and share travel tips. Breakfast includes freshly baked pastries and robust Italian coffee. Book a balcony room, as rooms at the back have tiny windows.

Cinnamon Hotel

A hip hotel overlooking St Joseph Cathedral in the Old Quarter’s smartest enclave. The design is outstanding, combining the historic features of the building – wrought-iron and window shutters – with Japanese-influenced interiors and modern gadgetry. Of the six rooms, all with balcony and tropical names, ‘Lime’ has a commanding perspective of the cathedral. There’s also a small bar-restaurant.

Joseph’s Hotel

Tucked away in a quiet lane behind St Joseph Cathedral, this compact 10-room hotel features pastel tones, mod-Asian décor and breakfasts cooked to order. Try to secure a room with views of the church’s nearby towers. It’s a laid-back location if the speed and scale of Hanoi’s traffic doesn’t appeal.

Golden Lotus Hotel

An elegant, polished lobby sets the tone at this atmospheric little hotel, which blends Eastern flavours and Western chic. All rooms have wooden floors, silk trim, art aplenty and broadband internet connections, though most rooms at the rear do not enjoy any natural light. Breakfast is included.

Jasmine Hotel

Caution: must like carved dark wood. The Jasmine’s décor is slightly ostentatious, but this hotel is handily near Hoan Kiem Lake and good restaurants. Standard rooms are a touch dark, and there’s some road noise from the front rooms with balconies, but it’s still good value for such a central location.

Hanoi Elegance Diamond Hotel

With large rooms, each kitted out with a computer, wooden floors, modern furniture and cable TV, this is a solid choice.

Impressive Hotel

Impressive both in name and in nature, with clean and cosy rooms and a top-notch location.

Heart Hotel

Popular little hotel with 10 neat rooms, some with lake views.

Sofitel Metropole Hotel

A refined place to stay, the Metropole boasts an immaculately restored colonial façade, with mahogany-panelled reception rooms and well-regarded restaurants. The accommodation in the old wing offers unmatched colonial style, while the modern Opera Wing has sumptuous levels of comfort but not quite the same heritage character. Even if you’re not staying here, pop in for a drink at the Bamboo Bar.

Hilton Hanoi Opera

Built in 1998, this impressive neoclassical edifice blends in well with its surroundings, especially the adjacent Opera House. Rooms are spacious and plush, and both business and leisure facilities – including a gym and a pool – are impressive.

Church Hotel

Classy mini-hotel with real boutique appeal. Some rooms are smallish, but all have stylish furnishings, and there’s an elegant dining room for your complimentary breakfast. Locationwise this is as good as it gets, on Nha Tho’s epicentre of Old Quarter chic. Two other openings by the Church Hotel in the Old Quarter are equally classy.

Hotel L’Opera

The Hotel L’Opera effortlessly combines French colonial style with a sophisticated design aesthetic. Rooms are trimmed in silk and Asian textiles, and splurge-worthy features include a spa and the hip late-night vibe of the La Fee Verte ( Green Fairy) bar. If you’re wondering, Green Fairy is a reference to absinthe, the infamous alcoholic beverage.

Greater Hanoi

InterContinental Westlake Hanoi

The most luxurious address in the north of the city, this hotel features a comtemporary Asian-design theme, and the whole complex just out into the lake. Many of the stunning rooms (all with balconies) are set on stilts above the water. The hotel’s signature Sunset Bar celebrates some of the city’s best cocktails; sitting on its own manmade island, it’s quite probably the most romantic spot in town.

Eating

Hanoi is an international city, and whatever your budget (or tastes), it’s available here. If you’ve just flown in, get stuck into the local cuisine, which is wonderfully tasty, frangrantly spiced and inexpensive. Don’t miss the experience of dining on Hanoi’s street food.

If you’ve been up in the hills of northern Vietnam subsisting on noodles and rice, the capital’s cosmopolitan dining, including Japanese, French, Italian and Indian, will be a welcome change.

Old Quarter

Zenith Café

Relaxing and peaceful haven under a yoga studio with excellent juices, salads and vegetarian mains, including falafel and hummus, goat-cheese pizzas and healthy breakfasts like homemade muesli.

New Day

New Day attracts locals, expats and travellers. The eager staff always find space for new diners, so look forward to sharing a table with some like-minded fans of Vietnamese food.

Nola

Retro furniture is mixed and matched in this bohemian labyrinth tucked away from Ma May’s tourist bustle. Pop in for a coffee and banana bread, or return after dark for one of Hanoi’s best little bars.

Highway 4

This is the original location of a family of restaurants pioneering the development of Vietnamese cuisine. Try bite-sized snacks like nem ca xa lo (catfish spring rolls) or meatier dishes like da dieu nuong sate (spicy satay grilled ostrich). There’s another branch in the Old Quarter.

Yin & Yang

This atmospheric spot along touristy Ma May stands out with well-priced versions of Vietnamese classics like bun cha and banana flower salad. Compared to heaving bia hoi corner, it’s also a great spot for a quieter drink in the Old Quarter. Don’t leave town without having a Yin & Yang mojito.

Cha Ca Thang Long

Bring along your DIY cooking skills here and grill your own succulent fish with a little shrimp paste and plenty of herbs. Cha ca is an iconic Hanoi dish, and while another nearby more famous cha ca eatery gets all the tour-bus traffic, the food here is actually better.

Foodshop 5

A new Old Quarter location now showcases Hanoi’s best Indian food. This spot is definitely convenient, but the lakeside location of the original Foodshop 45 is more atmospheric. Either way, the curries are great, and the beers are exceedingly well-chilled.

Quan Bia Minh

This bia hoi joint has evolved into an Old Quarter favourite with well-priced Vietnamese food and excellent service led by the eponymous Mrs Minh. Grab an outdoor table and a cold beer and watch the beautiful chaos unfold below.

Green Mango

This hip restaurant-cum-lounge has a real vibe as well as great cooking. The stunning dining rooms, complete with rich silk drapes, evoke the feel of an opium den, own on summer nights. Menu-wise there’s everything from pizza and pasta to mod-Asia fusion creations.

Local Knowledge

Top 10 Street Food Experience

Deciphering Hanoi’s Old Quarter street-food scene can be bewildering, but it’s worth persevering and diving in. The city’s best food definitely comes from the scores of vendors cwowding the city’s pavements with smoking charcoal burners, tiny blue plastic stools and expectant queues of canny locals. Many of the stalls ahave been operating for decades, and often they offer just one dish. After that long perfecting their recipes, it’s little wonder the food can be sensational. Note that opening hours may be somewhat flexible. Around 40,000d to 60,000d should be sufficient person.

Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim (67 P Duong Thanh; 11am-7pm) Visiting Hanoi and not eating bun cha (barbecued pork with rice vermicelli) should be classed as a capital offence. This is an excellent spot to try this street-food classic.

Banh Cuon (12 P Hang Ga; 8am-3pm) Don’t even bother ordering here, just squeeze in and a plate of gossamer-light banh cuon (steamed rice crepes filled with minced pork, mushrooms and shrimp) will be placed in front of you.

Pho Thin ( 61 Dinh Tien Hoang; 6am-3pm) Negotiate your way to the rear of this narrow, rustic establishment and sit down to some excellent pho bo ( beef noodle soup). A classic Hanoi experience that hasn’t changed in decades.

Banh Ghoi (52 P Ly Quoc Su; 10am-7pm) Nestled under a banyan tree near St Joseph Cathedral, this humble stall turns out banh ghoi, moreish deep-fried pastries crammed with porl, vermicelli and mushrooms.

Bun Oc Saigon ( P Nguyen Huu Huan & Hang Thung; 11am-11pm) Look closely in the plastic buckets and you’ll see more than a few unfamiliar shellfish species. Try the bun oc (snail noodle soup) with a hearty dash of tart tamarind, or so huyet xao toi (blood cockles fried with garlic).

Bun Bo Nam Bo (67 P Hang Dieu; 11am-10pm) Bun bo nam bo (dry noodles with beef) is a dish from southern Vietnam, but it’s certainly travelled north well. Mix in bean sprouts, garlic, lemongrass and green mango for a filling treat.

Xoi Yen (cnr P Nguyen Huu Huan & P Hang Mam; 7am-11pm) Equally good for breakfast or as a hangover cure, Xoi Yen specialises in sticky rice topped with goodies, including sweet Asian sausage, gooey fried egg and slow-cooked pork.

Mien Xao Luon (87 P Hang Dieu; 7am-2pm) Head to this humble stall trimmed with mini-mountains of fried eels for three different ways of eating the crisp little morsels. Try them stir-fried in vermicelli with egg, bean sprouts and shallots.

Bun Rieu Cua (40 P Hang Tre; 7-9am) get to this incredibly popular spot early, as its sole dish of bun rieu cua (crab noodle soup) is only served for a couple of hours from 7am. A Hanoi classic.

Che (76 P Hang Dieu; 7am-3pm) In winter try che banh troi tau (sweet mung beans with sesame and ginger) or in summer che thap nam (with coconut milk, crushed peanuts, lotus seeds and dried apples).

Tamarind Café

( 04-3926 0580; 80 P Ma May; mains 80,000d-140,000d; 8am-late) A relaxed café-restaurant with lounge-around cushioned seating and plenty of space. Offers an eclectic menu but is best for tabouli, eggplant claypot and salads. Drinks include lassis, zesty juices and wine by the glass. A specialist Indian menu is available upstairs. We’re not sure about the 1980s power ballads though.

Green Tangerine

( 04-3825 1286; www.greentangerinehanoi.com; 48 P Hang Be; mains US$12-20; noon late) Experience the mood and flavour of 1950s Indochine at this elegant restaurant located in a beautifully restored colonial house with a cobbled courtyard. The fusion French-Vietnamese cuisine is not always entirely successful, but it’s still worth popping in for coffee or a drink. Two-course lunches (218,000d) are good value.

Around Hoan Kiem Lake

Hanoi House                                cafe$

(www.thehanoihouse.com; 48a P Ly Quoc Su; snacks 40,000-60,000d; 8.30am-11pm;)

A chic and bohemain café with superb upstairs views of St Joseph Cathedral. Chill out on the impossibly slim balcony with excellent juices and Hanoi’s best ginger tea.

The Cart                                       cafe$

(www.thecardfood.com; 10 Tho Xuong; snack & juices 40,000d-80,000d; 7.30am-5pm;) Superlative pies, excellent juices and smoothies, and interesting baguette sandwiches feature at this little haven of Western comfort food tucked away near St Joseph Cathedral.

La Place                                       cafe$

(04-3928 5859; 4 P Au Trieu; meals from 70,000d; 7.30am-10.30pm) This stylish, popular little cafe adjacent to St Joseph Cathedral has walls covered in propaganda art and an East-West menu. Plenty  of wine by the glass is on offer and the coffee has a real kick.

Apple Tart                                   bakery$

(11 Ngo Bao Khanh; snacks from 40,000d; 8am-7pm) Tiny hole-in-the-wall spot serving eat-on-the-run French bakes goods like créme caramel and apple tartine. Pop next door and combine your still-warm baked goodies with a robust espresso.

Fanny Ice Cream                       ice cream$

(51 P Ly Thuong Kiet; ice cream from 38,000d; 8am-9pm) The place for French style ice creams and sorbets in Hanoi. During the right season try the cơm, a delightful local flavour extracted from young sticky rice; other innovative flavours include ginner and green tea.

Kem Dac Diet Trang Tien       ice cream$

(35 P Trang Tien; ice cream from 10,000d; 8am-10pm) It’s barely possible to walk down the road to get to this parlour on hot summer nights such is its popularity

Fivimart                                       self-catering$

(27A Ly Thai Tho; 9am-5pm) One of The best-stocked supermarkets in the centre of town

Hanoi Social Club                      cafe$$

(www.facebook.com/TheHanoiSocialClub; 6 Hoi Vu; mains 95,000-160,000d; 8am-11pm) On three funky levels with retro furniture, the Hanoi Social Club is the city’s most cosmopolitan cafe. Dishes include potato fritters with chorizo for breakfast, and pasta, burgers and wraps for lunch or dinner. Vegetarian options feature a tasty mango curry, and the quiet laneway location is a good spot for an end-of-day coffee, beer or wine.

The Hanoi Social Club also hosts regular gigs and events. Check its Facebook page for what’s on.

La                                                   INTERNATIONAL$$

(04-3928 8933; 49 P Ly Quoc Su; mains 125,000-255,000d; noon-late) An intimate, modest-looking and yet atmospheric istro with a creative menu that includes lamb shank braised in orange, sweet pepper and espresso. Regular seasonal specials include Dalat strawberries, and La also offers wines by the glass.

Madame Hien                             VIETNAMESE $$$

(04-3938 1588; www.verticale-hanoi.com; 15 Chan Cam; mains US$10-15; 11am-10pm) Housed in a restored 19th-century villa, Madame Hien is a tribute to French chef Didier Corlu’s Vietnamese elegant versions of traditional Hanoi street food, with the ’36 Streets’ fixed menu(535,000d) a good place to kick off your culinary knowledge of the city. A good-value lunch (147,000d) is also available.

Spices Garden                             VIETNAMESE $$$

(04-3826 6919; www.sofitel-legend.com; Sofitel Metropole Hotel, 15 P Ngo Quyen; tasting platter 460,000d, mains 500,000-800,000d; 11.30am-2.30pm & 6-10.30pm) Here’s where to go to try a stunning range of street food from across Vietnam, all with the 5-star ambience of the Sofitel Metropole Hotel. You’ll obviously be paying way more then if you were sitting on a squat plastic stool in the Old Quarter, but the food is authentic and good, and the heritage vide unmatched.

West of the Old Quarter

Net Hue                                         VIETNAMESE $$

(cnr P Hang Bong & Cam Chi; snacks & mains from 35,000d; 11am-9pm) Net Hue is well-prised for such comfortable surroundings. Head to the top floor for the nicest ambience and enjoy Hue-style dishes like banh nam (steamed rice pancake with minced shrimp)

Quan An Ngon                            VIETNAMESE $

(www.ngonhanoi.com.vn; 15 Phan Boi Chau; dishes 60,000-120,000d; 11am-11pm) A number of small kitchens turn out street food specialities from across Vietnam. Try and visit just outside the busy lunch and dinner periods, or consider Quan An Ngon’s newest branch (34 P Phan Dinh Phung; dishes 60,000-120,000d; 11am-11pm) in a lovely French villa just north of the Old Quarter.

KOTO                                           CAFE$

(04-3747 0338; www.koto.com.au; 59 P Van Mieu; meals 120,000d-160,000d; 7.30am-10pm, closed dinner Mon) Stunning four-storey modernist café-bar-restaurant overlooking the Temple of Literature, where the interior design has been taken very seriouly, from the stylish seating to the fresh flowers by the till. Daily,specials are chalked up on a black board and the short menu has everything from excellent Vietnamese food to yummy pita wraps and beer-battered fish ‘n’ chips.

KOTO is a not-for-profit project providing career training and guidance to disadvantaged children and teen.

Southgate                                     FUSION$$

(04-3938 1979; www.southgatehanoi.com; 28 Tong Duy Tan; tapas 90,000-120,000d, mains 150,000-275,000d; 11.30am-midnight Sun-Wed, to 2am Thu-Sat) Tempting fusion tapas and superb desserts, include thyme, honey and youhurt pannacotta, feature at this stylish restaurant and bar in a wonderfully restored colonial villa. Excellent cocktails hint at a hip vibe transplanted from New York or Sydney. A lazy brunch including omelettes and eggs Benedict(120,000d to 220,000d) is a great way to start the day.

The Matchbox                             EUROPEAN, VIETNAMESE $$

(04-3734 3098; www.thematchbox.vn; 40 Cao Ba Quat; mains 100,000d-290,000d; 8am-10.30pm) In an elegant courtyard beside the Fine Arts Museum, the Matchbox delivers Well-priced food with a Mediterranean spin. Pop in for a plate of pasta and a glass of wine, or linger longer over excellent steaks and Australian red wine. Vietnamese meals are also available, and there’s a good-value steak-and-wine deal (199,000d) on Monday nights.

Puku                                              CAFE$$

(18 Tong Duy Tan; mains 70,000-125,000d; 24hr) A little slice of Kiwi cafe culture – puku means ‘stomach’ in New Zealand’s indigenous Maori language – with great burgers, Mexican wraps and all-day eggy breakfasts. The coffee is terrific and it’s a five-minute walk from the Hanoi railway station, ideal for a restorative brunch after the overnight train back from Sapa. Upstairs shows big-screen live sports.

La Badiane

( 04-3942 44509; www.labaniane-hanoi.com; 10 Nam Ngu; mains from US$17; noon 11pm) This stylish bistro is set in a restored whitewashed French villa arrayed around a breezy central courtyard. French cuisine underpins the menu – La Badiane translates to ‘star anise’ – but Asian and Mediterranean flavours also feature. Menu highlights include sea bass tagliatelle with smoked paprika, and prawn bisque with wasabi tomato bruschetta. Three-course lunches for 325,000d are excellent value.

 

SPECIALITY FOOD STREETS

To combine eating with exploration, head to these locations crammed with interesting restaurant and food stalls.

  • Pho Cam Chi This narrow lane is packed with local eateries turning out cheap, tasty food for a few dollars. Cam Chi translates as ‘Forbidden to Point’ and dates from centuries ago. It is said that the street was named as a reminder for the local residents to keep their curious fingers in their pockets when the king and his entourage went through the neighbourhood. Cam Chi is about 500m northeast of Hanoi train station. Adjoining Tong Duy Tan is also crammed with good eating.
  • Duong Thuy Khue On the southern back of Tay Ho, D Thuy Khue features dozens of outdoor seafood restaurants with a lakeside setting. The level of competition is evident by the daredevil touts who literally throw themselves in front of oncoming traffic to ……. People towards their tables. You can eat well here for about 150,000d per person.
  • Truc Bach A quieter waterfront scene is around the northeast edge of Truc Bach Lake. Many lau (hotpot) restaurants are huddeled together in an almost continous strip for a few hundred metres. Grab a few friends and settle in at one of the dinky lakeside tables for a DIY session of fresh seafood, chicken of beef. It’s perfect on a cool Hanoi night.
  • Pho Nghi Tam About 10km north of central Hanoi, P Nghi Tam has a 1km-long stretch about 60 dog-meat restaurants; keep an eye out for the words thit cho. Hanoians believe that eating dog meat in the first half of the month brings bad luck, so the restaurants are deserted. On the last day of the lunar month, however, they’re packed with locals.

French Quarter

Chim Sao

(www.chimsao.com; 63-65 Ngo Hue; salads 50,000-65,000d; mains 80,000-130,000d; 11am-11pm) Sit at tables downstairs or grab a more traditional spot on the floor upstairs and discover excellent Vietnamese food, with some station, ideal for a restorative brunch after the overnight train back from Sapa. Upstairs shows big-screen live sports.

La Badiane

( 04-3942 4509; www.labadiane-hanoi.com; 10 Nam Ngu; mains from US$17; noon 11pm) This stylish bistro is set in a restored whitewashed French villa arrayed around a breezy central courtyard. French cuisine underpins the menu – La Badiane translates to ‘star anise’ – but Asian and Mediterranean flavours also feature. Menu highlights include sea bass tagliatelle with smoked paprika, and prawn bisque with wasabi tomato bruschetta. Three-course lunches for 325,000d are excellent value.

French Quarter

Chim Sao

( www.chimsao.com; 63-65 Ngo hue; salads 50,000-65,000d, mains 80,000-130,000d; 11am-11pm) Sit at tables downstairs or grab a more traditional spot on the floor upstairs and discover excellent Vietnamese food, with some dishes inspired by the ethnic minorities of Vietnam’s north. Definite standouts are the hearty and robust sausages, zingy and fresh salads, and duck with starfuit. Try and come with a group so you can explore the menu fully.

Nha Hang Ngon

(26A Tran Hung Dao; mains 80,000-130,000d; 11am-11pm) If you find the foodcourt ambience of Quan An Ngon a little frenetic, consider detouring to this similar establishment. There’s the same focus on authentic street-food flavours from around Vietnam, but the courtyard ambience in a restored French villa is more romantic. Weekends are very busy with locals.

Izakaya Yancha

( 04-39744 8437; 121 P Trieu Viet Vuong; meals 120,000-250,000d; 1am-11pm) Surrounded by local cafes on ‘Coffee St’, Izakaya Yancha serves izakaya – think Japanese tapas – in a buzzy and friendly atmosphere. Secure a spot near the open kitchen and work your way through lots of Osaka-style goodies, including excellent tuna sashimi and miso with udon noodles.

Chay Nang Tam

( 79A P Tran Hung Dao; meals from 100,000d; 11am-11pm) Dishes of vegetables that look like meat, reflecting an ancient Buddhist tradition designed to make carnivore guests feel at home.

Pots ‘n Pans

(04-3944 0204; www.potsnpans.vn; 57 P Bui Thi Xuan; mains 295,000-620,000d; 11.30am-late) In a chic modern space, Pots ‘ Pans specialises in innovative fusion dishes blending Vietnamese and European influences. Service is professional from graduates of KOTO, a training organisation for disadvantaged teens. An excellent wine list partners dishes like crispy skin seabass with a prawn and ginger boudin, black sesame noodles, mushrooms, chilli jam and tamarind-and-coconut sauce.

Greater Hanoi

Oasis

( 24 P Xuan Dieu; 8am-6pm) Italian-owned deli with excellent bread, cheese and salami, as well as homemade pasta and sauces. It’s morth of central Hanoi in the Tay Ho restaurant strip on P Xuan Dieu.

Quan Kien

(0983 430 136; www.quankien.com; 143 P Nghi Tam; mains 80,000-130,000d; 11am-11pm) An interesting spot for cuisine from the H’mong Muong and Thai ethnic minorities – try the grilled chicken with wild peper – traditional Vietnamese ruou (wine) made from apricots or apples, and more challenging snacks like grilled ants’ eggs and crickets. If insects aren’t your thing, it’s still a fun night sitting at the low tables eating excellent Vietnamese dishes.

Mau Dich 37

(37 Nam Trang, Truc Bach; snacks 35,000-55,000d, mains 90,000-180,000d; 10am-10pm) Styled after a government-run food shop from the impoverished period after 1976, Mau Dich 37 in a unique exercise on nostalgia. Waiters are dressed as state workers, and diners queue to ‘purchase’ coupons that can be exchanged for food. The menu focuses on robust northern flavours, and features a few challenging dishes like braised frog and snails with ginger leaves.

Foodshop 45

(04-3716 2959; www.foodshop45.com; 59 P Truc Bach; meals 100,000-150,000d; 10am-10.30pm) Hanoi’s best Indian flavours feature at this cosy lakeside spot sanwiched between the lau (hotpot) restaurants on Truc Bach Lake. The ambience is more authentic at the rustic downstairs tables, and menu standouts include a superb kadhai chicken that will definitely have you ordering a second beer.

House of Son Tinh

(04-3715 0577; www.highway4.com; 31 P Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho; meals 100,000-200.000d; 10am-11.30pm) This showcase for the Highway 4 empire features the Son Tinh Lounge Bar, an intimate, downstairs cocktail bar specialising in delicious concoctions made from the award-winning Son Tinh liquors. Upstairs the elegant Highway 4 restaurant offers a diverse range of Vietnamese dishes. Definitely worth the short taxi ride out to the Tay Ho area.

Kitchen

(7A/40 P Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho; snacks & meals 90,000-180,000d; 7am-9.30pm) This West Lake terrace café with a Mexican tinge ticks all the right boxes with a mellow buzz and a creative, healthy menu of delicious sandwiches and salads sourced from organic ingredients. Also great for breakfast or a juice (try the ginger and watermelon tonic) if you’ve been cycling around the lake.

Drinking

Hanoi’s eclectic drinking scene features grungy dive bars, cafes and hundreds of bia hoi joints.

However, as the no-fun police supervise a strict curfew, and regularly show up to enforce the closure of places that flout this law, there’s minimal action after midnight. Lock in action after midnight does occur though; ask around in Hanoi’s hostels to find out which bars are currently staying open beyond the witching hour.

The best places for a bar crawl include traveller-friendly P Ta Hien in the Old Quarter, and Ngo Bao Khanh near the northwest edge of Hoan Kiem Lake. An alternative scene, popular with expats, is in the Tay Ho Lake area on P Xuan Dieu.

Hanoi is definitely not a clubber’s paradise, and the often-enforced midnight curfew means dancing is pretty much confined to bar-clubs in and around the Old Quarter.

Bar Betta

(www.facebook.com/barbetta34; 34 Cao Ba Quat; 9am-midnight) Retro décor and a jazz-age vibe combine with good cocktails, coffee and cool music in this breezy French colonial villa. Two-for-one beers are available from 3pm to 7pm, and the rooftop terrace (from 8pm) is essential on a sultry Hanoi night.

Manzi Art Space

(www.facebook.com/manzihanoi; 14 Phan Huy Ich, Ba Dinh; café 9am-midnight, shop 10am-6pm) Part cool art gallery and part chic café and bar, Manzi is worth seeking out north of the Old Quarter. A restored French villa hosts diverse exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photography, and the compact courtyard garden is perfect for a coffee or glass of wine. There’s also a small shop selling works by contemporary Vietnamese artists.

