Walking across the historic Long Biên Bridge is not for the faint of heart. As motorbikes blaze by and trains rumble past, pedestrians have to step along crumbling concrete slabs, with the Red River visible through the gaps, dozens of meters below.
Hanoi is a city in which first impressions can be totally inaccurate... especially if you've just come from South Vietnam. The relaxed and friendly demeanor of Saigon is nowhere to be found here, and the initial feeling we had wasn't positive. But after a month, we started to understand the city on its own terms, and not just in comparison to Saigon.
The majority of visitors to Hanoi probably have no idea how large it actually is, because they never leave its core of Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter. Tourism goes from critical inside this sphere, to practically non-existent just outside it. By any reckoning, a neighborhood like Văn Chương should at least have some foreign visitors, even if it's just those who have gotten lost. From a map, it's still in the dead center of Hanoi! But nope. We didn't see a single one, despite spending an entire day here.
By far the largest lake in Hanoi, Hồ Tây, or West Lake, actually sits at the north of the city. At seventeen kilometers in circumference, it's not a lake you'd want to walk around. But a bike tour makes perfect sense.
We weren't as impressed with Hanoi's street food as we were with that of Saigon. In the capital, there's not as much variety, and the locals are far more keen to overcharge tourists. But over the course of the weeks, we managed to find a lot of new dishes, and some great places in which to try them. Here are our favorites.
Most cities have train tracks which cut through them; it's nothing too special. But there aren't many cities in which the tracks are basically just another street, with houses and businesses lined up right along the side. Hanoi doesn't have time for your conventions or common sense! If there's a place in the old town where someone can live and work, someone will be living and working there.
Opened in 1990 on the occasion of his 100th birthday, the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi is found within the same complex as his mausoleum. The museum is heavy on symbolism and does an excellent job introducing and celebrating Vietnam's most famous historical figure.
Found within the same complex as the Citadel, the Military History Museum is spread across a couple buildings, and includes the famous Flag Tower of Hanoi.
Hanoi is surrounded by hundreds of so-called craft villages; communities which have historically dedicated themselves to a particular craft. Though they've lost much of their prominence in the modern age of industrialization and mass production, and many have been consumed by the expansion of Hanoi, some of them are still plugging away. One such place is the forging village of Đa Sỹ, thirteen kilometers to the southwest of the capital. This wasn't the first craft village we'd…
Ca Trù is a form of royal court music which dates back to the 11th century. The style almost died out completely after the reunification of Vietnam, but it's been making a comeback, led by musical scholars and organizations like UNESCO, who have named Ca Trù an example of Intangible Cultural Heritage. We went to see a performance by the Ca Trù Club at the Kim Ngân Temple in the Old Quarter. Though it got its start…