Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a fascinating blend of East and West, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French design from its colonial past. It is largely unspoiled by modern architecture of the 1970s and 80s, and is now going through a modernization that is making it a rising star in Southeast Asia.
Invading forces from every direction agree: Hanoi makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more than a thousand years, through several invasions, occupations, restorations, and name changes. The Chinese conquered the imperial city of of Đại La in 1408 and renamed it Tống Bình. Le Loi repelled the invaders in 1428 and applied the name of XXX; for his efforts, he received the crown and a slew of legends about his heroic exploits, many centered around the Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. The Nguyen Dynasty gave the city its modern name of Ha Noi in 1831, but they had transferred power to Hue by then; it remained there until 1887, when the French made Hanoi the capital of all Indochina. It changed hands again in 1954, when it was ceded to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh after almost a decade of fighting, and it became the capital of North Vietnam; upon reunification in 1975, it assumed that title for the entire country.
The first Western-style universities in Vietnam were founded in Hanoi, and today, it is the leading center of scientific study and research in the country. Hanoi retains much of its older colonial charm, despite the battles that have raged over it; conflict had the side effect of making it largely oblivious to modern architecture, and as a result, few buildings in the city center area are higher than five stories. The Old Quarter is second only to Hoi An for uninterrupted stretches of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, well-preserved on dense warrens of narrow, wonderfully atmospheric streets. It trades the commercial boom and sprawl of Ho Chi Minh City in the South for a more understated charm, worth enjoying for an extra day or two, and with countless transport options and travel agents, it makes a perfect base for exploration of the North.
The Tourist Information Center - tel: (84-4) 926 3366 - on Dinh Tien Hoang, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, can provide a fairly useful map (bewilderingly, the blow-up of the old town is missing making it useless in that part of town) and other English-language advice, as well as limited free Internet. They aren't completely without bias, however, and seem to support certain companies, for example An Phu Tour (bus company).
As of November 2006, international departure taxes should be included in the price of your ticket, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will be - check with the airline to be absolutely sure. If not, the tax (sometimes called "passenger service charge") is payable in US dollars (US$14) or in dong.
Most folks arrive at the Noi Bai International Airport, 35 km (45-60 minutes) north of the city. Several airlines run flights from Noi Bai, including:
- Vietnam Airlines - 25 Tràng Thi (corner of Quang Trung) tel: (84-4)9349660 fax: (84-4)9349620 - the primary national carrier
- Pacific Airlines (tel: 84-4 9550550)  - discount Vietnamese carrier
- Cathay Pacific  - upscale airline with flights to Hong Kong
- Hong Kong Airlines  - new carrier with daily flights to/from Hong Kong
- Tiger Airways (tel: 84-4 9454565)  - low-cost airline with daily flights to/from Singapore
From the airport
- Taxis to downtown Hanoi can be hired at Noi Bai. The driver may try to deliver you to a hotel of his choice so he can collect a commission, but if you are specific about your destination, they usually give in. Taxis from the city centre to Noi Bai Airport charge a fixed rate of about US$16.
- Public buses to the city center from Noi Bai airport charge 5000 dong and take about an hour. Bus #07 crosses the Thang Long bridge and goes to the Daewoo Hotel on the western part of Hanoi. Bus #17 crosses the Chuong Duong bridge and goes close to the old quarter.
- Shuttle-buses to the airport depart from opposite the Vietnam Airlines Office on Quang Trung (see below). Tickets cost ~US$2 and are sold in the building in front of which the minibuses park. From the airport, the fare is US$4. The shuttle service will often offer to take you direct to your hotel for an extra dollar once they reach the office. This is purely voluntary, but experience says the drivers are fairly trustworthy and for the new arrival is a good way to get direct to the door. Check, however, that your hotel isn't less then two minutes' walk!
Trains arrive at the main Hanoi train station (Ga Hang Co, 120 Le Duan, tel: 825 3949) daily from cities in the south including Hue and Nha Trang. The Reunification Express goes all the way to Ho Chi Minh City, although there is very little 'express' about it.
There are train services to the north-west (including Lao Cai, from which you reach Sapa - the onward route to Kunming in China is no longer open). To board trains bound for these destinations, you have to enter the railway station compound through the "backdoor" at Tran Quy Cap station. Just tell your driver which destination your train is heading to. Be mindful of any "helpful" stranger who offers to carry your luggage — he probably has a sum more than the cost of the ticket in mind for the help.
However, tickets for all destinations are sold in the main station, though there are two counter halls, north and south, serving the respective destinations. Buy your tickets as early as possible, since especially sleeper-tickets can be sold out several days in advance. If you can't get a ticket anymore, try a travel-agent who still might have stocks. You may also try your luck in the station just before boarding time, agents still holding tickets will be eager to sell as the departure draws near.
Most of the "open-tour" bus itineraries either begin or end in Hanoi, with Hue the next (or previous) stop (12-14 hours, US$8-9), and from there to Hoi An, Nha Trang, Dalat, Mui Ne, Ho Chi Minh City, and other cities in Vietnam, depending on the bus company.
Many of the same companies also sell tickets to Vientiane and Savannakhet in Laos (US$16-18), but do some research before you buy a ticket - rattle-trap scam buses abound on this route.
Hanoi traffic and commerce
Taxis are the best way to travel long distances, but the cyclos, or pedicabs, are a cheap way to make shorter trips. Taxi fares are not always consistent, and the rates for each taxi company have not been standardized. For lone travelers, rides on the back of motorbikes (actually low-powered scooters known as xe om) are popular too.
Some meter taxi owners in Hanoi will attempt to negotiate a flat fee in advance rather than use the meter. If you have a fair idea of how far you're going or how much you're willing to pay, this is probably a good idea. If the driver refuses, turning around and walking away will almost certainly change his mind! Don't sweat it, it's all part of the expected negotiation protocol. Meters may be cheaper, but they may not; drivers of less reputable taxi companies have been reported "fixing" their meters to run faster. If you're riding on the meter, keep an eye on it. Watch routes, too — if you catch driver doing things like going around Hoan Kiem Lake twice, demand that he stop.
Motorbike drivers can be found on virtually every corner, especially in the Old Quarter. Expect to be offered a ride every half-block (or more). Negotiate a fare in advance, and again, turn around and walk away if you don't like their offer. There are far more drivers than tourists, and they know it - your fare could be the only one they get all day. You might want to write down the negotiated fare to avoid confusion. Even if you do speak Vietnamese, a driver might pretend that you said 50,000 dong instead of 15,000! In case of argument over fares after the ride, keep calm and repeat the original agreement. (Remember, you have the leverage.) A typical 10 minute fare should cost no more than 15,000-20,000 dong. Many drivers will accept US dollars as well.
Motorcycles can be rented for around US$5-6 a day, and can be arranged by most hotels. This is good for making lots of trips around the city for individuals or duos, but be careful: Hanoi traffic is very difficult place to sharpen motorbike skills. Park on the sidewalk with other bikes, and be sure to lock the front wheel. Locals will help arrange the bikes near their stores.
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Open mornings only, 8-11am; closed afternoons, Mondays, and Fridays. Admission free.) The city down south may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion - against his wishes, but that's how it goes. No talking, short pants, or other signs of disrespect allowed while viewing; photos are allowed only from outside, in the grand Ba Dinh Square. Purses are allowed into the tomb, but expect them to be searched by several bored soldiers along the way. Left luggage is handled in a complicated scheme: there is an office near the street for large bags, with separate windows for Vietnamese and foreigners, and a further office for cameras, which will be transported to a third office right outside the exit of the mausoleum. Items checked in at the first office, however, will stay there. Note that the mausoleum is closed for a couple months around the end of the year, when the body is taken overseas for maintenance.
Gone bananas at the Ho Chi Minh Museum
- Ho Chi Minh Museum (19 Ngoc Ha St., Ba Dinh, Hanoi; tel. +84-4 846-3572, fax +84-4 843-9837; Open 8-11:30am, 2-4pm, closed Monday and Friday afternoons. Admission 15,000 dong.) [email protected] Right around the corner, this gleaming white museum and its gloriously ham-handed iconography are the perfect chaser to the solemnity of the mausoleum. The building, completed in 1990, is intended to evoke a white lotus. Some photos and old letters are on display on the second floor, but the main exhibition space is on the third floor. Guards won't allow photos of the giant bronze Ho Chi Minh statue at the top of the stairs, but tend not to care about photos of the rest of the exhibits, which include cars crashing through walls to represent the chaos of post-war American capitalism, soldiers charging around with electric plugs, and a cave hideout re-imagined as the inside of Ho Chi Minh's brain. Guides are available in English, French, Chinese and Russian, but don't bother; the displays are labeled in English and French, and it's hard to imagine the guides doing much other than belaboring the point.
- Ho Chi Minh's Vestige In The Presidential Palace Area (No.1 Bach Thao, Ba Dinh, Hanoi; tel. +84 08044529, fax +84 08043064. Open 7:30-11am, 2-4pm in the summer, and 8-11am, 1:30-4pm in the winter. Closed Monday and Friday afternoons. Admission 15,000 dong.) The exit from the mausoleum takes you right into the grounds of the, uh, vestige, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1954 until his death in 1969. The nicely landscaped complex includes two of Ho Chi Minh's houses, kept shiny and "as he left them" by the authorities, as well as a garage with two of Ho's cars and a carp-filled pond. The Presidential Palace is also nearby, but it's not always open to visitors. Pamphlets are available in English, Chinese, French, and Korean. Guided tours are usually available if you wait.
- One-Pillar Pagoda. Tucked away between the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum. Travelers find the One-Pillar Pagoda either charming and lovely or utterly pointless, depending on how many tour groups are crammed into the small grounds at the time of their visit. Either way, it's free.
- Fine Arts Museum (Bảo Tàng Mỹ Thuật), 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. Most likely the most boring museum in the entire world. Only party approved art is shown here and there are no information in English and only little in Vietnamese
- Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) (On Quoc Tu Giam St., south of the Mausoleum. Admission 5,000 dong.) The Temple of Literature was founded in 1070 and established as the country's first university six years later. The courtyard features numerous stone tablets, each mounted on the back of a tortoise, with the names of graduates.
- Army Museum (Bảo Tàng Quân Đội), Dien Bien Phu Street. Vietnam's military history extends back some two millennia, and this museum covers it. On display outside are the ubiquitous MiG-21 jet fighter and T-54 tank.
- Air Force Museum (Bảo Tàng Không Quân), Truong Chinh Street (Southwest of center). There's a decent outdoor collection of Soviet-built MiG fighters, a huge Mi-6 helicopter, and other aircraft; unfortunately they've been exposed to the elements for some time and local kids climb over them.
- Hoan Kiem Lake is a pleasant park in the center of town, within easy walking distance from anywhere in the Old Quarter. It's the locals' favorite leisure spot, and a great place to watch early-morning tai chi or sit and read in the afternoon. Hoan Kiem means "returned sword", and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later, while boating on the lake, he encountered a giant turtle, who grabbed the sword and carried it down to the depths, returning it to the gods from whom it had come. (You can see a version of the legend at the Water Puppet Theater - see below.) The giant turtles reportedly still inhabit the lake, and were last seen Nov 2008.
- Ngoc Son Temple (admission 2,000 dong) extends out into the lake, with small but attractive grounds, displays on Vietnamese history and, more memorably, displays on the giant turtles, including a mummified specimen.
- Ho Tay, or "West Lake", is northwest of the city, and has become a popular site for gaudy villas owned by the well-to-do.
- Hoa Lo Prison ("The Hanoi Hilton"), Hai Ba Trung Street. Originally built by the French and later used to hold captured U.S. airmen, little remains of the structure besides the "Maison Centrale" gate and a small museum. Most of it has made way for a new high-rise building, though it's not the new, real Hilton hotel - even for Vietnam that would be a bit too ironic.
- B-52 Lake. Until December 19, 1972, this was just a small brackish pond just off Hoang Hoa Tam Street, about 1 km west of the mausoleum. On that day, in a twisted retelling of the Hoan Kiem legend (see above), Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns (possibly with the help of flying turtles) retook the enemy's eight-engined, 100-ton sword and sent it, too, to the shallow bottom of the lake, where it remains today.
- Downed Aircraft Memorial. Along Thanh Nien Street on Truc Bach lake there is a stone plaque commemorating the shooting down of a U.S. Navy (not "USAF" as depicted) aircraft in 1967. Peruse the Vietnamese script and you can pick out the name of John McCain, one of the airmen.
- Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (57 Dinh Tien Hoang St., across the street from the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake; tel. +84-4-824-9494, fax +84.4.824-5117) . A visit to the water puppet theater is a real highlight of a trip to Hanoi. Live musicians accompany folk legends from Vietnamese history, told with wooden men, women and dragons, dancing and splashing on the face of the water. The narratives are sung in Vietnamese, but a list of titles is available in several languages. Tickets are 20,000/40,000 dong. There are several performances throughout the day, but it's virtually impossible to buy tickets for the same day, and most performances for the following day will be sold out as well. Camera passes are an extra 15,000 dong, but whether you buy one or not is purely on the honor system. Don't worry about getting wet, but the seats are very small, and visitors with above-average height will have to squirm a bit.
If you are the adventurous type or simply bored temporarily of the city atmosphere, then consider a cruise in the northern countryside. A round trip will bring you to a lot of charming villages and through hills and valleys with stunning nature. Main roads are generally in good condition and you can easily do a couple of hundred kilometers a day. The villages and provinces are generally safe at night, and you get to see a lot of Vietnamese culture such as various tribe folks. While bus services are in fact available (albeit not always reliable), a recommended alternative is to rent a bike or car and make the trip on your own. Motorbikes in decent quality can be rented for as little as US$5 a day, and many places have suggestions for routes.
Hanoi University of Technology
Hanoi is a shoppers paradise for silk, lacquerware, wood, custom tailoring and other Asian inspired design. The bargains are among the best in Asia. Artisans and craftsmen have set up shop in the Old Quarter for generations, and each street is named after the item traditionally sold there. Among the more interesting sights are the streets close to the lake full of nothing but stores overflowing with wave upon wave of white shoes, and a few shops offering to custom-carve black marble tombstones (complete with portrait) for anyone passing by.
In the quarter between Hoan Kiem Lake and the Cathedral, you'll find numerous shops with the same selection but of better quality. Vendors know that, so prices are higher than in the Old Quarter. Shops can sometimes arrange shipment to overseas destinations, and even with the added costs you'll still have a bargain.
There are two major shopping malls in Hanoi, Trang Tien Plaza and the new-built Vincom City Towers. Both are located in the Hoan Kiem District.
- Bookworm, 15a Ngo Van So (about 1km south of Hoan Kiem lake), ☎ 84 4 943 7226 ([email protected]). 10AM-7PM, closed Mondays. The only English bookshop in Hanoi, apparently. Good selection of new and used books. You can sell your unwanted books to them too.
- Khue Binh Jewelry, 114 Hang Bac, ☎ 9260256. Tiny jewelry shop, operating off-street out of somebody's house. Walk through the narrow passageway and wake up the old lady to buy some exquisite and breath-takingly cheap jewelry.
A local delicacy in the Hanoi area is dog meat (thịt chó), which is especially popular in the winter. There are a number of restaurants along the Red River that specialize in it. Another exotic regional taste is ca cuong, an extract from the belostomatid, or giant water bug. Just a few drops are added to noodles for the unique aroma.
On Tô Tich, a small street connecting Hang Quat and Hang Gai, you can help yourself to a refreshing fruit milkshake (sinh tố) at one of the stalls (~7000 dong).
You can also try BBQ pork (slice) in soup with vermicelli and lots of vegi at DAC KIM (24, Hang Ga, Hoen Kiem, Hanoi; open 8am-8pm). They serve spring rolls too.
The Sofitel Metropole does an "eat all you can" chocolate buffet each day from 15:00 to 17:30. The price of $12 includes tax, service fee and all the tea or coffee you can drink. The chocolate is of a very high quality and includes a chocolate fountain and chocolate ice cream as well as a variety of freshly-made "Belgian" style chocolates.
Look to the Old Quarter for atmospheric street stalls and reasonably priced Western and local fare.
- Hebe cafe' 33, Luong Van Can street, near the Hoan Kiem lake, in the center of Hanoi Old Quarter (inside Hanoi Youth Hotel). Local and Western food at prices to suit travellers. US$1$ breakfasts, US$2 pizza, US$8 hot pot.
- Huy Café & Pizza Inn (32 Dinh Liet Street) offers a large Italian dinner combo (garlic bread, soup/salad, pizza/pasta, drink) for only 65,000 dong.
- Papa Joe's Coffee (112 Cau Go, tel. +84 926-2544; open 8am-11pm) Despite the name, this is actually a full-on restaurant, with pasta, soup, salads, sandwiches, and pretty good burgers (vegetarian included). Drinks and desserts are also on hand. Entrees are 45-65,000 dong. The best reason to eat here, though, is the view over the frantic traffic square and the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake below.
- Pho on the corner of Wha Chung and Chan Cam sells the traditional watery noodle soup. All of the soups and sides include beef (bo) so this isn't for veggies. A large bowl of pho will set you back 12,000 dong and a bottle of Coke or a beer a further 3,000 dong.
- Pho (10 Ly Quoc Su) sells apart from the Pho bo (noodle soup with beef) also noodles with vegetables - and of course beef on top of it. A dish will cost you something between 15,000 dong and 30,0000 dong.
- Lay Bac 135 (135 Hang Bac Street - Old Quarter). A friendly and cleaning small restaurant serving sandwiches, western and local food with good prices (about 45.000 dong each). Open until midnight.
- Pepperoni's near the Hang Gai end of Wha Chung is part of a small international chain of pizza restaurants. Locally run, they do regular special offers such as free desserts, eat-all-you-can buffets and loyalty schemes, whereby collecting tokens with east take-out entitles you to a free pizza. Pizzas start from around 65,000 dong and the menu also includes burgers, ice cream and apple crumble.
- Cha Ca La Vong (14 Cha Ca Street, also 107 Nguyen Truong To Street) - this establishment is so famous, the street is named after it, instead of the other way around. There's only one dish on the menu, fried fish, but they've been serving it for five generations.
- Huyen Houng Restaurant, 20 Bao Khanh, Hanoi, ☎ 04.8288430. Choose from a wide variety of seafood dishes (many of which are swimming around in tanks) and other Vietnamese specialities. Friendly staff complement the tasty food. Recommended. about 80000-120000 dong for a meal and drink.
- Hapro, a Vietnamese vodka company, maintains two locations on the southwest corner of Hoan Kiem lake; the indoor location has free Wi-Fi Internet access.
- Little Hanoi - basically Western food with some Vietnamese food.
- Little Hanoi 2 is very good for Western breakfasts and sandwiches.
- Moka Café (In Nha Tho Street close to the cathedral) has an execellent selection of Western, Vietnamese, Malay and Indian Cuisine. Their spring rolls Hue style are divine, the Chicken Tikka is to die for and the Naan bread is not found better anywhere in town.
- Tamarind Café (Ma May 80, Old Quarter; tel. +84 4 926-0580)  Has a menu full of inventive vegetarian dishes, lots of fresh juices, and a relaxed, stylish interior. Don't come here if you're ravenous and out to fill your belly, though, as the portions aren't very big, and it's a tad pricey.
- La Salsa (in Nha Tho street near the church in old town - just across the street from Moka Cafe) - French food and ex-pat hang-out.
- Paris Deli (near St Joseph's Catheral)offers delicious Italian meal (pasta, pizza, bread, soup etc.)
- La Restaurant & Bar, 25 Ly Quoc Su, Hanoi, ☎ 9288933, 0913221971. Situated near St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi's old quarter, this elegant, air-conditioned restaurant has a choice of delicious western and Vietnamese dishes. While the selection of vegetarian dishes is somewhat restricted, the food is excellent, if pricey by Hanoi standards. La will definitely satisfy longings for quality food after weeks of eating on the street. Think Parisian bistro meets fine dining Asian. About 300,000 dong for a meal and drinks.
- The Press Club Restaurant
- Green Tangerine - By Western standards, very moderately priced. By Hanoi standards, a bit pricey. Very good French restaurant with both an a la carte selection and a set menu
- Restaurant Bobby Chinn - A once good restaurant now seeming to trade on it's reputation. Prices have risen steeply and food quality has dropped considerably.
- Sunday Brunch at Sofitel Metropole - If you live to eat and enjoy innovative and unconventional cooking, then treat yourself and your loved ones to the famous Sofitel Metropole Sunday Brunch. It's from noon to 3pm every Sunday and will set you back US$40/head, but then it also sports approx. 40 meters of buffet with everything your heart can desire, from sushi to carvery, from fresh french oysters to homemade ice cream - you name it - they've got it. Among the highlights are a 3 storey chocolate buffet with a chocolate fountain. Their desserts are out of this world and the goose liver creme brulee is not only innovative; it's also divine.
Hanoi is a lively city on the weekends, but the Old Quarter closes relatively early (at midnight) on weekdays, so you might want to start your night early.
Bia Hơi is abundant in the streets of the Old Quarter. At the crossing of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen five separate venues fill up with travellers in the evenings, but you can get more local atmosphere on some of the side streets.
- The Jazz Club by Quyen Van Minh - (31 Luong Van Can - Old Quarter). A good place to drink, eat and listen jazz. Fouded by a vietnam jazzman, the bar remember the old bars of New Orleans and the best around the world. The kitchen is very good but avoid the staff; They don't like to work so much on the first hours of night. You can also buy gifts like key chains, t-shirts and the CD's of the proprietary. Open between 7.00 p.m. and midnight.
- Culi Café, 40 Lương Ngọc Quyến, (84-04)9262241 [email protected]  - for the feeling you haven't left your hometown or just need a break from Bia Hoi, this Kiwi-run bar might be the answer. Air-con lounge upstairs, with wireless connections, sports occasionally screened in the bar downstairs. The same bar also runs a travel agency.
- Green Lake (Ho Guom Xanh) 32 Le Thai To, is a crowded bar with weekly performances by popular local singers. A place for the definitive Vietnamese entertainment scene.
- Le Maquis is a small bar on the northern end of Ta Hien. It's more like a loud rock music binge and smoke pub than a stylish lounge, but there's usually a happy crowd until late and the place has an authentic feel.
Hanoi hotel scams
Although most of the hotels in Hanoi are helpful and trustworthy, there are still some scam artists around. Touts will try to lure you into a hotel. If you decide to go, be sure to have them pay the transport, and don't hesitate to leave if you do not like the place. Also, do not believe anybody other than the front desk clerk if they tell you that a certain hotel is "full". They'd rather take you to a place that pays them a commission. Any hotel will be keen to have you book a Ha Long Bay trip through them, but wait a day to judge the quality of service you're receiving there - that'll give you some idea of what kind of travel agency they intend to refer you to.
Be aware that unscrupulous hotels will promise deals that are poorly explained until check-out - for example, "daily free water and fruit" that is only free on the first day. In the Old Quarter, Thien Tan Hotel, Old Street Hotel and Ocean Star Hotel indulge in this scam, so avoid them. If you've booked into a rotten hotel and you're planning to leave, don't be shy about taking photos of the minibar right before you leave, lest a few bottles go missing while the staff are "checking" your room. Also, ask explicitly whether tax is included in your room rate. Better hotels will include the tax, but scam-havens like the Old Street Hotel see it as an opportunity to squeeze an extra dollar or two out of you.
You might return late at night to your hotel room to find that all your belongings have been cleared out and you will be accused for not having called during the day. They will then make you believe that there was something wrong with the plumbing in your room, they were fully booked and you have to change to another hotel which is, of course, much, much more expensive.
Be careful with people asking if you have a reservation in a hotel. They say that hotel "is full" and your reservation as cancel just to send you for another hotel. They receive money to "stole" clients of a hotel to another. If you have a reservation, tell that you call the hotel and go away. They can leave you.
There is some hotel that will tell you their room is facing electricity problem and water leaking problem and arrange you to stay much cheaper n lousy hotel on the 1st day . But they actually reserve the room for western foreigners . In the old quarters, Hanoi Plaza hotel indulge this scam.
With the overwhelming amount of motorbike traffic and the common rule to honk a few times before even considering the brakes, it is wise to check your hotel room's location before taking it. Having a room on the street side means being exposed to the honking which doesn't end till 1 AM and starts again around 5 AM. If you go more upmarket, chances are there will be sound-proof glass, but it is still wise to check first.
The Old Quarter is littered with guesthouses and hostels catering for budget travelers.