Summit Lounge

(20th fl, Sofitel Plaza, 1 D Thanh Nien; 4.30pm-late) It’s official. The best views in town are from this 20th-floor lounge bar. Order a (pricey) cocktail or beer, grab a spot on the outside deck, and take in Truc Bach Lake and great vistas of the city. And if you do blow your budget on flash drinks, you can still eat bargain-priced and delicious street food for the rest of the week.

Cama ATK

(www.cama-atk.com; 73 P Mai Hac De; 6pm-midnight Wed-Sat) Make the trek south of Hoan Kiem Lake to this bohemian bar run by CAMA (Hanoi’s Club for Art and Music Appreciation). Check the website for what’s on, which includes everything from Japanese funk and dancehall DJs through to experimental short films and reggae sound systems.

Quan Ly

(82 P Le Van Hu; 10am-9pm) Owner Pham Xuan Ly has lived on this block since 1950, and now runs one of Hanoi’s most traditional ruou (Vietnamese liquor) bars. Kick off with the ginseng one, and work your way up to the gecko variation. An English-language menu makes it easy to choose, and there’s also cheap beer and good Vietnamese food on offer.

HANOI’S COFFEE CULTURE

Western-style cafes and coffee shops are becoming increasingly common in Vietnamese cities, but most of them pale in comparison to the traditional cafes dotted around central Hanoi. Here’s where to go and what to order for an authentic local experience. Most cafes are open from around 7am to 7pm, but hours sometimes vary. On the eastern edge of the Old Quarter, P Nguyen Huu Huan is lined with good cafes, most with free wi-fi.

Café Duy Tri (43A P Yen Phu) In the same location since 1936, this caffeine-infused labyrinth is a Hanoi classic. You’ll feel like Gulliver as you negotiate the tiny ladders and stairways to reach the 3rd-floor balcony. Order the delicious caphe sua chua (iced coffee with yoghurt), and you may have discovered your new favourite summertime drink. You’ll find P Yen Phu a couple of blocks east of Truc Bach Lake north of the Old Quarter.

Café Pho Co (11 P Hang Gai) One of Hanoi’s best-kept secrets, this place has plum views over Hoan Kiem Lake. Enter through the silk shop, and continue through the antique-bedecked courtyard up to the top floor for the mother of all vistas. You’ll need to order coffee and snacks before tackling the final winding staircase. For something deliciously different, try the caphe trung da, coffee topped with a silkily smooth beaten egg white.

Café Lam (60 P Nguyen Huu Huan) Another classic café that’s been around for yonks – long enough to build up a compact gallery of paintings left behind by talented patrons who couldn’t afford to pay their tabs during the American War. These days, you’re just as likely to spy Converse-wearing and Vespa-riding bright young things refuelling on wickedly strong caphe den (black coffee).

Cong caphe (152 P Trieu Viet Vuong) An essential pilgrimage for coffee fiends is P Trieu Viet Vuong, around 1km south of Hoan Kiem Lake. This street is lined with scores of cafes – some modern spots with iPad-toting teens and others more old school. Settle in to the eclectic beats and kitsch Communist memorabia at Cong Caphe with a caphe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk). There’s another Branch (32 P Dien Bien Phu) near the Military History Museum en route to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.

Café Linh (65 P Hang Buom) Step out of the chaos of the Old Quarter into this fascinating café decorated with military memorabilia from the American War. Light boxes display the detritus of war, mortars and grenades are fashioned into lamps, and khaki parachutes billow from the ceiling. Factor in the music – often classic 1960s and 1970s soul and rock – and it’s a happening scene.

DON’T MISS

BIA AHOY!

Tram phan tram!’ Remember these words, as all over Vietnam, glasses of bia hoi are raised and emptied, and cries of tram phan tram (‘100%’ or ‘bottems up’) echo around the table.

Bia hoi is Vietnam’s very own draught beer or microbrew. This refreshing, light-bodied pilsener was first introduced to Vietnam by the Czechs in a display of Communist solidarity. Brewed without preservatives, it is meant to be enjoyed immediately and costs as little as 5000d a glass.

Hanoi is the bia hoi capital of Vietnam and there are microbars on may Old Quarter street corners. A wildly popular place is ‘bia hoi junction’ in the heart of the Old Quarter, where P Ta Hien meets P Luong Ngoc Quyen. It’s now packed with backpackers and travellers though, and has really lost most of its local charm. Did you really come all this way to drink Heineken and talk to boozed neighbours from Jersey City or Johnsonville?

An alternative, more local bia hoi junction is where P Nha Hoa meets P Duong Thanh on the western edge of the Old Quarter. For something to go with the beer, Bia Hoi Ha Noi also does the best spare ribs in town. You’ll also have a great night at Nha Hang Lan Chin (cnr P Hang Tre & P Hang Thung) on thhe corner of P Hang Tre and P Hang Thung. Order the vit quay (roast duck).

Blah Blah

(59B P Hang Be; 7am-late) The unpretentious Blah Blah is Hanoi’s cosiest bar, so you’ll definitely have to chat to other fellow travellers. The music’s decent and we’re big fans of the Friday night pub quiz at 8pm. Rustle up a team at your hostel to win a bottle of whiskey. No Googling answers on your phone, OK?

Cheeky Quarter

(0936 143 3999; 1 P Ta Hien; noon-4am) This sociable bar comes complete with patterned wallpaper and intriguing framed portraits (that look vaguely like they’re depicting some eccentric titled family). Table footy (foosball) is taken very seriously, and the tunes are contemporary: drum ‘n’ bass or house music.

Le Pub

(04-3926 2104; 25 P Hang Be; 7am-late) Le Pub is a great place to hook up with others, as there’s always a good mix of travellers and Hanoi expats. There’s a cosy, tavern-like interior (with big screens for sports fans), a street-facing terrace and a rear courtyard. Bar snacks are served, the service is slick and the music usually includes tunes you can sing along to.

Mao’s Red Lounge

(5 P Ta Hien; noon-late) One of Ta Hien’s most popular bars, this place is a classic dive bar with dim lighting and air thick with tobacco smoke. Drinks are well priced and the music’s usually good. If you don’t like what’s playing, just ask if you can hook up your own tunes to the sound system.

Funky Buddha

( 2 P Ta Hien; noon-late) Crowd around the L-shaped bar and enjoy some of Hanoi’s better cocktails. Once the techno and house beats kick in, it’s more of a nightclub than a bar. Cheap drinks make it a favourite for travellers from nearby backpacker hostels.

Angelina

(Sofitel Metropole Hotel, 15 P Ngo Quyen; noon-2am) Flash hotel bar with glitzy décor and a late license. DJs spin funkky house and chill-out tunes here on weekend nights. Also in the Sofitel Metropople is the poolside Bamboo Bar, dripping in chic, heritage cool.

Legend Beer

(04-3557 1277; 109 P Nguyen Tuan; 11am-late) Yes, it’s a tad touristy, but as every beer comes with fine balcony views of Hoan Kiem Lake, it’s still worth dropping by for a cold one. Bring your electronic device of choice to capture essential video views of the incessant ebb and flow of Hanoi traffic around the city’s busiest roundabout.

Green Mango

(18 P Hang Quat; noon-11pm) This hotel-restaurant also has a great lounge bar, with stylish seating, a tempting cocktail list and plenty of beautiful people enjoying the relaxed vibe.

Dragonfly

(15 P Hang Buom; 4pm-late) Bar-club with a handy Old Quarter location, it draws a (very) young crowd and the music is pretty mainstream.

Rooftop Bar

(19th fl, Pacific Place, 83B P Ly Thuong Kiet; noon-midnight) Another place to come for views of the city – pop in for an expensive beer or cocktail and enjoy the vista. It’s very popular with a glittering array of Hanoi’s bright young things.

GC Pub

(04-3825 0499; 7 P Bao Khanh; noon-midnight) This pub looks pretty run down from the street but it hets very lively on weekend nights. Popular with gay Hanoians and has pool tables.

GAY & LESSIAN HANOI

There are very few gay venues in Hanoi, but plenty of places that are gay-friendly. However official attitudes are still fairly conservative and Hanoi is home to these official attitudes. Police raids in the name of ‘social reform’ aren’t unknown and that tends to ensure the gay and lesbian community keeps a low profile.

