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The charming Vietnamese capital is different than other Asian capitals as a graceful collage of cultural influences from the French and Chinese, yet still retaining local Vietnamese ways. It’s aged well, with the well-preserved Old Quarter, a maze of streets more than 1,000 years old set between the city’s famed Hoan Kiem Lake, the Red River and the few walls that remain of the Hanoi Citadel along with monuments and colonial architecture sitting alongside modern developments. Hanoi has not forgotten its past, as the only city in Southeast Asia with an embalmed leader on display – the body of Ho Chi Men lies preserved in a mausoleum, against his own wish to be cremated. Pretty parks, lakes, shady boulevards and more than 600 temples and pagodas add to the appeal of Hanoi, which can easily be explored by taxi.
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Hanoi is an elegant blend of old Vietnam and modern times, making it one of Southeast Asia’s most unique cities. From the local cafés with a hint of Parisian grace to the motorcycles that weave through a maze of streets in the old quarter, the city is a feast for the senses. Whether it’s strolling along the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake or pausing to reflect on a millennium-old pagoda, Hanoi is the type of city that encourages visitors to slow down and enjoy their day.
Though it may seem like the most chaotic of urban sprawls, the old city of Hanoi has a lot to offer as the core of the second-largest city in the country. The Old Quarter of this historic capital city in the northern part of Vietnam, with its narrow, dizzying streets, is most probably where you will stay as this is where the tourist district lies. Hotels, hostels, guesthouses, travel agencies, and restaurants line the streets, with accommodation ranging from backpacker joints to mid-range properties such as the Conifer Boutique Hotel and the Maison D’Hanoi Hanova Hotel, to higher-end accommodation such as the historic Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. French colonial architecture mixed with Vietnamese and Chinese aesthetics make this district an interesting destination in itself.
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– Hoan Kiem Lake
The main landmark of the Old District is Hoan Kiem Lake, a small lake south of the Old Quarter. The Old Quarter is, in fact, officially referred to as Hoan Kiem District. The lake is an important site for the people of Hanoi as it is said to be the home of the city’s mythological creature, the turtle.
– Temple of Literature
A cultural and religious landmark worth checking out is the Temple of Literature. The temple stands on the site where Vietnam’s first university was housed in 1076. Though it is no longer the prestigious learning institution it once was, the temple today features beautifully landscaped courtyards and pavilions which make for worthwhile sightseeing.
– Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the imposing grey building which contains the body of the great leader himself. It is possible to enter the mausoleum but cameras are not allowed. Close to the mausoleum is the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which has photographs and personal artefacts of Vietnam’s revolutionary leader.
– Hoa Lu Prison
Hoa Lu Prison, famously called the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War, is now a museum with exhibits telling the story of Vietnam’s struggle against the French colonisers. Some of the displays here may smack of propaganda but the museum still makes for a great visit.
– Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
The tradition of storytelling, which originated in the flooded paddy fields of Northern Vietnam, lives on today in the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. An intricate system of sticks and strings which control the puppets is hidden underwater. Folk stories accompanied by traditional live folk music are told through puppets show at the theatre.
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