Major Sights In and Around Hanoi

By Jan Dodd

Hanoi has changed enormously over the last few years, but I still find it a beguiling city. The Old Quarter is as captivating as ever, while some of the revamped colonial buildings are just stunning..

The Old Quarter in Hanoi

I love wandering the intoxicating tangle of streets that makes up Hanoi's commercial heart. Many are still dedicated to one particular craft; don't miss the jaunty prayer banners of Hang Quat, Lan On's fragrant medicines and Hang Ma, draped in tinsel, votive objects and all manner of paper products.

Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

Tai Chi by the lake in Hanoi Immediately south of the Old Quarter, Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword) takes on different personalities at different times of day. It's perhaps best at daybreak, when tai chi experts limber up in the half-light, or at dusk when old men come to play chess and couples seek privacy in the shadows.

The French Quarter in Hanoi

Continuing southwards, the French Quarter is full of stately colonial buildings on tree-lined avenues. Its centre-piece is the beautifully restored Opera House. Nearby, you'll find the elegant Metropole Hotel and Governor of Tonkin's Residence.

Water Puppets in Hanoi

Though the traditional water puppet shows are decidedly touristy, they're still huge fun for all age groups. Performances consist of charming vignettes of rural life, such as ploughing, rice planting and children splashing in the paddy or herding ducks.

The Temple of Literature in Hanoi

The green lawns and gnarled trees of this Confucian temple are a pleasant respite from the noise, dust and confusion of Hanoi.

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long BayWith a few days to spare, a trip to Ha Long Bay is highly recommended. You can either take a guided tour or do it yourself, in which case it's worth considering staying on Cat Ba island rather than the more touristy destination of Ha Long City. Other sights around Hanoi include the Perfume Pagoda (a vast, sacred cave accessible only by river), Tam Coch (another river trip, this time near Ninh Binh) or the mountain villages of Sa Pa and Bac Ha near the Chinese border.

Jan Dodd is the author of The Rough Guide to Vietnam, as well as guides to Japan and Tokyo, and a contributer to the guide on France. She writes for various newspapers and journals, including the Independent on Sunday and National Geographic Traveler Magazine. Visit Jan Dodd's website.