The GC Pub is one of the more-established gay bars in Hanoi, and it’s a good place to find out about the most happening new places in town. Accommodation-wise, the Art Hotel and Art Trendy Hotel are gay-friendly.

The website www.utopia-asia.com has up to date information about gay Hanoi. See also the Vietnam information section on www.cambodiaout.com

Entertainment

Cinemas

Centre Culturel Francais de Hanoi

(www.ifhanoi-lespace.com; 24 P Trang Tien) Set in the suclime L’Escape building near the Opera House, it offers a regular program of French flicks. Musical events are also staged; check the website for what’s on.

Cinematheque            

(04-3936 2648; 22A P Hai Ba Trung) This Hanoi institution is a hub for art-house film lovers, and there’s a great little café-bar here too. It’s nominally ‘members only’, but a 50,000d one-off membership usually secures visitors an always-interesting themed double bill.

Megastar Cineplex

(04-3974 3333; www.megastar.vn; 6th fl, Vincom Tower, 191 Ba Trieu) Multiplex cinema with quality screen and audio, and comfy seats. Here’s your chance to see blockbuster movies a few days before they’re on sale as cheap DVDs in the Old Quarter.

Music

Trditional music is usually performed daily at the Temple of Literature. Upmarket Vietnamese restaurants in central Hanoi are also good places to catch traditional Vietnamese music; try Cay Cau in the De Syloia Hotel. Other venues for modern music include the Cama ATK bar and Zone 9.

Hanoi Opera House

(04-3993 0113; 1 P Trang Tien) This French-colonial 900-seat venue was built in 1911. On 16 August 1945 the Viet Minh – run Citizens’ Committee announced from a balcony on this building that it had taken over the city. Performances of classical music and opera are periodically held here in the evenings. Most weekends you’ll see Hanoi wedding couples getting photographed on the elegant front steps.

Check the website www.ticketvn.com for upcoming performances.

Ca Tru

(42 P Hang Bac; admission 220,000d; 8pm Wed, Fri & Sat) Concerts of traditional Vietnamese music held in the intimate suddroundings of a restored courtyard house in the Old Quarter. Ca tru is indigenous to the north of Vietnam, and concerts feature a selection of the 100 or so ca tru melodies. The art form has also been recognised as an endangered ‘intangible cultural heritage’ by Unesco.

Vietnam National Tuong Theatre

(www.vietnamtuongtheatre.com; 51 P Duong Thanh; admission 100,000d; 6.30pm Thu-Sun) Hat tuong is a uniquely Vietnamese variation of Chinese opera that enjoyed its greatest popularity under the Nguyen dynasty in the 19th century. Until 2007, performances at this theatre were by invitation only. Now performances are open to locals and visitors, and a night watching hat tuong is an interesting traditional alternative to Hanoi’s wildly popular water puppets.

Expect highly stylised acting, wonderfully elaborate costumes, and comedy and tragedy with characters from Vietnamese folklore.

Hanoi Rock City

(www.hanoirockcity.com; 27/52 To Ngoc Van, Tay Ho) Hanoi Rock City is tucked away down a residential lane about 7km north of the city near Tay Ho, but it’s a journey well worth taking for an eclectic mix including reggae, Hanoi punk and regular electronica nights. A few international acts swing by, so check the website or www.newhanoian.xemzi.com for listings.

Jazz Club By Quyen Van Minh

(www.minhjazzvietnam.com; 65 Quan Su performances 9-11.30pm) This atmospheric venue is the place in Hanoi to catch some live jazz. There’s a fullbar, food menu and high-quality gigs featuring father-and-son team Minh and Dac, plus other local and international jazz acts. Check the website for listings.

Water Puppets

This fascinating art form originated in northern Vietnam, and Hanoi is the best place to catch a show. Performances are held at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre. Multilingual programs allow the audience to read up on each vignette as it’s performed. Try to book ahead.

DON’T MISS

PUNCH & JUDY IN A POOL

The ancient art of water puppetry (roi nuoc) was virtually unknown outside northern Vietnam until the 1960s. It originated with rice farmers who worked the flooded fields of the Red River Delta. Some say they saw the potential of the water as a dynamic stage; others say they adapted conventional puppetry during a massive flood. Whatever the real story, the art from is at least 1000 years old.

The farmers carved the puppets from water-resistant fig-tree timber (sung) in forms modelled on the villagers themselves, on animals from their daily lives and on fanciful mythical creatures such as the dragon, phoenix and unicorn. Performances were usually staged in ponds, lakes or flooded paddy fields.

Contemporary performances use a square tank of waist-deep water for the ‘stage’: the water is murky to conceal the mechanisms that operate the puppets. The wooden puppets, up to 50sm long and weighing as much as 15kg, are decorated with glossy vegetable-based paints. Each lasts only about three to four months if used continually, so puppet production provides several villages outside Hanoi with a full-time livelihood.

Eleven puppeteers, each trained for a minimum of three years, are involved in the performance. The puppeteers stand in the water behind a bamboo screen and have traditionally suffered from a host of water-borne diseases – these days they wear waders to avoid this nasty occupational hazard.

Some puppets are simply attached to a long pole, while others are set on a floating base, in turn attached to a pole. Most have articulated limbs and heads, some also have rudders to help guide them. In the darkened auditorium, it looks as if they are literally walking on water.

The considerable skills required to operate the puppets were traditionally kept secret and passed only from father to son – never to daughters through fear that they would marry outside the village and take the secrets with them.

The music, which is provided by a band, is as important as the action on stage. The band includes wooden flutes (sao), gongs (cong), cylindrical drums (trong com), bamboo xylophones and the fascinating single-stringed zither (dan bau).

The performance consists of a number of vignettes depicting pastoral scenes and legends. One memorable scene tells of the battle between a fisherman and his prey, which is so electric it appears as if a live fish is being used. There are also fire-breathing dragons (complete with fireworks) and a flute-playing boy riding a buffalo.

The performance is lot of fun. The water puppets are both amusing and graceful, and the water greatly enhances the drama by allowing the puppets to appear and disappear as if by magic. Spectators in the front-row seats can expect a bit of a splash.

Shopping

The area around St Joseph Cathedral has good-quality furnishing stores and stylish clothing boutiques. Both P  Nha Tho and P Au Trieu are filled with interesting shops, and there are also several good cafes in the neighbourhood. For Vietnamese handicrafts, including textiles and lacquerware, head to the stores along P Hang Gai, P To Tich, P Hang Khai and P Cau Go.

For upmarket art galleries stroll along P Trang Tien, between Hoan Kiem Lake and the Opera House. It’s also worth dropping by the Fine Arts Museum, which has a couple of interesting galleries. The stylish café and bar Manzi Art Space also has an interesting store showcasing local artists.

P Hang Gai and its continuation, P Hang Bong, are good places to look for embroidered tablecloths, T-sookworm

Thang Long

Dome

hirts and wall hangings. P Hang Gai is also a fine place to buy silk and have cothes custom-made.

Bookworm

(www.bookwormhanoi.com; 44 Chau Long; 9am-7pm) Stocks over 10,000 new and used English-language books. There’s plenty of fiction and it’s good on South Asian history and politics.

Thang Long

(53-55 P Trang Tien; 9am-6pm) One of the biggest bookshops in town with English and French titles, international newspapers and magazines, and a good selection of titles on the history of Hanoi.

Dome

(04-3928 7677; www.dome.com.vn; 71 P Yen The Trong; 9am-6pm) An elegant emporium with stylish furniture, gorgeous curtains and cushions made from Vietnamese fabrics. Also has very high-quality basketry, lacquerware and gifts.

Hanoi Moment

(www.hanoimoment.vn; 101 P Hang Gai; 8am-9pm) An oasis of classier Vietnamese souvenirs, including lacquerware and jewellery, amidst the T-shirt overkill of nearby stores. Bamboo, stone and porcelain are also used to great effect.

Tan My Design

(www.tanmydesign.com; 61 P Hang Gai; 8am-8pm) Stylish clothing, jewellery and accessories, with the added bonus of a funky café when you need a break from shopping. The homewares and bed linen are definitely worth a look.

Metiseko

(www.metiseko.com; 71 P Hang Gai; 8am-9pm) Lots of stylish, organic and eco-friendly spins on clothing, homewares and accessories. Both cotton and silk are harnessed for Metiseko’s chic collections.

Things of Substance

(04-3828 6965; 5 P Nha Tho; 9am-6pm) Tailored fashions and some off-the-rack items at moderate prices. The staff are professional and speack decent English.

