The grid of streets found just north of Hoàn Kiếm Lake is Hanoi's Old Quarter. Once home to merchants and craft guilds, this section of town is now firmly in the hands of tourism. But if you can block out the thousands of travel agencies advertising Sapa Tours, and ignore the constant sales pitches of the cyclo drivers, it's possible to get a sense of how the Old Quarter must have felt in... well... the old days.
Hanoi has been conquered, occupied, liberated and renamed more times than any other city we've visited. In fact, upheaval seems to be the only constant in Hà Nội... or is that Long Biên? Or Đại La? Thăng Long, Đông Đô, Đông Quan, or Tonkin? Here's a concise rundown of the most important moments in this schizophrenic city's history. 2879 BCHuman presence in Northern Vietnam dates back to at least 6000 BC, but the first significant event in…
Nothing in the arsenal of the American military was as deadly to the people of Hanoi as the B-52. During one operation, charmingly nicknamed the "Christmas Bombings", 15,000 tons were dropped on the city, resulting in the deaths of 1624 civilians. But Hanoi was not without its defenses. Today, the B-52 Victory Museum celebrates the Vietnamese skill at shooting the hated American planes out of the sky.
Thank you, Uncle Ho: our hero! Leader of the struggle to free Vietnam from foreign influence! As a humble token of our gratitude, we honor you inside this mausoleum, where your corpse will be injected with embalming fluid and displayed eternally to generations of patriots ... Uncle Ho? Why are you crying?
As a country made up of 54 ethnicities, Vietnam is uniquely in need of an ethnology museum. And happily, the one found in the west of Hanoi is excellent. We drove out to the Cầu Giấy district to check out the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.
Consecrated in 1886, St. Joseph's Cathedral was one of the first buildings constructed by the French after the conquest of Hanoi. With a prime location just to the west of Hoàn Kiếm Lake, the church is among the most impressive pieces of colonial architecture in the city.
After one weekend in the city, we had already established Bia Hoi as our favorite new Hanoi weekend tradition. Bia Hoi joints are found on almost every corner in the capital, serving light, super-cheap draft beer, along with food. It doesn't matter what kind of day you've had: if you finish it by pounding down a few Bia Hoi, you'll go to bed happy.
Legend has it that Emperor Lê Lợi was fishing on Hoàn Kiếm Lake, when a turtle god emerged and asked for his magic sword. Although the sword, which he had used to defeat the invading forces of the northern Ming, was precious to him, Lê Lợi was not about to second-guess a god. The turtle took the sword in his jaws and brought it to the depths of the lake, where it remains to this day.
A distinctive facade of three wide arches welcomes shoppers to Hanoi's largest covered market, the Chợ Đồng Xuân. With mostly clothes and bulk foods on sale, this isn't a place for souvenir-hunting tourists. But if you're in the market for a fascinating slice of local life, it might be just what you're looking for.
Because the Old Quarter of Hanoi has given itself over so completely to tourism, it can be hard to get a sense of its history. But if you'd like to see how families lived in the 19th century, head to the Heritage House, in the heart of the backpacker district at 87 Ma May.