The ancient capital of hanoi is filled with history and wonder.
Hanoi has been Vietnam’s capital city for 1,000 years, save a century when Hue took the helm. Before that, the Chinese ruled Vietnam for a millennia. Nestled in a great bend of the Red River, Hanoi has a compelling charm not bestowed on its raucous southern sister, Saigon.
The region around present-day Hanoi was settled in prehistoric times, and the location was often chosen as a political centre by Chinese conquerors. In 1010 Ly Thai To, the first ruler of the Ly dynasty (1009–1225) of Vietnam, chose the site of Hanoi—then called Thang Long (“Rising Dragon”)—for his capital. Thang Long remained the main capital of Vietnam until 1802, when the last Vietnamese dynasty, the Nguyen (1802–1945), transferred the capital south to Hue. The city occasionally was renamed for periods of time, and one of these names, Dong Kinh, given to it during the Later Le dynasty (1428–1787), became corrupted by Europeans to Tonquin. During the French colonial period (1883–1945) the name Tonkin was used to refer to the entire region. In 1831 the city was renamed Ha Noi (“Between Two Rivers”) by the Nguyen dynasty.
Under French rule, Hanoi again became an important administrative centre. In 1902 it was made the capital of French Indochina. This was largely because of Tonkin’s proximity to southern China, where the French sought to expand their influence, and because of Tonkin’s mineral resources. Hanoi remained the administrative centre during the Japanese occupation (1940–45) of the territory.
In August 1945, following the Japanese surrender, the Viet Minh under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh seized power in Hanoi, and the city was established as the capital of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The French, however, reasserted their control over Hanoi from 1946 until their defeat at Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954. Shortly thereafter Hanoi became the capital of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam).
During the Vietnam War, the bombing of Hanoi by the United States in 1965, 1968, and 1972 caused massive damage. Following the collapse of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975, North Vietnam extended its control over all of Vietnam. On July 2, 1976, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was proclaimed, and Hanoi was established as its capital. The city observed its 1,000th anniversary in early October 2010 by staging a number of events that culminated with a massive parade on October 10.
THE CONTEMPORARY CITY
Since 1954 Hanoi has been transformed from a primarily commercial city into an industrial and agricultural centre. Manufactures include machine tools, electric generators and motors, plywood, textiles, chemicals, and matches. Rice, fruits and vegetables, cereals, and industrial crops are grown in the surrounding area.
Many of Hanoi’s centuries-old monuments and palaces have been destroyed by foreign aggression and civil war, but there remain several historical and scenic points. Among the latter is Lake Hoan Kiem (“Lake of the Restored Sword”). Historical sites include the Co Loa citadel, dating from the 3rd century bce; the Temple of Literature (1070), dedicated to Confucius; the Mot Cot (“One-Pillar”) Pagoda (1049); and the Temple of the Trung Sisters (1142). In addition, the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, built in the 11th century, was designated in 2010 as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The University of Hanoi, the Revolutionary Museum, the Army Museum, and the National Museum are important cultural institutions.
Highly recommended hotels in the luxury category :
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel :
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi boasts a rich history, one that is enriched with tradition. Its doors first opened back in 1901, when it was constructed with a French Colonial architectural style in mind by its talented designers, André Ducamp and Gustave-Émile Dumoutier.
The hotel has seen a myriad of prominent visitors throughout its reign, including famous actors such as Charlie Chaplin, who one of the property’s suites is named after. Chaplin celebrated the most special of moments at the hotel, notably, his honeymoon in 1936. Other frequent guests include revered world dignitaries and famed celebrities. It was at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi that the first motion picture showing occurred within the region, and it is the locale where Somerset Maugham wrote The Gentleman in the Palour, and where Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American.