Three Trees

(04-3928 8725; 15 P Nha Tho; 9am-7pm) Stunning, very unusual designer jewellery, including many delicate necklaces, which make special gifts.

Mai Gallery

(04-3828 5854; www.maigallery-vietnam.com; 113 P Hang Bong; 9am-7pm) Run by resident artist Mai, this is a good place to learn more about Vietnamese art before making a purchase.

Viet Art Centre

(04-3942 9085; www.vietartcentre.vn; 42 P Yet Kieu; 9am-5pm) A fine place to browse contemporary Vietnamese art, including paintings, photography and sculpture.

Mekong Quilts

(www.mekong-quilts.org; 13 P Hang Bac; 8am-8pm) This store offers beautiful quilts handcrafted by rural women working in a not-for-profit commnity development program.

Craft Link

(04-3843 7710; ww.craftlink.com.vn; 43 P Van Mieu; 9am-6pm) This not-for-profit organisation near the Temple of Literature sells quality tribal handicrafts and weavings at fair-trade prices.

Mosaique

(www.mosaiquedecoration.com; 6 P Ly Quoc Su; 9am-8pm) Modern and chic updates of traditional lacquerware and silk. The ideal spot to pick up stylish cushion covers, linen and accessories.

Indigenous

(36 P Au Trieu; 9am-6pm) A top spot for quirky ethnic-style gifts and excellent fair-trade coffee. There’s a great little café too, so you can choose your favorite Vietnamese java before you buy

Markets

Buoi Market

(6am-2pm) Located near the southwest edge of Tay Ho at the intersection of Duong Buoi and Lac Long Quan, this market sells live animals like chickens, ducks and pigs but also features ornamental plants.

Dong Xuan Market

(6am-7pm) A large, nontouristy market located in the Old Quarter of Hanoi about 900m north of Hoan Kiem Lake. There are hundreds of stalls here, and it’s a fascinating place to explore if you want to catch a flavour of Hanoian street life. The area around the market also has loads of bustling shops.

Hom Market

(6am-5pm) On the northeast corner of P Hue and P Tran Xuan Soan, this is a good general-purpose market and excellnet for local fabric, if you plan to have clothes made.

Night market

(7pm-midnight Fri-Sun) This merket runs north to south through the Old Quarter, from P Hang Giay to P Hang Dao. Content-wise it’s something of a spillover for the area’s shops, but at least the streets are closed to traffic. Keep an eye out for pickpockets.

Information

DANGERS & ANNOYANCES

First the good news: Hanoi is generally a very safe city to explore, and crimes against tourists are extremely rare. Most visitors are thoroughly seduced by the city and leave captivated by its charm. Don’t let your guard down completely though. While it’s usually perfectly safe to walk around the streets of the Old Quarter at night, it’s best to avoid the darker lanes after around 10pm. It’s also sensible for solo women to take a metered taxi when travelling across the city at night. Do watch out for pickpockets around market areas and inwanted baggage ‘helpers’ in crowded transport terminals – particularly when boarding night trains.

Hanoi has more than its fair share of scam merchants and swndlers, so be sure to keep your antennae up. Most problems involve budget hotels and tours. Very occasionally things can get quite nasty and we’re received reports of verbal aggression and threats of physical violence towards tourists who’ve decided against a hotel room or a tour. Stay calm and back away slowly or things could quickly flare up.

Traffic and pollution are other irritants. The city’s traffic is so dense and unrelenting that simply crossing the street can be a real headache, and weaving a path through a tide of motorbikes (two million and counting) can be a hariy experience. Our advice is to walk slowly and at a constant pace, allowing motorcyclists sufficient time to judge your position and avoid you. Don’t try to move quickly as you’ll just confuse them. Keep your wits about you as you explore the Old Quarter, as motorbikes come at you from all directions and pavements are obstructed by cooking stalls and more parked motorbikes.

Pollution levels are punishing and air quality is poor, with levels of some contaminants higher than in Bangkok.

Scams

Whilst there’s no need to be paranoid, Hanoi is riddled with scams, many of them inextricably linked. The taxi and minibus mafia at the airport suttle unwitting tourists to the wrong hotel. Invariably, the hotel has copied the name of another popular property and will then attempt to appropriate as much of your money as possible. Taxi swindles are also becoming increasingly common. Try to avoid the taxis loitering at Hanoi’s bus stations; many have super-fast meters.

Some shoeshine boys and cyclo drivers attempt to add a zero or two to an agreed price for their services; stick to your guns and give them the amount you originally agreed.

Watch out for friendly, smooth-talking strangers approaching you around Hoan Kiem Lake. There are many variations, but sometimes these con-artists pose as students and suggest a drink or a meal. Gay men are also targeted in this way. Your new friend may then suggest a visit to a karaoke bar, snake-meat restaurant or some other venue and before you know it you’re presented with a bill for hundreds of dollars. Be careful and follow your instincts, as there crooks can seem quite charming.

We’ve also heard reports of male travellers being approached by women late at night in the Old Quarter, and then being forced at gunpoint by the women’s male accpmlices to visit multiple ATMs and empty their accounts. Keep your wits about you, and try to stay in a group if you’re retunrning from a bar late at night.

EMERGENCY

The emergency services should be able to transfer you to an English speaker.

Ambulance 115

Fire 114

Police 113

NEGOTIATING HANOI’S TRAVEL AGENCY MAZE

Hanoi has hundreds of travel agencies, most of a pretty dubious quality, while a few are downright dodgy. Many of the sketchy agencies operate with pushy, ill-informed staff out of Old Quarter budget hotels. It’s these fly-by-night operations we receive the most complaints about. Some cheap hotels have been known to kick out travellers who book tours elsewhere. When you book accommodation, check to make sure there are no strings attched and that it’s not mandatory to book tours at the same busisness also.

Look out for clones of the popular agancies, as it’s common for a rival busisness to set up shop close to a respected agency and attempt to cream off a slice of their business. Often these impostors are staffed by ill-informed workers adopting a very hard sell. Visit online forums like the Thorn Tree (www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree) to check the latest travellers’ buzz.

Some agencies have profeesional, knowledeable staff and coordinate well-organised trips. These companies are inevitably more expensive, but offer a far greater degree of satisfaction. Look for companies that run small groups, use their own vehicles and guides, and offer trips away from the main tourist trail. The following are recommended.

Ethnic Travel (04-3926 1951; www.ethnictravel.com.vn; 35 P Hang Giay; 9am-6pm Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm Sun) Off-the-beaten track trips across the north in small groups. Some trips are low-impact using public transport and homestays, others are activity-based (including hiking, cycling and cooking). Offers Bai Tu Long Bay tours and also has an office in Sapa.

Free Wheelin’ Tours (044-3926 2743; www.freewheelin-tours.com; 2 P Ta Hien, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi; 10am-7pm) Offers motorbike and 4WD tours around the north, including an eight-day trip to the northeast on Minsk bikes.

Handspan Adventure Travel (04-3926 2828; www.handspan.com; 78 P Ma May; 9am-8pm) Sea-kayaking trips in Halong Bay and around Cat Ba Island, and jeep tours, mountain biking and tekking. Other options include remote areas such as Moc Chau and Ba Be National Park, community-based tourism projects in northern Vietnam, and the Treasure Junk, the only true sailing craft cruising Halong Bay. Handspan also has offices in Sapa and HCMC.

Marco Polo Travel (04-3997 5136; www.marcopoloasia.com; Room 107B, N14-49 Nguyen Khoai, Hanoi; 9am-5pm) Runs kayaking trips around Halong Bay and Ba Be Lakes. Also good mountain-biking trips and hiking expeditions around the north of Vietnam.

Ocean Tours (04-3926 0463; www.oceantours.com.vn; 22 P Hang Bac, Hanoi; 8am-8pm)  Well-organised tour operator with Halong Bay and Ba be National Park options, and 4WD road trips around the northeast.

Vega Travel (044-3926 2092; www.vegatravel.vn; cnr P Ma May & 24A P Hang Bac; 8am-8pm) Family owned and operated company offering well-run tours around the north and throughout Vietnam. Excellent guides and drivers, and the company also financially supports ethnic minority kindergartens and schools around Sapa and Bac Ha. Good-value tours of Halong Bay.

INTERNET ACCESS

Most budget and midrange hotels offer free access to a computer and the internet: at fancier places in the rooms, at cheaper places in the lobby.

Free wi-fi access is virtually ubiquitous in the city’s cafes and bars, but dedicated internet cafes are largely a thing of the past, so pack a tablet or smartphone.

