24 hours in Hanoi

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Hanoi is no stranger to foreigners. The 1,000-year-old capital has been occupied by the Chinese and the French, and saw its fair share of American GIs during the Vietnam War.


As a result, Hanoi is a multi-faceted metropolis, composed of a multitude of influences that make it one of the most culturally enriching cities around.

Hanoi seems to revel in its many contradictions. The city is a mixture of ancient ruins and glistening skyscrapers. When visitors first touch down they are confounded by the throngs of Vespa and other scooters that weave through the avenues; yet those who scratch deeper, find sleepy neighbourhoods replete with exquisite French colonial architecture and quaint bookshops.

The best way to approach Hanoi is with a degree of fearlessness. Shed any anxieties about food poisoning; tuck in at one of the city’s many sidewalk cafés, and you’re likely to have the best meal of your life.

Make like a local and grab a breakfast bowl of pho bo
– zesty beef soup made with rice noodles. At Pho Gia Truyen, people literally queue out the door for a taste.

Join the joggers, runners, and tai chi practitioners
at peaceful Hoan Kiem Lake. Floating on an island in the middle is Tortoise Tower, an 18th century ode to a mythical turtle.

Tour the Old Quarter for little shops.
Hang Dau Street is ideal for inexpensive shoes, while Hang Dao has lots of spots for clothing. Haggling is the order of the day.

Worked up an appetite shopping?
Grab some lunch at one of the street stalls at Phat Loc alley in the Old Quarter. Bun cha – a rice noodle dish with slabs of meat – is a favourite.

Hoa Lo Prison.

Now a museum, the place was once used to detain dissidents against the French, and then American POWs. It offers a fascinating – if biased – history of the Vietnam War.

Drop into a 1,000-year-old Confucian sanctuary,
also known as the Temple of Literature. The place offers great insight into the life of an ancient Vietnamese scholar, as well as some tranquil patches of green.

Walk around the French Quarter
and take in the breathtaking colonial architecture. Afterwards, find a street stall and try the local coffee – or ca phe. It’s made with condensed milk.

Enjoy some water puppetry
– a unique and charming form of theatre involving marionettes – at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Folk tales, military exploits, and vestiges of rural life all play out on a stage of water.

Grab an upmarket, yet authentic dinner
at the restaurant featured by Gordon Ramsay, Old Hanoi, in the Old Quarter. Follow up some startlingly fresh spring rolls with grilled beef in a bamboo tube.

Head to the crossing of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc
in the Old Quarter and look for signs that read ‘Bia Hoi’, or ‘cold beer’. Locals and travellers alike pop down most nights for a cold one.

Hanoi, Vietnam
Distance: 5,546 km
Flight Time: 9 hours, 25 mins
Frequency: Daily flights via Bangkok

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