Imagine a city where the exotic chic of old Asia blends with the dynamic face of new Asia. Where the medieval and modern co-exist. A city with a blend of Parisian grace and Asian pace, an architectural museum piece evolving in harmony with its history, rather than bulldozing through like many of the region’s capitals. Hanoi is where imagination becomes reality.
A mass of motorbikes swarms through the tangled web of streets that is the Old Quarter, a cauldron of commerce for almost 1000 years and still the best place to check the pulse of this resurgent city. Hawkers in conical hats ply their wares, locals sip coffee and bia hoi (beer) watching life (and plenty of tourists) pass them by. Witness synchronised t’ai chi at dawn on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake while goateed grandfathers tug at their wisps over the next chess move. See the bold and beautiful dine at designer restaurants and cut the latest moves on the dance floor. Hanoi has it all: the ancient history, a colonial legacy and a modern outlook. There is no better place to untangle the paradox that is modern Vietnam.
The grand old dame of Asia, Hanoi lay in a deep slumber after Vietnam’s partition in 1954 until the effects of economic reforms kicked in four decades later. The city survived American bombs and Russian planners to emerge relatively unscathed in the early 1990s as an example of a French-conceived colonial city. Huge mansions line grand boulevards, and lakes and parks dot the city, providing a romantic backdrop to the nonstop soundtrack. There are still moments of Paris, as the smell of baguettes and café au lait permeates street corners.
Known by many names down the centuries, Thanh Long (City of the Soaring Dragon) is the most evocative, and let there be no doubt that this dragon is on the up once more.
How to get there
Bus & minibus
Hanoi has several main long-distance bus stations and each one serves a particular area. They are fairly well organised, 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.
Gia Lam bus station (3827 1569; Ð Ngoc Lam) is the place for buses to points northeast of Hanoi. These include Halong Bay (70, 000d, 3½ hours), Haiphong (55, 000d, two hours), and Lang Son (70, 000d, three hours) and Lao Cai (90,000d, nine hours), both near the Chinese border. The bus station is 2km northeast of the centre – cross the Song Hong (Red River) to get there. Cyclos can’t cross the bridge, so take a taxi (around 50,000d) or motorbike. More convenient is the Luong Yen bus station in the southeast of town, serving the same places, plus Cao Bang (120, 000d, eight hours) and Ha Giang (100,000d, seven hours).
Giap Bat bus station (3864 1467; Ð Giai Phong) serves points south of Hanoi, including Ninh Binh (40, 000d, two hours) and Hué (150,000d, 12 hours). It is 7km south of the Hanoi train station.
My Dinh bus station (3768 5549, Ð Pham Hung) is another option in the west of town, which serves a range of destinations, including Halong City, Lang Son, Cao Bang, Ha Giang and Dien Bien Phu.
Tourist-style minibuses can be booked through most hotels and cafés. Popular destinations include Halong Bay and Sapa.
Sights in Hanoi
Water puppet theater, Hanoi | Hoan Kiem Lake Hanoi | Hanoi History Museum | Ho Tay Water Park & Moon Park | Hoa Lo Prison | Hanoi Metropole Hotel | Hanoi Museum Of Independence | Museum Of The Vietnamese Revolution | Museum Of Vietnamese Women | Ngoc Son Temple | Nha Tho (Hanoi Cathedral) | Night market | Quan Thanh Temple | Tran Quoc Pagoda | Viet Nam Military History Museum | Vietnam Fine Arts Museum
Restaurants in Hanoi
Au Lac Restaurants
13 Pho Tran Hung Dao, French QuarterPhone
3933 3533 Email
On a sultry evening, you'll want to be seated on the terrace of Au Lac House, sipping cocktails and dining on finely prepared Vietnamese dishes. It's housed in a roomy colonial villa and the service is attentive and efficient, but the food is not to be outshined. The kitchen deftly concocts rustic country dishes and more-exotic innovations.
Banh Cuon Gia Truyen
14 Pho Hang Ga, Old Quarter
You might have to squeeze your way into a chair during the morning rush, but once you're settled, you'll simply have your food put in front of you, no questions asked. Delicate and tasty banh cuon (silky steamed rice crepes filled with minced pork, mushrooms and ground shrimp), served hot off the screen on which they are steamed, is about all they do here - and they do it well.