MAPS

Hanoi city maps come in every size and scale. Some are freebies subsidised by advertising and others are precise works of cartography.

Leading maps include detailed ones at a scale of 1:10,000 or 1:17,500. Covit produces a couple of hand-drawn 3D maps of Hanoi, including a detailed Old Town map, which make nice souvenirs. Various maps, including those produced by Covit, are available at leading bookshops in Hanoi. There is also an excellent bus map available Xe Buyt Ha Noi (5000d)

MEDICAL SERVICES

Hanoi Family Medical Practice (04-3843 0748; www.vietnammedicalpractice.com; Van Phuc Diplomatic Compound, 298 P Kim Ma; 24hr) Located a few hundred metres west of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex, this practice includes a team of well-respected international physicians and dentists and has 24-hour emergency cover. Prices are high, so check that your medical travel insurance is in order.

L’Hospital Francais deHanoi (04-3577 1100, emergency 04-3574 1111; www.hfh.com.vn; 1 Phuong Mai; 24hr) Long-established, intenational-standard hospital with accident and emergency, intensive care, dental clinic and consulting services. It’s around 3km southwest of Hoan Kiem Lake.

SOS InternationalClinic (04-3826 4545; www.internationalsos.com; 51 Xuan Dieu; 24hr) English, French, German and Jpanese are spoken and there is a dental clinic. It’s 5km north of central Hanoi near Tay Ho Lake.

Viet Duc Hospital (Benh Vien Viet Duc; 04-3825 3531; 40 P Trang Thi; 24hr) Old Quarter unit for emergency surgery; the doctors here speak English, French and German.

Traditional Medicine

Institute of Acupuncture (04-3853 3881; 49 P Thai Thinh; 8-11.30am & 2-4.30pm) Offers effective holistic medicine; located around 4km southwest of Hoan Kiem Lake.

National Institute of Traditional Medicine (04-3826 3616; 29 P Nguyen Binh Khiem; 7.30-11.30am & 1.30-4pm) For Vietnamese-style medical solutions.

MONEY

Hanoi has many ATMs, and on the main roads around Hoan Kiem Lake there are international banks where you can exchange currency and receive cash advances on credit cards. There is no black market exchange in Hanoi, and if someine offers to change money on the street, they’re looking to rip you off. Note that some ATMs limit the amount you can withdraw to only 3,000,000d. ANZ and HSBC ATMs usually have higher limits.

POST

Domestic Post Office (Buu Dien Trung Vong; 04-3825 7036; 75 P Dinh Tien Hoang; 7am-9pm) For internal postal services in Vietnam; also sells philatelic items.

International Postal Office (04-3825 2030; cnr P Dinh Tien Hoang & P Dinh Le; 7am-8pm) The entrance is to the right of the domestic office.

DHL (044-3733 2086; www.dhl.com.vn)

Federal Express (04-3824 9054; www.fedex.com/vn)

TELEPHONE

Guesthouse are convenient for local calls within Hanoi. For international  services, Skype offers the cheapest rates, either via a wifi hotspot or on shared computers in guesthouses and hotels.

TOURIST INFORMATION

Tourist Information Center (04-3926 3366; P Dinh Tien Hoang; 9am-7pm) City maps and brochures, but privately run with an emphasis on selling tours. In the cafes and bars of the Old Quarter, look for the excellent local magazine The World.

USEFUL WEBSITES

Hanoi Grapevine (www.hanoigrapevine.com) Information about concerts, art exhibitions and cinema.

Infoshare (www.infosharehanoi.com) Geared towards expats, this site also has useful content for visitors, and links to other worthwhile sites.

Sticky Rice (www.stickyrice.typepad.com) Foodie website, with the lowdown on everything from gourmet Vietnamese to Hanoi street kitchens.

The Word (www.wordhanoi.com) Online version of the excellent, free monthly magazine The Word.

TNH Vietnam (www.tnhvietnam.xemzi.com) Formerly dubbed The New Hanoian, TNH Vietnam is the premier online resource for visitors and expats; good for up-to-date restaurant and bar reviews.

Getting There & Away

AIR

Hanoi has fewer direct international flights than Ho Chi Minh City, but with excellent connections through Singapore, Hong Kong or Bangkok you can get almost anywhere easily.

Vietnam Airlines (1900 545 486; www.vietnamair.com.vn; 25 P Trang Thi; 8am-5pm Mon-Fri) Links Hanoi to destinations throughout Vietnam. Popular routes include Hanoi to Dalat, Danang, Dien Bien Phu, HCMC, Hue and Nha Trang, all served daily.

Jetstar Airways (1900 1550; www.jetstar.com) Operates low-cost flights to Danang, HCMC and Nha Trang.

Vietjet Air (1900 1886; www.vietjetair.com) Launched in 2012, this low-cost airline has flights to Hanoi, Nha Trang, Danang, Dalat and Bangkok.

BUS & MINIBUS

Hanoi has four main long-distance bus stations of interest to travellers. They are fairly well organised, with ticket offices, fixed prices and schedules. Consider buying tickets the day before you plan to travel on the longer distance routes to ensure a seat. It’s often easier to book through a travel agent, but you’ll obviously be charged a commission.

Tourist-style minibuses can be booked through most hotels and travel agents. Popular destinations include Halong Bay and Sapa. Prices are usually about 30% to 40% higher than the regular public bus, but include a hotel pick-up.

Many open-ticket tours through Vietnam start or finish in Hanoi.

CATCHING THE BUS TO CHINA

Two daily services (at 7.30am and 7.30pm) to Nanning, China (450,000d. eight hours) leave near the Hong Ha Hotel. Tickets should be purchased in advance, though little English is spoken at the hotel. You may be asked to show your Chinese visa. Most travel agencies also sell tickets.

The bus runs to the border at Dong Dang, where you pass through Chinese immigration. You then change to a Chinese bus, which continues to the Lang Dong bus station in Nanning. Reports from Nanning-bound travellers indicate that this route is less hassle and quicker than travelling by train.

Giap Bat Bus Station (04-3864 1467; D Giai Phong) Serves points south of Hanoi, and offers more comfortable sleeper buses. It is 7km south of the Hanoi train station.

Gia Lam Bus Station (04-3827 1569; D Ngoc Lam) has buses to the northeast of Hanoi. It’s located 3km northeast of the centre across the Song Hong (Red River).

LuongYen Bus Station (04-3942 0477; cnr Tran Quang Khai & Nguyen Khoai) Located 3km southeast of the Old Quarter, it operates services to the east. Transport to Cat Ba Island is best organised here. Note that the taxis at Luong Yen are notorious for dodgy meters. Walk a couple of blocks and hail one off the street.

My Dinh Bus Station (04-3768 5549; D Pham Hung) This station 7km west of the city provides services to the west and the north, including sleeper buses to Dien Bien Phu for onward travel to Laos. It’s also the best option for buses to Ha Giang and Mai Chau.

BUSES FROM HANOI

Giap Bat Bus Station

DESTINATION DURATION COST (D) FREQUENCY
Ninh Binh 2 70,000 Frequent 7am-6pm
Dong Hoi 8 380,000 Frequent sleepers noon-6.30pm
Dong Ha 8 380,000 Frequent sleepers noon-6.30pm
Hue 10 380,000 Frequent sleepers noon-6.30pm
Danang 12 380,000 Frequent sleepers noon-6.30pm
Dalat 35 450,000 9am,11am
Nha Trang 32 700,000 10am,3pm,6pm

 

Gia Lam Bus Station

DESTINATION DURATION COST (D) FREQUENCY
(Bai Chay) Halong City 3,5 120,000 Every 30min
Haiphong 2 70,000 Frequent
Lang Son 4 100,000 Every 45min
Mong Cai 8 260,000 Hourly (approx)
Lao Cai 9 250,000 6.30pm,7pm (sleeper)
Sapa 10 300,000 6.30pm,7pm (sleeper)
Ba Be 5 180,000 Noon

 

Luong Yen Bus Station

DESTINATION DURATION COST (D) FREQUENCY
HCMC 40 920,000 7am,10am,2pm,6pm
Haiphong 3 70,000 Frequent
Lang Son 3,5 100,000 Frequent
Cat Ba Island 5 240,000 5.20am,7.20am,11.20am,1.20pm

 

My Dinh Bus Station

DESTINATION DURATION COST (D) FREQUENCY
Cao Bang 10 190,000 Every 45min
Dien Bien Phu 11 375,000 11am,6pm
Hoa Binh 3 55,000 Frequent
Son La 7 170,000 Frequent to 1pm
Ha Giang 7 140,000 Frequent

 

CAR

Car hire is best arranged via a travel agency or hotel. Rates almost always include a driver, a necessity as many roads and turnings are not signposted. The roads in the north are in OK shape, but narrow lanes, potholes and blind corners equate to an average speed of 35km/h to 40km/h. During the rainy season, expect serious delays as landslides are cleared and bridges repaired. You’ll definitely need a 4WD.