The property was later renamed as Thong Nhat Hotel, meaning Reunification, briefly following a period of independence in Vietnam during the 1950s. The hotel included an expansive bomb shelter, harboring guests in a safe space during air strikes. It was during this period that the legendary songstress Joan Baez composed her song “Where Are You Now, My Son?” within her hotel room, with the sounds of an air raid audible in the recording’s backdrop. An array of guests were welcomed to Thong Nhat Hotel throughout the next several decades, yet as time moved forward, the property gradually fell into disarray. In 1987, the Vietnamese government worked to restore the country’s landmark property, and with the assistance of the Pullman Hotel chain, the Pullman Metropole Hotel reopened on March 8, 1992, completely rebuilt and re-envisioned with perfection in mind. The Sofitel brand was the next owner of the hotel, which placed it within the group’s Legend collection and renamed it as the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. During the 1990s, the hotel’s Opera Wing was added in addition to the History Wing, with 135 additional guestrooms and an office tower, as well. These offices were soon converted into hotel rooms in 2008.
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, a charter member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2015, dates back to 1901.
Hotel de L’Opera MGallery :
Experience the operatic glamour of “A Night at the Opera” at our 5 star boutique hotel located in the centre of Hanoi. Voted as Best Boutique Hotels in Asia 2015 by SmartTravelAsia readers, the hotel encapsulates the best of Hanoi with outstanding features of French colonial architecture and operatic interior. Across a bus stop, this grand hotel with French Colonial architecture is a 3-minute walk from the ornate Hanoi Opera House and 1 km from Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
Featuring custom-made beds, the plush rooms and suites offer free Wi-Fi, cable TV, desks and minibars, as well as tea and coffeemakers. Some have views of the opera house. Elegant suites add sitting areas (some have living rooms) and iPod docks. Some include claw-foot tubs. There’s 24-hour room service.
Hanoi is an enchanting city with hundreds of serene lakes, scenic boulevards, a colonial heritage and communities with histories that go back over a thousand years. Located in the heart of Hanoi, the hotel is a walking distance to several city attractions, such as the Hanoi Opera House, the city’s Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake and the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre.
Experience “A Night at the Opera” with the operatic glamour of the first 5-star boutique hotel in the heart of Hanoi. Picture yourself on the roof of Hotel de l’Opera, a private oasis above the vibrant Trang Tien with a spectacular view over Hanoi’s beautiful 100 years old Opera House, enjoying a lavish 5 course set dinner for two served by your private butler.
Places to visit :
The Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum
(Vietnamese: Lăng Hồ Chí Minh) is a large memorial to the Vietnamese leader in Hanoi,Vietnam. It is located in the center of Ba Ðình Square, the place where Ho read the Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945, which established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Construction work began on September 2, 1973 and the structure was formally inaugurated on August 29, 1975. The mausoleum was inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow. Distinct Vietnamese architectural elements were added such as the sloping roof. Materials used were gray granite, the interior is built with gray, black, and red polished stone. The portico has the words “Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh” inscribed, which means “President Ho Chi Minh”.
In his will, Ho Chi Minh stated his wish to be cremated and to have his ashes buried in the hills of the north, centre, and south of Việt Nam. He said that he preferred cremation because it was “more hygienic than burial and could also save land for agricultural purpose”. By building this mausoleum, the succeeding Communist government violated this wish.
Ho Chi Minh’s body is preserved in the cooled, central hall, with a military honor guard. The body lies in a glass case with dim lights. The mausoleum is closed occasionally for restoration and preservation work on the body. The mausoleum is open to the public daily before noon. Today lines of visitors can be seen visiting the place, including visiting foreign dignitaries.
There are strict rules regarding dress, such as covered legs, and behavior, such as silence and walking in two lines, when visiting the mausoleum. The rules are strictly enforced by the staff and guards.
Ho Chi Minh House on Stilts Location:
Located in a large garden at the back of the Presidential Palace is a nice road covered with pebbles and bordered with mango trees that lead to a stilt house, Uncle Ho’s residence and office from May 1958 until his death. The perfume of jasmine flowers and roses is omnipresent.
Many people know the story of how Uncle Ho came to live in a small stilt-house rather than a grand palace. But it is worth retelling. Ho Chi Minh was never one for large houses and comfortable living. He was just 21 when, in 1911, he set out to travel “the five continents and the four oceans” to seek ways of saving his country. For 30 years he lived a nomadic life, changing addresses constantly. When he came back to Vietnam in 1941, he led the revolution against colonial rule and read the country’s historic Declaration of Independence at Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi on September 2, 1945. Not long afterwards, the French attempted to reassert control of their former dominion, and Ho Chi Minh and his generals were forced into the north-western mountains. During the resistance war of 1946-54, Uncle Ho reverted to his nomadic ways, for the only means of avoiding detection and capture was to live life constantly on the run. He moved from one hide-out to another several times a month, and only lived in stilt-houses. When the war was won in 1954, the Party, Government and Ho Chi Minh came back to Hanoi. But Uncle Ho eschewed the trappings of authority.
When he got back to Hanoi, he said he wanted a similar stilt-house built on the grounds of the Presidential Palace itself. The Party commissioned an architect from the Department for Army Barracks to design the house, but told him to submit his plans to Uncle Ho for comment before work began. The initial design had three rooms, including a toilet. But Uncle Ho wanted the house to remain faithful to the real thing. “The stilt-house must have only one or two rooms, small rooms at that, and definitely no toilet,” he said. The architect amended the designs, and the stilt-house that Ho Chi Minh moved into on May 17, 1958, had two rooms of just 10sq.m each. He lived and worked there for the remaining 11 years of his life.
Today, the stilt-house and its furnishings have been preserved must as they were in the 1960s. In the area under the house, Ho Chi Minh would receive visitors and meet members of the Political Bureau.
Today, visitors flock to the stilt-house to remember what kind of a man Uncle Ho was, and to celebrate his memory – a man of sophisticated intellect yet simple pleasures, of revolutionary ideas yet of peaceful disposition.
One Pillar Pagoda
The One Pillar is a historic Buddhist temple. It is regarded alongside the Perfume Pagoda, as one of Vietnam’s two most iconic temples.
The pagoda was built by Emperor Lý Thái Tông, who ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to the court records, Lý Thái Tông was childless and dreamt that he met the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who handed him a baby son while seated on a lotus flower. Lý Thái Tông then married a peasant girl that he had met and she bore him a son. The emperor constructed the temple in gratitude for this in 1049, having been told by a monk named Thiền Tuệ to build the temple, by erecting a pillar in the middle of a lotus pond, similar to the one he saw in the dream.
The temple is built of wood on a single stone pillar 1.25 m in diameter, and it is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, which is a Buddhist symbol of purity, since a lotus blossoms in a muddy pond. In 1954, the French Union forces destroyed the pagoda before withdrawing from Vietnam after the First Indochina War, It was rebuilt afterwards.
Temple of Literature (Vietnamese):
Văn Miếu , known as “pagode des Corbeaux” during the period of French colonisation, is a temple of Confucius in Vietnam. Although several Văn Miếu can be found throughout Vietnam, the most prominent and famous is that situated in the city of Hanoi, which also functioned as Vietnam’s first university. It is featured on the back of the one hundred thousand Vietnamese Dong banknote.
Founded in 1070 as a Confucian temple. Only parts of the Văn Miếu complex date back to the earliest period, although much of the architecture dates to the Lý (1010 – 1225) and Trần (1225 – 1400) Dynasties.
In 1076 Vietnam’s first university, the Quốc Tử Giám or Imperial Academy, was established within the temple to educate Vietnam’s bureaucrats, nobles, royalty and members of the elite. The university functioned for more than 700 years, from 1076 to 1779. Given the extreme difficulty of the doctor laureat tests, few students were successful in passing the final examinations. This can be witnessed by the small list of names engraved on the stone stele every year during this period. The stele records 2,313 students graduating as doctor laureats.