- Hanoi Backpackers' Hostel, 48 Ngo Huyen St, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi (One block north of St Joseph's Cathedral. Signposted from there. Free train station pickups), ☎ (84-4) 828 5372 ([email protected]), . checkin: 24 hours; checkout: 24 hours. The only actual youth hostel in Hanoi, run by two Australians who have lived there for many years. Clean air-conditioned rooms (including female-only dorms plus double rooms), powerful and hot showers, frequent BBQs on the balcony, free Wi-Fi and Internet and excellent staff who are always available to help. All dorm beds have a large personal locker (no extra fee), shelf and nightlight. Tour bookings, train tickets and visa extensions/applications can also be dealt with here by guests and non-guests alike. Part of the Hostelling International association, so valid card-holders will get a discount. Also possibly the cheapest hostel in the world where you can apply for such a card which can be used elsewhere. $6.95 per night dorm / $25 per night double inc breakfast.
- Camellia 5, 81 Thuoc Bac Str (about 10 mins walk from Hoan Kiem lake), ☎ (84 4) 828 2376 or (84 4) 828 3128 ([email protected], fax: (84 4) 828 2404), . checkout: 12 noon. Small hotel on the heart of Old Quarter. Clean rooms and baths with good air-con, satellite TV, free Internet and free breakfast. Friendly English speaking staff who will help you book good value tours etc. from reception. From 12 US$12.
- Hanoi Youth Hotel, 33 Luong Van Can street, tel: +84 4 8285822 [email protected] , is conveniently located near the Hoan Kiem lake, in the center of Hanoi Old Quarter. The hotel has 17 rooms including standard, superior and deluxe with the rate from US$12-30. Rooms are large and have big beds, but the poor air-con means it can be quite hot but now, it changed and become very cold. Showers are better described as a trickle and now it is so good.
- Lucky Eden Hotel, 35 Quan Thanh, tel: +84 4 7341 249 [email protected], is located near the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, and close enough to most popular places in Hanoi. From cheap single rooms to deluxe rooms.
- Real Darling Café Guesthouse, 33 Hang Quat, Old Quarter (2 minutes walk from the north side of Hoan Kiem Lake) tel: +84 4 826 9386 fax: +84 4 824 3468 [email protected] has basic but cheap rooms (US$6+, dorm beds US$3/night, long stayers can get lower rates) with fan, hot showers and optional air-con; there's a steep climb up to all the rooms. Helpful and friendly staff; the café on the ground floor does a good breakfast; they run a cheap and fair travel agency downstairs that doesn't try to rip you off; bicycles and motorbikes for rent. Keep an eye out for construction on Hang Quat (Fan Street), though.
- Thang Long Opera Hotels (formerly Thuy Tien Hotel) - only three minutes to Hanoi Opera House and five minutes walk from the Hoan Kiem Lake or Hanoi Old Quarter.
- Thanh An Hotel at 46 Hang Ga Street offers rooms with attached bathroom after some haggling for 80000 dong. Be prepared for damp walls, cockroaches and a hostile management.
- Wing Hotel, 23 Hang Non, Old Quarter, not far from Real Darling, the Wing Hotel has clean rooms, friendly and professional staff and a book exchange. Breakfast is available. Some rooms have balconies overlooking the street. A double can cost as low as 160,000 dong, although the standard price is 192,000.
- Classic Street Hotel, 41 Hang Be Street (one minute on foot from Hoan Kiem Lake), ☎ (84.4) 8252421 - 9260516 ([email protected], fax: (84.4) 9345920), .
- Continental Hotel - 24, Hang Vai, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi  Boutique-style hotel, has clean and spacious rooms; Hotel staffs are courteous, friendly and warm. Walking distance to Hoan Kiem Late, easy access to restaurants and shops. (around US$24 for a single room, US$28 for twin sharing, incl bf and taxes)
- Green Park Hotel - overlooking the immense green of the biggest park of the city and along the vicinity of Thien Quang Lake. Its architectural design combines the 19th century French assembly with modern Vietnamese concepts.
- Hanoi Elegance Hotel, No 85 Ma May Str & No 8 Hang Bac Str., tel: +84 4 9263451, fax:+84 4 9263452, [email protected]  is in a street in the Old Quarter that thanks to a curb doesn't see as much through-traffic and thus is quieter than most. The newly built boutique hotel offers luxury accommodation in elegant settings with modern facilities & amenities served by professional staff. Rooms US$28-70 with TV, fan, air-con, hot shower, bathtub or Jacuzzi and optional breakfast. In-room computer with Internet access is free of charge. The friendly staff can help with arranging tours etc.
- Huyen Trang Hotel - one of the most beautiful 2 star hotels in the city, next to Hoan Kiem Lake.