Rates start at about US$110 a day (including a driver and petrol). Make sure the driver’s expenses are covered in the rate you’re quoted.

MOTORBIKE

Hanoi has several good operators with well-maintained bikes.

Offroad Vietnam (0913 047 509; www.offroadvietnam.com; 36 P Nguyen Huu Huan; 8am-6pm Mon-Sat) For reliable Honda trail bikes (from US$20 daily) and road bikes (US$17). The number of rental bikes is limited, so booking ahead is recommended. Offroad’s mainly business is running excellent tours, mainly dealing with ravellers from English-speaking countries. Tours are either semiguided excluding meals and accommodation, or all inclusive fully-guided tours.

Mr Anh at Offroad Vietnam is also a great source of information on the changing state of northern Vietnam’s roads.

Cuong’s Motorbike Adventure (0913 518 772; www.cuongs-motorbike-adventure.com; 46 P Gia Ngu; 8am-6pm) Also recommended with trips all around the north. Look out for the bright pink Minsk motorbike.

TRAIN

Southbound Trains To Hue, Danang, Nha Trang, HCMC

Trains to southern destinations go from the main Hanoi Train Station at the western end of P Tran Hung Dao on D Le Duan. To the left of the main entrance is the ticket office with adjacent posters displaying train departure times and fares. Take a ticket and look out for your booth number on the screens. It’s a good idea to write down your train number, departure time and prefered class in Vietnamese. Southbound trains depart at 6.15am, 9am, 1.15pm, 7pm and 11pm.

We recommend buying your tickets a few days before departure to ensure a seat or sleeper. Tickets can also be purchased from most travel agencies, and their commission for booking usually offsets the language hassle it can sometimes be to buy tickets directly from the railway station. They also often have preferential access to tickets to popular destinations like Hue, Ho Chi Minh City and Lao Cai (for Sapa).

Approximately journey times from Hanoi are as follows, but check when you book, as some trains are quicker than others: Hue (11 hours), Danang (13,5 hours), Nha Trang (24,5 Hours ), HCMC (31 hours). Approximate costs from Hanoi are shown in the Southbound Trains table, but note that didderent departures have different are structures and available classes.

Northbound Trains to Lao Cai (for Sapa) & China

All northbound trains leave from a separate station (just behind Station A and known as Station B) called Tran Quy Cap Station. This is accessed by an entrance on P Tran Quy Cap. Cross the tracks north of Station A and turn left to reach this station. There are separate ticket offices for northbound trains to Lao Cai (for Sapa) and China. It you’ve already booked for one of the private carriages to Sapa, you’ll need to exchange your voucher for a ticket at the appropriate tour desk.

Once you’re in China the train to Beijing is a comfortable, air-conditioned service with four0bed sleeper compartments and a restaurant.

Eastbound trains to Haiphong and China

Eastbound (Haiphong) trains depart from Gia Lam Train Station on the eastern side of the Song Hong (Red River), or Long Bien on the western (city) side of the river. Be sure to check which station. Trains to Nanning (China) also depart from here. Note that you cannot board international Nanning-bound trains in Lang Son or Dong Dang.

See www.seat61.com for the latest information on all trains in Vietnam.

Getting Around

TO/FROM THE AIRPORT

Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport is about 35km north of the city. The trip here takes 45 minutes to an hour, along a fast modern high-way.

Bus

Public bus 17 (5000d) from outside the arrivals hall runs to/from Long Bien bus station (5000d; 5am-9pm) on the northern edge of the Old Quarter. Luggage may be charged separately. Allow around 90 minutes’ travelling time.

Taxi

Airport Taxi (04-3873 3333) charges US$20 for a taxi ride door-to-door to or from Noi Bai airport. From the terminal, look out for the official taxi drivers who wear bright-yellow jackets. They do not require that you pay the toll for the bridge you cross en route. Some other taxi drivers do require that you pay the toll, so ask first. There are numerous airport scams involving taxi drivers and dodgy hotels. Don’t use freelance taxi drivers touting for business – the chances of a rip-off are too high. If you’ve already confirmed accommodation, definitely book a taxi through your hotel.

Jetstar Airport Bus

Goes to Noi Bai (40,000d) from southeast of the lake at 206 Tran Quang Khai. Passengers must be at the city stop at least 2,5 hours before their flight’s scheduled departure time.

Vietnam Airlines Minibus

Links Hanoi and Noi Bai (US$3), leaving every half hour to/from the Vietnam Airlines office on P Trang Thi. It’s best – though not essential – to book the day before.

BICYCLE

Many Old Quarter guesthouses and cafes rent bikes for about US$3 per day. Good luck with that traffic.

The Hanoi Bicycle Collective (www.thbc.vn; 44 Ngo 31, Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho; bike rental per day from 100,000d; 8am-8pm Tue-Sun) Vietnamese bikes and mountain bikes (phone ahead one day prior to book) can be rented at this funky spot near Tay Ho that also doubles as a café and gin bar. Grab a Spanish-style bocata sanwich before setting off around the 15km lakeside path around Tay Ho. Check the website for regular rides around the city hosted by the Collective.

BUS

Hanoi has an extensive public bus system, though few tourists take advantage of the rock-bottom fares (3000d). If you’re game, pick up the Xe Buyt Ha Noi (Hanoi bus map; 5000d) from the Thang Long bookstore.

MIND THE MAFIA

It happens all over the world and Hanoi is no exception.  Many of the drivers who hang out at Noi Bai airport are working in cahoots with hotels and travel agencies in Hanoi. They know every trick in the book and usually carry the cards of all the popular budget hotels. ‘It’s full today’ is popular, as is ‘they have a new place, much nicer, number two’. Usually it’s a bunch of lies. The best defence is to insist you already have a reservation. Even if the place does turn out to be full, you can plot your own course from there. When it comes to the Vietnam Airlines minibus, the best bet is to bail out at the Vietnam Airlines office, usually the first stop in the centre. Otherwise you will be gragged around endless commission-paying hotels in the Old Quarter. Another option to avoid the nonsense is to book a room in advance and arrange an airport pick-up. Someone will be waiting with a name board and you can wave to the taxi touts as you exit the airport.

CAR & MOTORBIKE

Getting around Hanoi by motorbike means relentless traffic, non-existent road manners and inadequate street lighting. Factor in possible theft, parking hassles and bribe-happy police, and it’s not for the timid. Intrepid types can arrange mopeds for around US$5 per day in the Old Quarter.

CYCLO

A few cyclo drivers still frequent the Old Quarter, and if you’re only going a short distance, it’s a great way to experience the city (despite the fumes). Settle on a price first and watch out for overcharging – a common ploy when carrying two passengers is to agree on a price, and then double it upon arrival, gesturing ‘no,no,no…that was per person’.

Aim to pay around 50,000d for a shortish journey; night rides are more. Few cyclo drivers apeak English so take a map with you.

ELECTRIC TRAIN

Hanoi’s eco-friendly electric train (per car (six passengers), 250,000d ; 8.30am-10.30pm) is actually a pretty good way to get your bearings in the city. It traverses a network of 14 stops in the Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake, parting the flow of motorbikes and pedestrians like a slow-moving white dragon. Nothing really beats haphazardly discovering the nooks and crannies of the Old Quarter by foot, but if you’re feeling a tad lazy, the train is worth considering. The main departure point is the northern end of Hoan Kiem Lake, and there’s another departure point outside Dong Xuan Market. A full journey around the Old Quarter takes around an hour.

MOTORBIKE TAXI

You won’t have any trouble finding a xe om (motorbike taxi) in Hanoi. An average journey in the city centre costs around 15,000d to 20,000d, while a trip further to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is around 35,000d to 40,000d. For two or more people, a metered taxi is usually cheaper than a convoy of xe om.

TAXI

Several reliable companies offer metered taxis. All charge fairly similar rates. Flag fall is around 20,000d, which takes you 1km to 2km; every kilometre thereafter costs around 15,000d. Some dodgy operators have high-speed meters, so use the following more reliable companies.

Thanh Nga Taxi (044-3821 5215)

Van Xuan (04-3822 2888)

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