Tradition, culture and subculture too – something for everyone.
Sometimes referred to as ‘the grand old dame of the Orient’, Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is a city of intense tradition and robust culture. Unlike so many Asian capitals, Hanoi has maintained its historical authenticity, developing as a commercial hub that is uniquely Vietnamese. In 2010, Hanoi celebrated its 1000-year anniversary with a year-long celebration to honour those Vietnamese who fought, in myriad ways, to develop Vietnam into the nation it has become, and to pass this proud history onto future generations. This quantifies what Hanoi is all about – looking to the past to inspire the future. There is a quiet confidence about Hanoi that is seductive to those who stay still for long enough to find it; an edgy subculture that hums with creativity and artistic endeavour. Compared to their counterparts in the South, friendships in Hanoi are slower to kindle – but when they do they last a lifetime.
What to do
Hanoi’s Old Quarter, consisting of narrow, winding laneways and row upon row of traditional Vietnamese wooden structures, is the city’s irrefutable centre of commerce and trade. Wander into secluded alleys and stumble across tiny shops housing antiques, silver products, spices and herbal remedies, or pause to enjoy a cup of Hanoi’s world famous coffee. Explore the final resting place of Vietnam’s favourite uncle Ho Chi Minh, or find inner peace at the Temple of Literature, which used to be the home of RMIT Hanoi’s graduation ceremony. Now that we’re bigger, it’s held at the Hanoi Opera House, also well worth a look.
Eat and Drink
Hanoi arguably holds the upper hand when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine in terms of pure authentic flavour. Co-host of Master Chef US and world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsey recently toured Vietnam, designating it a country whose cuisine leaves no stone unturned, with a focus on the freshest ingredients and a fusion of exotic flavours. Enjoy a streetside meal like cha ca, a curry-like noodle dish served with fresh dill and peanuts, then head down to one of the many popular bia hois, or beer drinking places, that line the streets of the Old Quarter for a taste of the real Vietnam.
Hanoi is a great jumping off point for exploring Northern Vietnam, which contains some of the countries most famous sights. Ha Long Bay, recently voted one of the Seven Wonders of the World, makes for a wonderful change of pace as your junk boat drifts among towering limestone crags. You could even choose to spend the night at Cat Ba Island, a paradise for outdoorsy types, and indulge in hiking, rock climbing, off-road biking or kayaking. If you have a few more days up your sleeve, take the train up into the mountains around Sapa and meet Vietnam’s largest concentration of ethnic groups.