The grand old dame of the orient, Hanoi is perhaps the most graceful, atmospheric and exotic capital city in Asia. Its appeal is instant, with sweeping boulevards, tree-fringed lakes, ancient pagodas and a relatively compact historic centre that’s best explored on foot. Hanoi is very much a city on the move. The pace of life is relentless and the energy and enterprise remarkable indeed, it seems that all of Hanoi’s defiant, ambitious citizens are determined to make up for all that lost time.
A constant tide of motorbikes swarms through the quixotic web of streets of the Old Quarter, a cauldron of commerce for almost 1000 years and still the best place to check the pulse of this resurgent city. Life is carried out on the street, as hawkers in conical hats ply their wares while locals sip drip-coffee and bia hoi (beer). Witness synchronised t’ai chi on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake at dawn while goateed grandfathers tug at their wisps over the next chess move.
|Hoan Kiem Lake|
It is a city of sharp contrasts. In Lenin Park the Communist Party youth go through military drills and keep the red flag flying high. A street or two away, Hanoi’s bright young things dine in cosmopolitan restaurants before heading on to a cutting-edge bar where the soundtrack is Ibiza-style house music or Berlin electro. Huge challenges now confront Hanoi, as rapacious developers target prime plots and traffic increasingly threatens to choke the character out of the city. But for now it retains a unique blend of Parisian grace and Asian pace, for in Hanoi the medieval and modern
coexist and enthral.
HANOI HIGHLIGHTS TOURISM
- Experience Asia at its raw, pulsating best in the labyrinthine streets of the Old Quarter
- Step into history, and a spiritual retreat from the busy streets beyond, at the Temple of Literature
- Check out the best of Hanoi’s unique bar scene at the ‘bia hoi junction’
- Pay your respects to ‘Uncle Ho’ himself at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- Piece together the country’s ethnic mosaic at the wonderful Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
The site where Hanoi stands today has been inhabited since the neolithic period. Emperor Ly Thai To moved his capital here in AD 1010, naming it Thang Long (City of the Soaring Dragon). Spectacular celebrations in honour of the 1000th birthday of the city are planned for 2010.
The decision by Emperor Gia Long, founder of the Nguyen dynasty in 1802, to rule from Hue relegated Hanoi to the status of a regional capital for a century. The city was named Hanoi (The City in a Bend of the River) by Emperor Tu Duc in 1831. From 1902 to 1953, Hanoi served as the capital of French Indochina.
Hanoi was proclaimed the capital of Vietnam after the August Revolution of 1945, but it was not until the Geneva Accords of 1954 that the Viet Minh, driven from the city by the French in 1946, were able to return. During the American War, US bombing destroyed parts of Hanoi and killed hundreds
of civilians. One of the prime targets was the 1682m-long Long Bien Bridge. US aircraft repeatedly bombed the strategic bridge, yet after each attack the Vietnamese managed to improvise replacement spans and return it to road and rail services. It is said that the US military ended the attacks when US POWs were put to work repairing the structure.
As recently as the early 1990s motorised transport was rare; most people got around on bicycles and the only modern structures were designed by Soviet architects. Times have changed, and today Hanoi’s unique character is under attack on many fronts as conservationists fight to save historic structures, and the city struggles to cope with a booming population, soaring pollution levels and an inefficient public transport system work is slated to begin on the first line of a metro in 2009.