Sunday, August 18, 2013


Executive summary by Darmansjah

A temple in the Old quarter .

Best For District, The old Quarter’s narrow, congested streets are thriving with commerce. Some of them are named after the products that were traditionally sold there-these days, P Hang Gai peddles silk and embroidery, while P Hang Quat is the place to purchase candlesticks and flags.

Best for Ho Chi Minh, contrary to his wish for a simple cremation, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum is a monumental marble edifice. Deep in the bowels of the building, the former leader’s body is stored in a glass sarcophagus. (Dec-Sep; 5 Pho Ngoc Ha; admission free).

Founded in the 11th century and dedicated to Confucius, the Temple of Literature (best for temples) is a rare examples of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese originally only granted to those of noble birth-these days the hoi polloi are free to explore inside (P Quoc Tu Gia; admission US$0.50).

Preserved pagodas are found at the Temple of Literature (right).

HOAN KIEM LAKE-best for lake -which translates as ‘Lake of the Restored Sword’-is a popular symbol of old Hanoi. Legend states that the Vietnamese once used a magical sword to drive the Chinese from their lands, before a giant tortoise grabbed it and disappeared into the lake.

Bicyles are a hugely popular mode of transport in Hanoi (left)

The Vietnam Museum of Ethnologybest for museum-is one of Vietnam’s major museums, displaying tribal art, cultural artefacts and textiles. In the grounds are examples of traditional Vietnamese architecture (; Nguyen Van Huyen Rd; admission US$1.60).

HANOI is perhaps Asia’s most graceful and exotic capital city – a place of grand old boulevards and ancient pagodas where locals practice their tai chi moves beside tree-fringed lakes. For all of its timeless charm, it’s also a 21st-century metropolis.

HANOI is at its hottest and rainiest between may and September. Taking place in late January or early February, Tet is the Vietnamese New Year, marked by flower exhibitions and markets, while the CAMA Festival in June features music from Polynesian hip hop to Japanese garage-rock (

Several airlines, including Singapore airlines, tiger airways, and Vietnam airlines fly direct from Singapore to Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi. airAsia, Malaysia Airlines and Vietnam Airlines cater flights from K.L. to Hanoi. Taxis are the best way to get around the city. Also try cy-clos, or pedicabs, which are cheaper alternatives.

Quan Ly is one of Hanoi’s most traditional bars, specializing in ruou, a Vietnamese liquor made from rice, with a number of varieties on sale. There’s also abundant bia hoi-a light Vietnamese draught beer (82 le Van Huu; glasses of bia hoi US$0.20).

Invariably packed to the rafters, Quan An Ngon offers Vietnamese street food from all corners of the country, with a series of mini-kitchens arranged around a large courtyard. Try chao tom (grilled sugar cane rolled in spiced shrimp paste). Do be prepared to wait for a table during peak periods of the day (00 84 8829 9449; 15 P Phan Boi Chau; dishes from US$1.60).

Northern Vietnamese dishes are a mainstay of Highway 4 (right)

Highway is the birthplace of a family of restaurants specializing in cuisine from Vietnam’s northern mountains. There’s an astounding array of dishes-from bite-sized catfish spring rolls to pork fillet with shrimp sauce (; 3 P Hang Tre; dishes from US$5).

Set in a handsome French colonial mansion, Ly Club has an impressive dining room featuring elegant oriental light fittings and a menu of Asian and European dishes (; 4 Le Phung Hieu; meals from US$11).

La Badiane is a stylish bistro located west of Hanoi’s Old quarter. French techniques underpin the menu, although asian influences creep into some dishes-try the tomatoes stuffed with Vietnamese spices and turmeric rice (; 10 Nam Ngu; set lunches US$16).

Getting around Hanoi has an extensive publics bus system – pick up a bus map from Thang long Bookshop (P Trang Tien). A few cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) drivers frequent Hanoi’s Old Quarter -  agree a  price before peddling off and be sure to take a map as few drivers speak English.

Hidden away in the narrow lanes of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Hanoi Elite is agreat-value place to stay. Its 12 guest rooms have comfortable beds and its breakfasts are cooked to order (; 10-50 Dao Duy Tu St; from US$55). 

The Art Hotel is a new opening currently making a name for itself in Hanoi’s Old Quarter-spacious rooms have spotless bathrooms, while the surrounding area can claim some of the city’s best street food (; 65 P Hang Dieu; from USD63).

Sporting an assortment of textiles, ethnic art and locally made furniture, 6 on Sixteen has just six sparsely decorated rooms close to Hoan Kiem Lake. Breakfast includes freshly baked pastries and robust Italian coffee. Try to bag a room with a balcony as the rooms as the back have tiny windows (; 16 Bao Khanh; from US$71).

A stylish hotel overlooking the St Joseph’s Cathedral, the Cinnamon Hotel deftly combines original features, such as wrought iron and window shutters, with more minimalist Japanese aesthetics. All of the six rooms have balconies (; 26 P Aur Trieu; rooms from US$71).

A hotel that has been the preferred address of the great and the good in this city for a century, the Sofitel Metropole Hotel has an immaculately restored colonial façade and mahogany-panelled reception rooms. Guest bedrooms in the old wing offer old-world style-the more modern wing of the hotel doesn’t quite have the same character and charm (; 15 P Ngo Quyen; from US$300).

String Theory Puppets which dance on water, traditional music and folklore come together at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, giving visitors and an insight into ancient traditions and an art form which originated as far back as the 11th century in the rice fields of North Vietnam. Go with an open mind and ignore the cramped seating and you will find it enchanting (; 57b Pho Dinh Tien Hoang; admission from US$1). 

School’s in On the edge of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Hanoi Cooking Centre is more than just a cooking school. Also on offer are eye-opening tours of markets, fascinating street eats experiences (not the sanitized version for tourists one might expect!), a delightful courtyard café and a shop-all on an intimate, friendly scale and run with passion and knowledge (; 44 Chau Long St; classes from Us$55).

Memories of home users rate Hanoi’s Memorial House. This traditional merchants’ house is one of the Old Quarter’s best-restored properties, and is sparsely but beautifully decorated, with rooms set around two courtyards and filled with fine future. There are also crafts and trinkets for sale here, including silver jewellery and basketwork (87 P Ma May; admission US$0.20).

To find out more about Hanoi, The New Hanoian is also a good resource ( parts of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American (US$13; Vintage) are set in Hanoi, and scenes from the 2002 movie were filmed here.

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