Emperor Lê Thánh Tông is noted for establishing the tradition of carving the names of the laureates of the university on stone steles which were placed on top of stone turtles, dating back to 1484. Of the 116 steles corresponding to the examinations held between 1142 and 1778, only 82 remain
This ancient Confucian sanctuary is now considered one of Hanoi’s finest historical sites.
Hoa Lo Prison
Known widely by the nickname ‘Hanoi Hilton’ given to it by the Americans during the Second Indochina War, Hỏa Lò Prison was originally established by the French colonial government in 1896 for the purpose of detaining political prisoners and formed part of a northern network of ‘unjust and cruel prisons’ which included Cao Bằng, Sơn La, Lai Châu and Hải Phòng. Many leading revolutionaries were incarcerated here during the French colonial period, including Phan Bội Châu, Hoàng Trọng Mậu, Lương Văn Can, Nguyễn Quyền, Nguyễn Lương Bằng and five future General Secretaries of the Communist Party – Nguyễn Văn Cừ, Lê Duẩn, Trường Chinh, Nguyễn Văn Linh and Đỗ Mười. Between 1964 and 1973 the prison’s inmates included several captured American pilots, notably Senator John McCain and Douglas ‘Pete’ Peterson, America’s first Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Việt Nam. Most of the original prison was demolished in 1996 to make way for the Hanoi Towers (now Somerset Grand Hanoi) serviced apartment and office complex, but the southernmost corner has been preserved and reopened to the public as a memorial to the revolutionaries who died here in atrocious conditions. Visitors can view the original cells, complete with leg-irons, along with a selection of bilingual (Vietnamese and English) displays illustrating the horrors of life in the prison during the French colonial period.
The Museum of Ethnology
a miniature painting of Vietnam ethnic culture, is divided into two parts: an indoor and an outdoor exhibition.. The outdoor exhibition is to highlight different types of houses in all parts of Vietnam. Vietnam is a multi-ethnic country, which is composed of 54 ethnic groups. A real must see place, count 2 hours to visit it relaxed !
Army Museum in Hanoi
Army Museum in Hanoi occupies a special poignant position among the six national museums as it depicts the war history of Vietnam and embodies the armed struggle of the Vietnamese people. Army Museum in Hanoi offers a vivid and fascinating history of the Vietnam War under the leadership of Vietnam’s communist party and of president Ho Chi Minh.
Hanoi flag Tower, a national historic cultural monument, shares the adjoining ground with the Army Museum in Hanoi. The construction of 31 meter high Hanoi flag Tower got completed in 1812.
The Army Museum in Hanoi is located just opposite to the park which is adorned by a statue of Lenin and the address of the Army Museum, Hanoi is 28A Dien Bien Phu Street, Hanoi Vietnam.
Ho Hoan Kiem
or Lake of the Returned Sword was once a part of the Red river (song Hong). Through thousands of years of changes in the geography, the lake moved eastward to its present position many kilometers from the river. The lake was once called Luc Thuy or Green Water because the water was green year round. In the fifteen century, the lake was named Ho Hoan Kiem, based of a legend that is quite similar to King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake’s legend.
While fighting against the Chinese, King Le Thai To has in his possession a very valuable sword. After 10 years of continuous struggle, the King finally defeated the Chinese and reclaimed Vietnam’s independence. One day, while sailing on lake Luc Thuy, a large turtle appeared. The king drew his sword and pointed at the creature. The turtle immediately grab hold of the sword with its mouth and submerged. The king mourned the lost of such valuable sword, demanded that the lake be emptied and dredged. Both the turtle and the sword were not found. The king realizing that the gods must have lent him the sword to drive back the enemy, but now that Vietnam is free, the sword must be returned. King Le Thai To named the lake Ho Hoan Kiem or Lake of the Returned Sword.
Ngoc Son is also a shrine to general Tran Hung Dao, a national hero responsible for many victories against the Mongols.
