Following its dramatic history and current resurgence the Vietnamese city of Hanoi has seen many changes over its 1000-year history. Originally called ‘The City of the Soaring Dragon’ Hanoi’s fortunes do seem to be on the ascendant.
There are so many different aspects of the country as a whole that it is probably a good idea, when thinking of spending some of your precious holiday time in Vietnam, to take a bit of time to carry out some research and give yourself enough time to immerse yourself in the local culture. Hanoi was the French colonial capital of the country until 1954 when Vietnam was divided, and then came the war between North and South Vietnam and it is only in the last few decades that visitors have been welcomed back to this bustling metropolis.
If you want to start the day with a spot of history make your way to Ba Dinh Square where you can absorb the remnants of the communist revolution under Ho Chi Minh. Many of the buildings around the square date back to French colonial times, including the Governor’s house. You can either watch, or take part, in the daily mass Tai Chi exercise and then if you really want to experience history close and personal you could visit the mummified body of Ho Chi Minh, dead since 1969.
One of the enduring joys of Hanoi is the Thang Long Water Puppet theatre and travellers of all ages are encouraged to go and watch a show. A word of warning, Hanoi traffic is dominated by kamikaze like moped drivers, a recent count estimated that the whole of the city’s six million population owns one of these noisy vehicles so crossing roads is a little akin to taking your life into your hands.
The Old City
A fascinating way to pass some time is to take a stroll around Hanoi’s old quarter. Crossing the Long Bien Bridge can access these medieval streets, and little appears to have changed here for centuries. Try and stop in at Thouc Bac the traditional herbal medicine street where snakes and scorpions immersed in rice wine are part of the cures on offer, the whole street is a testament to Vietnamese medicine, herbs and roots of all kinds of curative plants can be bought here but if you do not know much about these arts try to ask an independent advisor to clarify matters for you.
Once you have come to terms with the constant noise that permeates Hanoi you should start to appreciate its unique atmosphere. From western style antique shops to those that specialise in art from the distant hill tribes Hanoi has a diverse selection of art on sale. Jewellery shops are fascinating and some exquisite examples of lacquer work can be inspected at Mareno. It’s also well worth your while to try and buy some quality silk garments in Hanoi, though steer clear of the more touristy looking shops and check out where the locals go, it’s probably better quality.