Address: 52 Pho Ly Quoc Su, Nha Tho Area
A banh ghoi is like a meat patty filled with pork, glassy noodles, mushroom and seasonings. A plate of three served piping hot in this fine little place is a tasty treat on a cold day. Tourists are starting to eat here but the friendly woman who runs the joint clearly values her regular patrons, and standards remain as high as ever
Bo Tung Xeo
Address : 47 Pho Mai Hac De, Hai Ba Trung District
Phone : 3821 7809
It's undeniably cool having dinner on a covered rooftop along happening Pho Mai Hac De. Bo Tung Xeo is hard to find (walk through the downstairs pho - rice-noodle soup - restaurant and up the stairs at the back), which naturally adds to its appeal. The speciality is a marinated sliced beef dish, which you and your friends grill at your table. Along with cold beer it makes a hearty repast.
Address: 26 Pho Nguyen Thai Hoc, Quân Ba Din
Phone : 3733 3866
For something completely different, Brother's Cafe is set in the courtyard of a carefully restored, 250-year-old Buddhist temple. The nightly dinner buffet is the affordable approach and includes one drink; the lunch special is a bargain. The atmosphere is simply serene, even when it's busy
Address: 34 Hang Than, Truc Bach
Next to Art Vietnam gallery is this fine little mother-and-daughter operation. They do one thing only ( bun cha - a dish of rice vermicelli with barbecued pork and vegetables), and they do it well. Work it into your plans if you're visiting the gallery.
Address: 129 Mai Hac De, Hai Ba Trung District
Phone: 3821 6342
Five sisters and their mother operate this neat little eatery that's known city-wide for its satisfying omelettes, pancakes and fresh fruit juices. They get it right, too. Naturally, the place attracts a lot of foreigners hankering for something other than pho in the early hours, but local students often claim several tables as well.
Address : 5 Van Mieu, Dong Da
Phone: 3843 8850
Here's a cheery place. Like the better-known KOTO , Smile trains and employs former street kids. They're doing a fine job of it, making tasty pizzas, sandwiches and Vietnamese standards. Walk through the kitchen and head upstairs to the stylish, well lit and quiet dining rooms.
Cha Ca La Vong
Address: 14 Pho Cha Ca, Old Quarter
Phone: 3825 3929
The antiquated atmosphere here is legendary, and its rickety floors, overcrowded tables and gruff wait staff live up to the billing. Head straight upstairs for the full-on experience, and leave behind all expectations of a relaxed midday repast. It's a one-dish sweatshop, specialising in cha ca (fish grilled on your table with turmeric and dill, served with cold noodles and peanuts).
Cha Ca Thang Long
Address: 31 Pho Ðuong Thanh, Old Quarter
Phone: 3824 5115
Many locals habitually duck in here for a cha ca fix without the fuss of tourists shuffling in and out. The shambling atmosphere of Cha Ca La Vong is dispensed with, service is friendly and there's a bit more elbow room. It's a few blocks from its world-renowned predecessor.
Chim Sao detailsAddress
65 Ngo Hue, Hai Ba Trung District
Phone: 3976 0633
One of Hanoi's smartest dining options, with subtly creative food and an arty, Asian-boho atmosphere. It gets busy on weekend evenings, when foreigners have the run of the place. It's especially nice for lunch.
Address: 51 Pho Ly Thai To, French Quarter
Phone: 3936 3069
The grand, open floorplan of this villa sets the tone for a special evening out. Huge Chinese lanterns cast a warm glow over the upstairs dining room, and an array of couches and tables dispersed among potted plants creates Hanoi's most luxurious space. The menu ranges from East to West without indulging in the fusion concept.
Com Chay Nang Tam
Address: 79A Pho Tran Hung Dao, French Quarter
Phone: 3942 4140
This smoke-free Hanoi hotspot is famed for creative vegetarian dishes, some of which are fashioned to look like meat. Some vegetarians may find this a contradiction, but it's an ancient Buddhist tradition that is designed to make meat-eating guests feel at home.
Address: Tay Long 3, Thanh Nien, West Lake
Phone: 3829 4894
It can be quite a hoot having dinner aboard a boat painted to look like a dragon as it tools around West Lake. The menu emphasises seafood but generally covers the Vietnamese staples, including novel snake and pigeon platters. Vegetarians will have much to choose from. If you're travelling with a group, you can charter the entire boat for around VND 900,000 .
