A lot can be said about the differences between north and south Vietnam and about Hanoi and Saigon. Overall it’s the Americans that like Saigon most and Europeans that like Hanoi most. Maybe this is related to the history of both cities. If you prefer a dynamic, noisy, polluted, overcrowded city, you’d better visit Saigon. If you look for sphere, character, more sightseeing places, I suggest you better visit Hanoi. With the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and museum, the Temple of Literature, Hoan Kiem lake, Old Quarter, one pillar pagoda, presidential palace, the Hoa lo (Hanoi Hilton) prison, B52 lake, water puppet theater and last but not least, traffic free roads in weekend evenings in the tourist area, Hanoi is the place to be.
The Old Quarter in Hanoi is the tourist area. Hotels can be found in all kinds of price range. From $50 to the backpacker hostel in Ma May Street for $5 a night dormitory room. The Old Quarter is a characteristic neighborhood which owes its name on the history of French colonial Indochine. A lot of old French style buildings. Small streets full with hotels, travel agencies, eateries, coffee shops, souvenir shops and more.. Now that the authorities have decided to ban traffic in Hanoi in weekends from 5 pm onward, it gives space to eating on the roads and even nicer, street artists.
From costume plays to musicians. It adds only more to the sphere of Hanoi. You can drink cheap beers and find cheap and good food too. The most well known street is Ma May Street. You can’t get lost if you remember that. Tell a taxi driver or ask someone on the road and they all know Ma May. Another road with lovely places to hangout connects with Ma May and is called Dao Duy Tu Street. You’ll find Bahn Mi places, the Baguettes filled with meat and other food. Of course there are plenty of coffee shops where they sell the really special Vietnamese coffee. An impression video of the Old Quarter can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEUwwf0_nLw&feature=youtu.be
Hoan Kiem Lake
Another great plus is that Hoan Kiem lake lies on a 10 minute walking distance from the Old Quarter. I can recommend to walk around this lake twice. Once in daytime and once in dark, as in the evenings you will see all things with wonderful lights.
The bridge over the lake to the temple, the entrance of that place. The small padoda in the middle of the lake. The small pagoda at the left side of the lake, Ly Thai To statue, and so on.
A walk around Hoan Kiem lake takes you around 30 minutes without stop and it’s well worth it. With benches to rest and enjoy and restaurants too, it is a perfect place to take a seat and just enjoy your time looking at the fountains, the lake and the people. You can even opt to take a coffee in the well known Highlands Coffee shop at the beginning of the lake when you come from the Old Quarter. There on the 3rd or 4th floor you have a wonderful view of the lake.
An impression video of the lake can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=610-mVAEjDE&feature=youtu.be
On the left side of Hoan Kiem lake, seen from Old Quarter, stands the statue of Ly Thai To. The founder of the Ly dynasty who was ruling between 1009 and 1028. The person who made Hanoi the capital of Vietnam in 1010. Then not far either lies the St. Joseph Cathedral.
A taxi from Old Quarter to the mausoleum cost around 70k vnd ($3). Make sure about the opening times of the mausoleum in case you want to take a look inside. Next of the square with the mausoleum lies the presidential palace and opposite the square the communist party center. Behind the mausoleum lies the Ho Chi Minh museum. All worth a look or visit. The entry price for the museum is just over 1 usd. More about the Mausoleum and info about Hanoi’s places can be found in associated posts on this blog. The Hoa lo prison, Temple of Literature and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum post.
Cheap flights are available from different countries in south east Asia to Hanoi. It has to be said that the negative part on Hanoi could be the airport, which lies on around 45 minutes car ride from the city. The prices they charge at the airport run up to $30 one way. Hotels usually charge you $15 to pick you up.
With easy travels from Hanoi to both Halong Bay and Sapa and all the things to see and do in the city itself, Hanoi has more to offer than Saigon.