Hanoi’s Old Quarter
The history of Hanoi’s Old Quarter spans 2000 years. It lies between the Returned Sword Lake to the South and the Long Bien Bridge to the North. According to legend, the King began rebuilding the former Chinese palace, but the walls tumbled down. While he prayed to the local earth god, a white horse emerged from the temple and galloped West. The King decided to build his citadel walls along the traces of its hoof prints and declared the white horse the city’s guardian. The White Horse (Bach Ma) Pagoda on Hang Buom Street still pays homage to that guardian.
A majority of the street names here start with Hang, which means merchandise or shop. The guild streets were named for their product or location. For example, skilled silversmiths from Hai Hung province now occupy Hang Bac Street one of the most ancient streets in all Vietnam. Each guild had its own patron saint to which many local temples are dedicated. Hang Bong Street has five such temples.
Although the area is often called the 36 old streets, there may have actually been more. Some believe that the number 36 came from the Fifteenth century when there might have been 36 guilds. Others attribute the name “36” to a more abstract concept. The number 9 in Asia represents “plenty.” Nine times 4 (the four directions) would make 36 which means simply: many.
The Old Quarter is precious legacy of Hanoi’s ancient past, but the area is challenged by rapid changes. Today handicraft production is being increasingly replaced by restaurants, repair shops, and tailors.
DISHES TO TRY IN HANOI
- Bun Cha :
Bún chả is a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork and noodle, which is thought to have originated from Hanoi, Vietnam. Bun cha is served with grilled fatty pork over a plate of white rice noodle and herbs with a side dish of dipping sauce. The dish was described in 1959 by Vietnamese food writer Vu Bang (1913–1984) who described Hanoi as a town “transfixed by bún chả.” Bún chả is popular in the Northern region of Vietnam. In the South, a similar dish of rice vermicelli and grilled meat is called bún thịt nướng. I personally love it served on a hot plate.
- Springrolls :
Now who doesn’t love spring rolls?! Spring rolls in Hanoi are made with thin rice paper wrapping, which crisps up really flakey and crunchy. You can find vendors selling them almost anywhere on the streets. A popular specialty is the crab rolls. Try it if you see it!
- Bun rieu :
Bun rieu is a northern crab and tomato noodle soup made with thin round rice noodles (instead of wide & flat like pho). There are no real crab meat pieces in there, but rather small clusters of crab egg. The soup has a light, tangy tomato flavor with a hint of the sea.
- Bun dau mam tom :
This dish consists of fried tofu, fishcakes, pork, and tightly compressed vermicelli noodle “patties” cut into cubes. These are then eaten dipped into a shrimp paste and accompanied with fresh herbs (as everything in Hanoi is). Yum! But beware, the shrimp paste is super pungent so only a tiny dab will do!
- Pho :
As all over Vietnam, Pho the most popular noodle dish. As for Hanoi, my favorite is pho ga (chicken noodle soup). Pho originated in the early 20th century in northern Vietnam, and was popularized throughout the rest of the world by refugees after the Vietnam War. The Hanoi and Saigon styles of pho differ by noodle width, sweetness of broth, and choice of herbs. A related noodle soup, bún bò Huế, is associated with Huế in central Vietnam.
- Egg coffee :
Egg coffee is a Hanoi specialty! A raw egg yolk is whipped furiously (seriously, for like 5 minutes non-stop) with the famous drip coffee and sweetened condensed milk. This creates a concoction that is so thick and creamy, almost like a custard. And the most amazing thing: it tastes like creme brulee! Somehow, the egg takes away almost all the coffee flavor. So delicious! It’s like a dessert and caffeine fix in one. This is a MUST TRY when visiting Hanoi!
- Bia Hoi : local beer.
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of bia hoi in Hanoi. However, it can be hard to find the right one. Of course, the 8,000-dong question is, what makes a good bia hoi? fresh and cheap and sometimes half decent, sometimes well… just fresh and cheap. Served straight from the metal kegs into distinct bia hoi glasses, it’s an iconic Vietnamese drink.