Address: 18 Pho Le Thanh Tong, French Quarter
Phone: 3826 8801
For festive and exotic atmosphere it doesn't get any better. Thankfully, Emperor follows through with sophisticated and rewarding contemporary Vietnamese food. Choose your setting: the lush courtyard, inside the traditional Asian wooden house, or up on the balcony. Be sure to include an order of shrimp paste on sugar cane, which makes for a fun and delicious starter.
Address: 48 Pho Le Thai To, Hoan Kiem Lake
Phone: 3828 5656
Facing the lake and resembling a belle époque creamery, Fanny's is the place to be on a summer's eve. French-style ice cream and crepes are served with an artistic flourish, looking like tropical drinks (with fruit and mini conical hats). Fanny especially excels with the unusual ginger, cinnamon and coconut flavors. Fresh tropical-fruit ice creams are seasonal.
Address: 59 Truc Bach, Truc Bach
Phone: 3716 2959
The front of this popular family-run restaurant is thrown wide open so that diners can fully appreciate Truc Bach Lake. It's a lively spot that lures in expats with a fine selection of Indian curries, kebabs, tandoori grills and Indian breads. To top it off, the staff is friendly and the décor's stylish.
Address: 48 Pho Hang Be, Old Quarter
Phone: 3825 1286
The chaotic Old Quarter is not known for refined dining experiences, but Green Tangerine is the shining exception. It occupies a 1928 French townhouse sheltered behind a loggia and a front courtyard. It provides asylum for foreign gastronomes, with superb food, elegant presentation, a commendable wine list and fine service. Reserve for a romantic dinner, or drop by for a leisurely lunch.
Hai San Van Anh
Adress: 19 Pho To Hien Than, Hai Ba Trung District
This unassuming spot has been known to overcharge foreigners, though the excellent seafood is still very reasonable by non-Hanoi standards. The gripe may be that the atmosphere is still very much of the Hanoi street variety. If you can live with that, round up some friends and order huge platters of fried squid and some of the city's best French fries.
Adress: 34 Thanh Nien, West Lake
Phone: 3829 2140
Aboard a big old ferry boat, Highlands gets you out on the water without actually setting sail. Its decks offer a fine vantage point and a chance to catch a refreshing breeze while enjoying smoothies, shakes and ice cream. You can also order a light meal or breakfast. The signature product, of course, is coffee.
Address: 32 Pho Le Thai To, Hoan Kiem Lake
Phone: 3828 8820
The lush décor here is a collection of cheetah-skin patterns, overly large couches and extravagant colours. The atmosphere becomes even more interesting when the local nouveau riche file through the doors and the bartenders rattle their cocktail shakers with flair. It's over the top, but the food and service are very good, and most nights the place features live music, movies or slick DJs.
Address: 18 Ð Yen Phu, Truc Bach
Phone: 3715 0656, ext 36
On the 8th and 9th floors of the ILU office tower, this cool, contemporary space offers an upward escape from the hustling city below. However, panoramic windows and a rooftop terrace ensure Hanoi doesn't get completely blotted out. Vietnamese and pan-Asian dishes are prepared nicely, as are lunchtime tapas plates. It's perfectly reasonable to come here for drinks and the view.
Address: 9 Xuan Dieu, West Lake
Tel: 3719 2679
In the shadow of the Sheraton, cute little Kitchen offers healthy non-Vietnamese sandwiches. Homesick expats love it, and if you can relate to their cravings for PB&J or a burrito, then you're likely to gravitate here. Everything's fresh and made with care
Address: 25 Pho Nha Tho, Nha Tho Area
Tel: 3828 9052
This appealing tapas joint, with its soothing and cheery bar room, is popular with foreigners. No doubt they're drawn to its relaxed vibe and elegant comfort, the amiable staff and the exceptional food. Delicate pork ribs and perfectly fried calamari are mouthwatering, and you can also order steaks, lamb cutlets and other things that go well with potatoes.
