Located in Northern Vietnam in the Red River Delta, Hanoi is the Vietnam’s capital and its second largest city. While still quieter than Ho Chi Minh City, its larger sister in the South, Hanoi is active and dynamic, with chaotic motorbike traffic, streets busy from early in the morning until dusk, and the signs of economic progress and change on every street corner.
Yet despite this progress, Hanoi still preserves much of its ancient architecture throughout the Old Quarter and in its many pagodas and temples. In addition, with many lakes, parks, and wide French boulevards shaded by trees, Hanoi has a grace and beauty that remains despite the activity of its streets.
What to Do in Hanoi ?
Highlights to a trip to Hanoi are a stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake (especially to observe the early morning exercisers or the later night lovers) and Hanoi’s ancient Old Quarter, the original and still very busy commercial center of Hanoi (every guide book has its own version of the walking tour of the Old Quarter, but I’m not sure it matters since you will likely get lost anyway!).
Other highlights are a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Ho Chi Minh Museum to pay honor to “Uncle Ho” and the nearby One Pillar Pagoda, the Temple of Literature, the Opera House (especially if can catch a live performance), and the Museum of Ethnology. For war-related history, visit the Hoa Lo (or “Hanoi Hilton”) former military prison or the Vietnam War Museum.
From Hanoi, it is possible to take day trips to visit some of Hanoi’s nearby handicraft villages, such as the Bat Trang pottery village or the Van Phu silk village, or the nearby destinations of Tam Coc or the Perfume Pagoda. Hanoi is also used as a base for many tourists for trips to Ha Long Bay and Sapa, or the stilt house villages of Mai Chau.
When to Go to Hanoi ?
The best seasons to visit Hanoi are the autumn (from September to November) or the spring (March and April) for their milder temperatures and pleasant weather. The winters in Hanoi can get colder and damper than expected, with temperatures reaching 12-15ºC, and the summers are hot with temperatures averaging around 30-35ºC. Hanoi has high humidity year-round. The rainy season in Hanoi is May to September. While rains can be quite heavy, the rain is not consistent and does not usually interrupt travel or ruin a visit.
In addition, the spring is also very good to visit Hanoi, because there are many traditional festivals and folk-games here this time in pagodas, temples and traditional handicraft villages.
How To Get to Hanoi ?
Flight: Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport is one of the largest in Vietnam reached by both international and domestic flights. The airport is located about 25 miles north of Hanoi and almost an hour drive to the downtown area. Taxis are easy to find outside the airport's terminals ($10-12 USD into town), and Vietnam Airlines also offers a cheap and convenient minibus to the center of town.
Train: Vietnam’s major north-south train, the Reunification Express, runs from Hanoi south to central Vietnam (Hue and Danang) and then further to Ho Chi Minh City (more than 30 hours from Hanoi). Also from Hanoi, there are northwest and northeast trains to China, with one popular overnight route from Hanoi to Lao Cai (which is used to reach the popular tourist town of Sapa). The railroad station is located less than 5-10 minutes from the center of town.
Bus: Hanoi is also the common starting point or ending point for open tour buses that run from north to south on the coast of Vietnam. Tickets are bargain prices and are easy to purchase in the Old Quarter. Hanoi is also well-covered by public buses than go from Hanoi’s three main bus stations to locations throughout Vietnam and Laos.