Hanoi is Vietnam's small, historic and charming capital, with a blend of Parisian grace and Asian pace. Home to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi is Vietnam's diplomatic centre and political heart, full of broad, tree-lined boulevards, parks, and aging colonial buildings spread around the surreal calm of Ba Dinh Square.
The hectic Old Quarter is the city's constant market place, a hubbub of noise and activity where traders and shoppers joust for the best deals along tiny alleys and on sweaty street corners. It's well worth spending a few days here, walking the streets, visiting the historical sights and getting to grips with Vietnam's intriguing capital. Just north of the calming Hoan Kiem Lake is the Old Quarter, a hectic representation of life, which bounces around the original street layout of old Hanoi. The 36 bustling streets, marked with a certain French colonial style, are lined with lively market stalls, locals sipping coffee and goateed grandfathers brooding over chess moves. Notably, the area has had a long connection with silk traders, and you'll still find plentiful stocks of this famous fabric today, along with some of Hanoi's best food stalls and kitsch collections of local products.
Ho Chi Minh Quarter
The famous father of the Socialist Republic, Ho Chi Minh, was embalmed on his death in 1969, as is the tradition for many former leaders of the communist world. His body lies in a grand, granite mausoleum, surrounded by the Presidential Palace, the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the modest stilt house he lived in while president. One of Vietnam's most iconic temples, the One Pillar Pagoda, is also situated nearby. Originally built in the 11th century and perhaps symbolic of Vietnam's tumultuous history, it's been destroyed and rebuilt several times since.
Hoa Lo Prison Museum
Famously dubbed the Hanoi Hilton by American POWs during the Vietnam War, Hoa Lo Prison has long been considered by its former inmates as one of the most notorious POW camps of the war. It's a touchy subject and the Vietnamese government continues to deny the claims that the use of torture, a major breach in international law, was the central reason for the prison's notoriety. Despite the fact that the museum has been spruced up over the years to reflect a certain pro-government stance, it makes for an interesting tour, no matter which side of the fence you sit.
Temple of Literature
The site of Vietnam's first university, opened in the 11th century by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, the Temple of Literature is perhaps the most important temple in the capital, functioning as a centre of learning for centuries. Its numerous courtyards and grand gateways, quiet temples and smooth marble corridors prove a quiet, thoughtful haven from the busy streets of Hanoi.