Vietnam’s capital city is a sprawling, lively city with an energetic cultural scene, noted for its graceful colonial architecture and French and Old Quarters. Hanoi is the second most populous city in Vietnam, right in the heart of the Red River Delta. Thanks to its mix of broad tree-lined boulevards, narrow alleyways, lakes and parks, temples and pagodas, the city is a stunning blend of Indo-Chinese and French colonial influences.
The Old Quarter (or Hoan Kiem District) is a sprawling, thirty-six street marketplace, where busy pedestrians, scooters, bicycles, rickshaws and cars zip by at lightening speeds. The oldest neighbourhood in the city – a maze of boutiques, trendy cafés and sidewalk vendors – dates back to the 13th century. The ancient commercial streets here are named after their original businesses which date back about 1,000 years. Charming colonial architecture, pagodas and Buddhist temples mix with these businesses, letting visitors get a feel of older customs and life here. Most of the preserved shop-houses were built over a century ago, constructed in a long, narrow style to avoid being highly taxed. Trading takes place in front of the storefronts while the family occupies the rest. Top artists and craftsmen create lacquer ware, silk products, embroidered fabrics and bags, conical hats, coffee beans and paintings. Bargaining is expected – and part of the fun – even though goods are already at cheap to affordable prices.
The French Quarter (or Ba Dinh District) is nearby and is where most government offices and embassies are located, including the Presidential Palace. More high-end shopping can be found here, and is home to some of Hanoi’s fanciest restaurants and the picture-perfect Opera House.