Address: 15 Pho Ngo Quyen, French Quarter
Phone: 3826 6919
In the Metropole Hotel , Le Beaulieu serves exquisite French cuisine in a refined atmosphere. It has been operating since 1901. The kitchen crew, schooled under Chef Didier Corlou's watch, delivers an expertly prepared coq au vin, and competent servers quietly ensure a smooth and romantic dining experience. Sunday brunch is also very popular. Reservations are always recommended
Address: 14 Ngo Van So, French Quarter
Phone: 3943 3457
The neocolonial dining experience is toned down at Le Tonkin. Its appeal is in the quiet, simple elegance of its setting, in a backstreet villa. You can take your leisure in the homey dining room or on the courtyard among leafy banana trees. Excellent food draws inspiration from the street and the country, and the cooks here don't meddle much with tradition.
For upscale Vietnamese in a large and beautiful villa, you can't go wrong with this place. While the kitchen does a commendable job with many regional dishes, the menu particularly shines with seafood specialities like soft-shell crab in tamarind sauce. An acoustic ensemble plays traditional music nightly, often working in some Western numbers for novelty's sake.
Nha Hang Phu My
It's tight quarters and flickering fluorescent lighting in this modest little joint, but the clientele is a happy bunch. Once you've ordered the house speciality you'll understand why. It's pho xao bo, which amounts to sautéed beef served on a plate of noodles with a thick, starchy gravy poured on top. The food is slopped onto your plate, but it packs lots of flavour
This lively supper club draws a mixed crowd of ascending locals and foreigners. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served here but the place comes alive at night, when live music (Viet cabaret, jazz, flamenco) gets cooking. Seating on several levels is arranged around an open stage. The kitchen favours quality ingredients, including beef and lamb from down under. Music starts at 21:00
Pho 24 is a chain from Saigon, which you might not think would do well in Hanoi, where pho (rice-noodle soup) originated. But think again. Locals dig the Pho 24 style. The soup is a fairly light and quick meal served with a plate of fresh greens, in accordance with the southern custom. The dining room, decorated in a modern streamlined style, is spotlessly clean.
Pho Gia Truyen
The perfect broth for pho (rice-noodle soup) should look as though it was ladled from the river. It's opaque and brownish after beef bones have boiled in it for hours. Some places try to take the mystery out of pho by serving weak, see-through broths, but here you get the good stuff. Once you've experienced it you'll understand why some can't start their day without a bowl.
You'll get a very good bowl of pho in this family-run joint. Just be prepared for a down-home pho -eating experience: order yours on your way in, elbow your way into seats, and kick aside the little piles of tissues at your feet. Within seconds, the aromatic steam rising from your bowl will remind you why you came.
Quan An Ngon
As hygiene becomes a growing concern, many middle-class Hanoians have begun to shun traditional street vendors. This place addresses the problem by placing impeccably clean food stalls in the lush courtyard of a restored villa. All signs indicate that well-to-do Hanoians love the concept, and many dress up for a meal here. It's a very upbeat and fun place. Before sitting down to your menu, walk around and see what looks good in the stalls.
Restaurant Bobby Chinn
Blending the best of East and West, owner-chef Bobby Chinn is part Chinese and part Egyptian and brings all his influences to bear in this classy setting. Try the superb salads or the fish with flair, chased down with a chocolate bomb. For an aperitif, coffee or even a sheesha (water pipe) with fruit-flavoured tobacco, move through the silk drapes to the chill-out cushions at the back.
Seasons Of Hanoi
Though tour groups flood the joint from time to time, Seasons of Hanoi offers exquisite French-colonial atmosphere and fine Vietnamese cuisine. The papaya salad is a good start, and grilled beef with lemon grass and chilli is a standout main. Before or after your meal, enjoy a drink in the mahogany bar.
This cool and casual hang-out has the look and feel of a student coffee house. This being Hanoi, Tamarind attracts anyone dying for an omelette, but the varied vegetarian menu reflects an ambition to meld Asian culinary know-how and Western sensibilities. It's also a friendly spot for a pot of quality tea in the after 12:00 .
Vine Wine Boutique Bar & Cafe
Vine is widely considered to be one of Hanoi's finest restaurants. It certainly has the city's most comprehensive wine cellar. Gourmet pizzas are a headliner, but the menu also includes excellent steaks, burgers, clay pots and a smattering of Thai dishes. It may sound over-ambitious, but the kitchen manages to keep all balls in the air. Hybrid East-West décor creates a contemporary atmosphere.