Hanoi, one of the most beautiful of the colonial Indochinese cities, is often the start or end point of a trip to Vietnam, and what a great welcome or farewell it is. Oozing with charm, Hanoi has gone through wholesale changes since Vietnam swung open its doors to tourism, but it remains true to its essential personality and is an amazing city to experience.
Though considerably quieter than big sister Saigon, Hanoi still retains a vibrant atmosphere. From the early hours until late at night, the fig-tree shaded streets swarm with careening motorbikes, often with four, five or even six people aboard. A cyclo is available on most street corners, but unless you are making a particularly long trip, the best way to explore Hanoi is by foot.
Hanoi - the capital of Vietnam – the city of more than 1,000 year olds - is always an adventure for a culture explorer, you can find the moments of your life maybe just by standing at one corner in the Old Quarter. It can be the image the old lady sitting on the low chair with thoughtful eyes, it can be the hard working woman selling noodles from early morning to late evening, or it just can be an angel smile of a baby playing with her father.
Expect the unexpected in Hanoi, mostly everything can create your moment, including passing West Lake where the lotus ponds are in blossom, take a deep breath and stop for a tea, or strolling down the Flower market early enough to see hundreds of bicycles with flowers at the back heading to the Old Quarter.
That makes your day... The smell of lotus, the smell of flowers, the smell of fresh air in such a busy city, the quiet alley and the quiet Hanoi at night time, all can make Hanoi memorable. In a second, everything turns into black and white and back to a Hanoi 20 years ago...
Hanoi may changes quick, Hanoians also may change their way of thinking and the way they live. But that does not change the charm of the city can offer to anyone who come for the first time and those who want to come to stay.
Different with Saigon, Hanoi is less developed, modest and charming place. Located between Hoan Kiem lake, Long Bien bridge, a former city rampart, and a citadel wall, the Old Quarter was originally a snake-infested swamp. It evolved into a cluster of stilt-house villages, and was unified by Chinese administrators who built ramparts around their headquarters.
This old section of Hanoi is often known as the "36 Old streets" although there are actually more than 36. The street names often begin with "Hang" - which means merchandise or shop.
The guild streets were named for their product or location. For example, Hang Bac: silversmith, Hang Quat give you a close look at the brilliantly colourful funeral and festival flags, religious objects and clothing. Hang Ma glimmers with shiny paper products, such as gift-wrapping, wedding decorations and miniature votive paper items burnt for the dead. Lan Ong street is a sensual delight of textures and smell emanating from the sacks of herbal medicines - leaves, roots, bark and powder.
Let Hanoi say welcome to you herself.