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Vietnam’s capital is a place full of charming neighborhoods and cultural confluence. It is a city defined by meeting places: East meets West and past meets present. Many towns have these cultural and chronological blends, but in Hanoi the experience is memorable and distinct.
First off Hanoi happened to be our first venture into Vietnam. Travel research made us feel wary of an overcrowded city, with chaotic traffic and a feeling of claustrophobia. Our experience was the opposite, for a busy capital with millions of inhabitants the flow is impressive. Are streets old, neighborhoods crowded and traffic busy? In some cases like any big city, yes, but having experienced our fair share of massive Asian cities, this one is an easy navigation and a joy to explore.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral
This is the focal point for Catholicism in the city. The cathedral is a beloved structure which stands out with a European allure that points to the French colonization of Vietnam. It is located in the historic quarter just a short walk from the lake and amidst the shops and neighborhoods.
Trang Tien shopping center
Luxury brands set in a refined shopping environment mark the attractiveness of this structure. One can find several stories packed with the top names in fashion and accommodating staff. The décor of the shopping center and its location just off the pedestrian area around the central lake make it easily findable.
There are a few well-preserved hotels that have served as the heart of the city for decades and beyond. The French Colonial Style Metropole is a landmark for the gatherings of the rich and famous and as a taste of Hanoi high society it is a great place to visit or stay.
Just steps from St. Joseph’s cathedral on street sits the silk market. One can find everything from the cheap knock off mixed with souvenirs to some seriously elaborate fabrics. Most quarters of the old town are known by their manufacture, the silk area fits right in with the ironworks and ceramics neighborhoods.
Hoàn Kiếm Lake
This scenic lake is the heartbeat of Hanoi. Around its banks locals and tourists alike relax, take photos and arrange their afternoons. There are two islands in the lake which house religious and architectural objects of significance. Jade Mountain temple is accessible via a pedestrian toll bridge and the other Turtle tower is simply visible from the banks. One can see the city’s inhabitants come alive here.
Hỏa Lò prision (Maison Centrale)
This prison with a troubled past now stands as a memorial. It is the site of much oppression and hatred by different groups and now it houses a museum and the central gate house. It is open 8am – 5pm on most days.
Hanoi Museum and Convention Center
This new complex in the outer area of the city is home to scenic gardens, massive modern architecture and first class business and accommodation centers. The Hanoi Museum displays artifacts showing the 1,000 year history of the city and it is recognizable as an inverted pyramid. The convention center is a wonderful addition to the complex as well.
The colorful and Parisian looking opera house is a place for culture and class year round. What is more this area of the city is built up with fashionable hotels, high-end shopping, beautiful sidewalks and traditional café’s.