Ha Noi

Hà Nội, literally the “city between the rivers”, is the capital and second biggest city of Viet Nam. The historical Old Town, the colonial French Quarter, ancient temples of more than thousand years of age and various scenic lakes and landmarks make up one of the most fascinating cities of Southeast Asia, with a mix of Chinese and French influences enriching the vibrant Vietnamese culture.

The compact city centre is bordered by the Red River (Song Hong) to the east as well as to the north and a railway line to the west with the Hoan Kiem Lake nowadays being its focal point of public life and an excellent point of orientation. North of the lake lies Hanoi’s historic heart, the Old Quarter (Phố Cổ Hà Nội). Most of the street names still originate from the 13th century when every guild had its own street, usually called “Hàng” meaning “merchandise” followed by the name of the product, which is produced or sold there. Since at that time the tax depended on the width of the house frontage, the area is famous for its so-called tube houses, buildings with narrow frontages of two to three metres with a length of 20 to 60 metres.

The city’s most prominent sights include the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu), site of the oldest university in Vietnam dating back to 1070, the One-Pillar Pagoda (Chùa Một Cột), one of Viet Nam’s most iconic temples, the Flag Tower of Hanoi (Cột cờ Hà Nội), one of the few remains of the old Hanoi Citadel and one of the symbols of the city and many museums.

Hanoi’s narrow and crowded streets filled with various exotic scents, hawkers weaving through motorbikes and cyclos overloaded with fruits, livestock as well as human cargo create this unique fusion of old and new making it a reflection of the rapid changes the country is recently going through. There’s no better way of exploring this spirit of Hanoi than wandering around the streets, soaking up its sights, sounds and smells.

Hanoi's population of about 3.4 million is constantly growing (about 3.5% per year), a reflection of the fact that the city is both the economic heart of northern Vietnam and also the country's political center. Long-time residents of Hanoi are increasingly rare, even in the Old Quarter, where merchant families have lived for generations. Now, established merchants are just as likely to rent their storefront space and live elsewhere. Viet Nam is still a socialist country, but you'll find that people in Ha Noi, like many Vietnamese, have embraced capitalism with gusto.

Hanoi has been capital of Vietnam for nearly a thousand years, during which the city has endured numerous invasions, occupations, restorations and name changes. The Chinese ruled Hanoi and much of Vietnam off and on for centuries, until a Vietnamese general named Le Loi (the later King Le Thai To) finally secured the nation's independence in 1428. It wasn't until 1831 that the Nguyen Dynasty renamed the city Ha Noi, which can be translated as “Between Rivers” or “River Interior”. In mid-1800s, Viet Nam was colonized by the French and Ha Noi became capital of French Indochina in 1887.

The French administration imposed significant political and cultural changes on Vietnamese society. A Western-style system of modern education was developed, and Christianity was introduced into Vietnamese society. In addition, it was also the development of plantation economies to promote the exports of tobacco, indigo, tea and coffee. The French colonialists largely ignored increasing calls for self-government and civil rights.

A nationalist political movement soon emerged, with leaders such as Phan Boi Chau, Phan Chu Trinh, Emperor Ham Nghi and Ho Chi Minh calling for independence. During the Second World War the Japanese occupied Hanoi and the rest of Viet Nam (1940-1945), exploited the country for its natural resources. With the end of the war, the French resumed control of their colony. In response, Ho Chi Minh launched a liberation movement that led to eight bloody years of war with France. The French finally withdrew in 1954, leaving Vietnam divided in half at the 17th parallel, with Ho Chi Minh's communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam based in the north, and the Republic of Vietnam in the south.

It follows the bitter Vietnam War (the American War), during which Ha Noi suffered from heavy bombardments. Ha Noi became the capital of Vietnam when North and South Vietnam were formally reunited in July 1976.

Ha Noi: Getting around and transportation

  •  Air

The international airport Noi Bai of Ha Noi has fewer direct international flights compared to HCMC, but most international destinations can be reached by direct flights. Vietnam Airlines (Tel. 3 943 9660, 25 Phố Tràng Thi) connects Ha Noi to destinations throughout Vietnam. Popular routes include to Da Nang, Dien Bien Phu, HCMC, Hue and Nha Trang, all served daily. Jetstar Pacific Airlines (Tel. 3 974 5555, 193 Ba Trieu Street) also offers daily flights to Da Nang and HCMC.

  • Bus

Ha Noi has a number of long-distance bus stations, each serves a particular area. The bus stations are quite well organized, with ticket offices, fixed prices and printed schedules. You should consider buying tickets the day before you plan to travel on the longer-distance routes to ensure a seat. Kim Ma bus station in central Ha Noi (corner Nguyen Thai Hoc and Giang Vo) has buses to the north-western part of Vietnam. Gia Lam bus station (Tel. 3 827 1569, Ngoc Lam Street) is dedicated for buses to destinations northeast of Hanoi, including Ha Long Bay (40 Thousand Dong, 3.5 hours), Hai Phong (35 Thousand Dong, 2 hours), Lang Son (50 Thousand Dong, 3 hours).

The bus station is 2km northeast of the city centre (taxi around 50 Thousand Dong). Better to reach is the Luong Yen bus station in the southeast of town, serving the same places. Giap Bat bus station, which is 7 km south of Ha Noi (Tel. 3 864 1467, Giai Phong Street) serves areas south of Hanoi, including Ninh Binh (28 Thousand Dong, 2 hours) and Hue (80 Thousand Dong, 12 hours). Another alternative is My Dinh bus station (Tel. 3 768 5549, Pham Hung Street), which serves a range of destinations, including Ha Long, Lang Son, Cao Bang, Dien Bien Phu. Many open-ticket tours through Vietnam (like Sinhcafe) start or finish in Hanoi. Tourist-style minibuses (also private tour) can be booked through most hotels and cafés. Popular destinations include Ha Long Bay and Sapa. Open buses leave usually in the evening: Hoi An (US$13, 18 hours), HueHue (US$10, 13 hours), Nha Trang (US$20, 31 hours), Saigon (US$25, 42 hours).

  • Train

The main Hang Co train station of Ha Noi (Tel. 3 825 3949; 120 Le Duan Street) serves trains going south. English speaking staff (counter 2) is dedicated to help foreigners to purchase tickets, which would be best to buy at least one day in advance, for example to ensure a seat or sleeper. Trains going north (Lao Cai and Lang Son) and east (Hai Phong) however, depart from Gia Lam (eastern side of the Red River). The webpage of the Viet Nam Rail (Duong Sat Viet Nam; www.vr.com.vn) with some current timetables is however still in an improvable status.

  • Taxis

There are a lot of bad stories about taxis in Ha Noi, which is known for bad reputation. Ask a restaurant or hotel to call one for you to insure you don’t get cheated. The following taxi companies have good reputations: Airport Taxi (Tel. 3 873-333), Hanoi Taxi (Tel. 3 853-5353), Mai Linh Taxi (Tel. 3 822-2666)

Attractions
July 30th, 2014

Phủ Tây Hồ is a small pagoda located on a peninsula that just in the middle of the West Lake (Hồ Tây) shore in Hà Nội. It is said to be a popular destination among unmarried people, who come here on...

Hotels
June 25th, 2013

An excellent International 4 Star hotel, Sunway Hotel Hanoi is owned and managed by Sunway International Hotels & Resorts which operates 14 hotels in Asean. Beautifully furnished rooms and winning...

Restaurants
July 30th, 2014

"Quan An Ngon got started in Ho-Chi-Minh City five years ago, and judging by the lunch and evening crowds, its new Ha Noi branch seems to be as popular as its southern predecessor.