- Majestic Salute Hotel - in the Old Quarter, a newly built boutique hotel with marvelous French architecture.
- Queen Travel Hotel, 65 Hang Bac-Hoan Kiem, ☎ + 84 48260860 ([email protected], fax: + 84 4 8260300), . "The stylish Queen of the Old Quarter" touts its friendliness and reliability.
- Quoc Hoa Hotel - in the Old Quarter. Opened in 1991, and one of the first private boutique hotels in Hanoi.
- Rising Dragon Hotel 61 Hang Be Street - Vietnamese and American managed, next to Hoan Kiem Lake, new facilities in renovated historic building of the Old Quarter. Special tour services. Prices start at US$20.
- Sunshine Hotel, 42 Ma May Street  has clean rooms in the middle of the Old Quarter (around US$30 incl. taxes & breakfast)
- Sunny Hotel - enjoys views towards both the Old Citadel and the West Lake.
- Viet Anh Hotel, 11 Ma May St., Tel: +84-4 9261302, Fax: +84-4 9261306, . A terrific hotel with friendly staff, reputable tours, and newly remodeled rooms, located on a shady, beautiful street in the Old Quarter. Internet and a good buffet breakfast (with chef on hand) are included in the room rate. Room rates can be negotiable depending on the season, with some as low as US$15, but official prices range from US$18 for a standard room to US$60 for a family suite.
- Zephyr Hotel - just a few steps from the famous Hoan Kiem Lake, and within walking distance of the Opera House.
- Guoman Hotel - on Ly Thuong Kiet Street.
- Hanoi Horison Hotel - opened in 1997.
- Hanoi Hotel - near the city centre and International Trade Exhibition Fair Centre.
- Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel - adjacent to the Hanoi Opera House.
- Melia Hanoi Hotel - city centre, 5-star.
- Sheraton Hanoi Hotel - on the shore of Hanoi's largest West lake, with lush gardens, sweeping lawns and tranquil courtyards.
- Sofitel Hanoi - 15 Ngo Quyen Street (between the lake and the Opera)  US$169-390
- Sofitel Metropole Hanoi Hotel - within walking distance of the Hanoi Opera House, Hoan Kiem Lake, etc.
- Sofitel Plaza Hotel (formerly Meritus West Lake) - renowned as the most scenic hotel in Ha Noi with a zig zag facade and stepped architecture.
- Sunway Hotel - boutique style, 143 rooms
There are hordes of Internet cafés all over the city. Most are full of Vietnamese teens playing online dance or battle games, but if you want to be the one square who's using the Internet for text, well, that's up to you. Rates vary, but can be as low as 3000 dong/hour. Some of the better cafés, particularly in the Old Quarter, have computers that are Skype-capable for international phone calls.
Monks crossing the street
Like everywhere else in Vietnam, traffic in Hanoi is dominated by an incredible amount of motorbikes, all of which seem to be making a mad, desperate dash for something just out of reach — all of the time. In other words, pedestrian traffic can be overwhelming for visitors, especially in the narrow streets around the Old Quarter. When you leave the curb, look both ways, and take each step slowly and patiently while trying to make eye contact with any oncoming drivers. The key word here is slowly — don't rush. This way the drivers are aware of you, and can take you into account (along with all of the other motorbikes). Be patient and pay attention when you're crossing any street, large or small, and you should be fine.
Embassies & consulates
- British Embassy, Central Building, 31 Hai Ba Trung, ☎ ++ (84) (4) 9360550 ([email protected], fax: ++ (84) (4) 9360562). 08:30-12:30 & 13:30-16:30.
- Embassy of India 58-60, Tran Hung Dao Hanoi Tel. 00-84-4-253409 252310
- The Perfume Pagoda is a Buddhist pilgrimage site about 60 km southwest of Hanoi. A full-day excursion involves a boat trip, hiking up a mountain, and visiting various temples and grottoes.
- Cao Bang, featuring the beautiful Ban Gioc waterfall, is five hours away by bus, near the Chinese border.
- Staying overnight in a boat on the breath-taking Ha Long Bay (or in a hotel on Cat Ba Island) is the most popular side-trip from Hanoi.
- The northern village of Sapa, home to ethnic minorities and gorgeous mountain scenery, is also a popular two or three day trip.
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