City Slicker: Hanoi

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Behind its crumbling facades, this place looks to the future. Ian Paynton offers some ideas for new and returning visitors to Vietnam's fast-changing capital

Why visit?

Hanoi is one of South-east Asia's most authentically charming cities, built on centuries of rich tradition, colonisation and conflict.

It has just marked the moment 1,000 years ago when Emperor Ly Thai To moved the capital from Ninh Binh province, in the Red River Delta, 60 miles upstream to Thang Long, aka Hanoi. Think conical hats, street stalls selling exotic fruits, and lakes framed by young lovers, set against a backdrop of crumbling colonial facades.

But Hanoi is also racing towards modernity. Signs of what's to come can be seen everywhere. Just a few kilometres west of the city, a glistening metropolis is sprouting from the rice paddies at My Dinh, while in the Old Quarter, in the heart of Hanoi, the tiny streets and alleyways are jammed with expensive cars and shops selling big-brand names. This city may draw on its past but it is now being shaped by the future.

Don't miss

The Old Quarter. Get lost and end up where you started – without even knowing it – in Hanoi's most frenetic commercial district, also home to an increasing number of bars and clubs. Most street names begin with "Hang", which means merchandise. (In the 13th century, artisans occupied 36 streets that each specialised in a certain product – Hang Ga sold chickens, Hang Bun sold noodles and Hang Mam was the place to find fish sauce.) Look down the side alleys for hidden cafés and food vendors.

Long Bien Bridge. The "horizontal Eiffel Tower" has come to symbolise Vietnamese strength; Hanoi's link to the port of Hai Phong was bombed at night and fixed by the morning during the Vietnam War.

The Rooftop Bar in Pacific Place ( Visit this newly opened bar for great panoramic views of the city.

A glimpse of Ho Chi Minh at the Mausoleum (Ba Dinh Square). The revered revolutionary leader rests embalmed with his arms crossed and beard still long. The guards are strict, so no cameras or shorts.

Strong drip coffee and ice lemon tea next to St Joseph's Cathedral. Join the locals: sit on one of the small blue stools with a drink and crunch the shells of sunflower seeds beneath your feet.

The Temple of Literature (Quoc Tu Giam street). This Confucius-inspired university is Hanoi's most important relic. Step into its leafy feng shui courtyards to go back in time.

The lakes. They are all different – take in the romance at Hoan Kiem, or join the tourists at Huu Tiep taking snaps of a fallen US Air Force B52 bomber that rusts in its green water.

Homemade yoghurt at Mr Chi's patisserie (Kinh Do 252 on Hang Bong). Follow in the footsteps of Catherine Deneuve, who ate here most days while shooting Indochine.

What's new

My Dinh

During the past six years, this 370,000-square-metre city has replaced farmland on the outskirts of Hanoi. Lush green rice paddies have been transformed into palm-lined main roads, mirror-windowed office blocks, and a 40,000-seat sports stadium. Crowne Plaza West Hanoi ( will be the first five-star complex to open here and the new shopping centre, The Garden (, is the largest in the capital. The whole area will soon be the place to do business and live – welcome news for the frail Old Quarter.

Hang Da Market

Hanoi's most sanitised market was refurbished as part of the clean-up for the capital's 1,000-year anniversary. The booth-style outlets and shiny escalators make it reminiscent of Bangkok's MBK centre, though it's on a smaller scale (the outside is deceptively grand). You'll find everything here from meat and souvenirs to alcohol and clothes. Only two of the five floors are currently open.

Details: 1 Hang Da, Hoan Kiem District

24-hour PUKU

PUKU was once a popular but easy to miss coffee lounge tucked deep down an alley in the Old Quarter. Since moving to Tong Duy Tan – or "food street", the only place permitted to conduct business 24 hours a day – it has become a Hanoi favourite. Locals and expats enjoy the breezy colonial-villa setting, quirky decor and curfew-busting late-night bar. Improved service would make it the city's best.

Details: 16/18 Tong Duy Tan, Hoan Kiem District

Microfinance Tours

Take a "microfinance" day tour. These not-for-profit day trips take visitors to meet people in "marginalised communities in the developing world", with a percentage of the fee helping to fund small loans for entrepreneurs in the areas you explore. Bloom Microventures ( takes visitors to areas such as Soc Son, a farming district 25 miles north of Hanoi's centre, for a unique insight into rural life here.

Quan An Ngon

The founders of this popular restaurant have gone their separate ways. One has stayed on Phan Boi Chau and the other has moved to a grand colonial structure on Tran Hung Dao. The latter, which is now named Nha Hang Ngon, may just edge it, but both are guaranteed hits for traditional street-side cuisine in the comfort of a restaurant. The service is rapid, the menus are huge and the prices are right.

Details: 18 Phan Boi Chau and 26 Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem District

Compact Facts

How to get there

Ian Paynton travelled to Hanoi with Vietnam Airlines (, which offers return flights from Paris from £832. There are no direct flights to the city from the UK.

Further Information

Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ( For good online guides, go to, and

Insider Secret

Joe Ruelle, writer, comedian and TV presenter

"Show up at any university and chat with students – the Foreign Trade University and the Institute of International Relations are good bets. Students have good English and are eager to practice. Tell them you want to go for chicken feet or tofu and shrimp paste. They'll guide you around for what could be the best afternoon you'll have in Hanoi."

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Recruitment Genius: Processing Partner

    £15000 - £19200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Processing Partner is require...

    Recruitment Genius: PPC Manager - SW London

    £34000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist travel agent ba...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower