Hanoi Travel Guides
Invading forces from every direction agree: Hanoi makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more than a thousand years, through several invasions, occupations, restorations, and name changes. The Chinese conquered the imperial city of of Đại La in 1408 and renamed it Tống Bình. Le Loi repelled the invaders in 1428 and applied the name of Lê Thái Tổ (黎太祖); for his efforts, he received the crown and a slew of legends about his heroic exploits, many centered around the Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. The Nguyen Dynasty gave the city its modern name of Ha Noi in 1831, but they had transferred power to Hue by then; it remained there until 1887, when the French made Hanoi the capital of all Indochina. It changed hands again in 1954, when it was ceded to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh after almost a decade of fighting, and it became the capital of North Vietnam; upon reunification in 1975, it assumed that title for the entire country.
The first western-style universities in Vietnam were founded in Hanoi, and today, it is the leading center of scientific study and research in the country. Hanoi retains much of its older colonial charm, despite the battles that have raged over it; conflict had the side effect of making it largely oblivious to modern architecture, and as a result, few buildings in the city center area are higher than five stories. The Old Quarter is second only to Hoi An for uninterrupted stretches of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, well-preserved on dense warrens of narrow, wonderfully atmospheric streets. It trades the commercial boom and sprawl of Ho Chi Minh City in the South for a more understated charm, worth enjoying for an extra day or two, and with countless transport options and travel agents, it makes a perfect base for exploration of the North.
As you walk along the street, you may find that people start talking to you. It is a cultural norm there to make conversation with strangers. They might ask you where you are from and other general questions.
It takes awhile to get used to that. However, there are times when you find this friendliness extremely helpful, such as when you are lost or need help.
The Tourist Information Centre, ☎ +84 4 926 3366, Dinh Tien Hoang, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, can provide a fairly useful map (bewilderingly, the blow-up of the old town is missing making it useless in that part of town) and other English-language advice, as well as limited free Internet. They aren’t completely without bias.
The Tet holiday (Lunar New Year’s Eve) is in the Spring. Flowers are the most beautiful during this time of the year. The weather starts to warm up with light rain here and there during the week. Hanoians believe that these light rains bring prosperity and luck for the New Year.
The Summer, on the other hand, is quite intolerable. The heat alone would be alright but there is the humidity which would start to manifest in the air since Spring. Visitors also have to be very careful with mosquitoes because there are a lot in Hanoi due to the level of moisture in the air and the temperature. Hanoi has a good climate for many insects to proliferate, not just mosquitoes.
There is something unique about Hanoi’s Autumn. The weather is perfect with less humidity in the air. The temperature would drop by now, offering people a chance to take out their fleece and jackets. Moreover, there is this type of tree – “cay hoa sua” which only has flowers in Autumn. The flower has a very distinct smell. If you have the chance to visit Hanoi during Autumn, make sure you ask the local people about this type of trees and where you can experience their distinct aroma.
Winter can be quite brutal because it is not only cold, but also very humid. The winter in Hanoi feels even colder due to the fact that Vietnamese houses typically don’t have a central heating system. Many houses don’t have any types of heating at all.