Hanoi travel guide (part 1)
Part 1 : History, How to get to Hanoi, How to get around
Part 2 : Where to eat in Hanoi, Shopping, Nightlife
Part 3 : What to see and do in Hanoi - Ho An Kiem Lake, French quarter, old quarter,…
Picture of the Opera
Part 4 : Trips from Hanoi - Halong Bay and Sapa
Hanoi was first settled in the seventh century by Chinese invaders of the T’ang dynasty. They liked the climate, and growing conditions in the Red River Valley and Delta. Prior to this time there was just a small fort in the area. The Chinese held what they called Amman – the Pacified South – for about three centuries. For a century the site was abandoned, until King Le Thai To – the erstwhile founder of Hanoi – located his capital there. For most of the next 800 years (until the capital was moved to Hué), Hanoi was the Imperial City.
During this time the Chinese periodically invaded and retook the city, but their control never lasted very long. As a result, Hanoi saw a flowering of culture, with the founding of the country’s first university – the outdoor Temple of Literature. From about the early 16th century, following the death of the last strong emperor, King Le Thanh Thong, the city underwent a gradual decline, and finally Emperor Gia Long moved his entire court to Hué in 1802.
As a provincial backwater, the remnants of the former Imperial city were easy picking for the French invaders, and in 1882, they took over, named the area Tonkin, and made Hanoi the seat of government for the entire region in 1887. So it remained until the French were pushed out of the North in 1954. That’s when the city once again became the capital of Vietnam.
If you come in by bus, you are going to end up at one of the three long-distance bus centers, none of which are centrally located. Plan on taking a taxi to your hotel, at a cost of about $10. If you come in by mini-bus you may be able to negotiate a drop-off at your hotel for a small additional fee.
The train station is only about a kilometer from the center of town, and a bit farther from the old French Quarter. A taxi should cost a few dollars to get to hotels in those areas.
I recommend not taking a taxi alone – you may need a witness in case the driver decides to raise the agreed price and refuse to give you your luggage until you pay up. Two Westerners are usually enough to preclude this behavior. Rental cars are not usually a problem – the hotel or car service collects the money from you and handles the transaction on your behalf.
If you arrive by air, you will come into the relatively new, rather stark Noi Bai Airport. It has money-changing facilities but they’ve never been open when I went by. You should be able to take the Vietnam Airlines mini-bus to their office in town (several km from the center). You may even be able to persuade the driver to take you to the center and drop you at a hotel. If you have already booked a hotel, they will send a car and you pay the driver $10 for the ride.
Getting Around & Away
Hanoi is a great base for traveling to the northeast and northwest, as well as to HalongBay. It’s easy to catch a flight out of Vietnam or to other places inside the country.
There are hundreds of travel agencies in Hanoi. Your hotel will have its own agency or an arrangement with several agencies nearby. These are good options. The government agencies are generally expensive, inflexible, and will want to organize your entire stay in the country down to the second. They also can’t (or won’t) get you rail or air tickets unless you sign on for one of their tours.
Walking is the easiest way to see Hanoi, although the myriad scooters, cars, and other means of conveyance don’t make it the safest means. You can cycle in Hanoi, but you are taking a big risk. Still, many hotels and street-side kiosks will rent bikes for $5-$10 per day. You can also take the cheap city buses, pedi-cabs (also known as cyclos), catch a ride on the back of a scooter, or take a taxi to get around the city.
You can rent cars for about $25-$30 per day. Ask at your hotel. Vehicles are not well-maintained and your fellow drivers are nuts.
Scooter drivers are glad to offer you a lift for a few dollars. Car hire to the airport is about $10. Metered taxis cost about the same but you’ll only find them outside the big hotels. Buses are cheap, but make sure you get on the right one. Ask at your hotel to get the bus number and tell the driver where you need to go. Since the buses cost a flat amount (about 25¢) regardless of distance, you could travel a long way and no one would wonder what you are doing until you reached the end of the line.
Taxis don’t want to use meters and are known for altering (upping) the agreed rate when you reach your destination.
Caution. Be very aware how poor the drivers are. They drive wherever it suits them, don’t always stop for
red lights, drive on sidewalks, and rarely give way to pedestrians. Watch for all types of transport coming
down the wrong side of the road.
Unless you have lots of time and flexible bones, take the first class (soft) sleeper or fly to get out of Hanoi.
The long distance train fare to Sapa or Hué will run $30-$40; the airfare is about twice that, but costs are always changing. You can book your own flights at any Vietnam Air office or agent, or get a travel agency to handle everything. Don’t even bother to go to the train station for sleeper tickets – let the travel agent do it. It will cost more, but they have a lock on the soft sleepers. They buy the tickets ahead of time and resell them to you through their offices and those of their buddies.
The route from Hanoi south the former demilitarized zoneis not very interesting to most travelers. The night train is a great way to make this trip
You could ride a bicycle, and the route from north to south (or the other way) is very popular with hardcore cyclists.
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