Invading forces from every direction agree: Hanoi makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more than a thousand years, through several invasions, occupations, restorations, and name changes. The Chinese conquered the imperial city of of Đại La in 1408 and renamed it Tống B́nh. Le Loi repelled the invaders in 1428 and applied the name of Lê Thái Tổ (黎太祖); for his efforts, he received the crown and a slew of legends about his heroic exploits, many centred around the Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. The Nguyen Dynasty gave the city its modern name of Ha Noi in 1831, but they had transferred power to Hue by then; it remained there until 1887, when the French made Hanoi the capital of all Indochina. It changed hands again in 1954, when it was ceded to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh after almost a decade of fighting, and it became the capital of North Vietnam; upon reunification in 1975, it assumed that title for the entire country.
The first western-style universities in Vietnam were founded in Hanoi, and today, it is the leading centre of scientific study and research in the country. Hanoi retains much of its older colonial charm, despite the battles that have raged over it; conflict had the side effect of making it largely oblivious to modern architecture, and as a result, few buildings in the city centre area are higher than five stories. The Old Quarter is second only to Hoi An for uninterrupted stretches of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, well-preserved on dense warrens of narrow, wonderfully atmospheric streets. It trades the commercial boom and sprawl of Ho Chi Minh City in the South for a more understated charm, worth enjoying for an extra day or two, and with countless transport options and travel agents, it makes a perfect base for exploration of the North.
As you walk along the street, you may find that people start talking to you. It is a cultural norm there to make conversation with strangers. They might ask you where you are from and other general questions. And be very cautious especially if a lady will approach you and over-solicitously insist that she is a student without being asked what is her station in life.
It takes awhile to get used to that. However, there are times when you find this friendliness extremely helpful, such as when you are lost or need help.
The Tourist Information Centre, ☎ +84 4 926 3366, Dinh Tien Hoang, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, can provide a fairly useful map (bewilderingly, the blow-up of the old town is missing making it useless in that part of town) and other English-language advice, as well as limited free Internet. They aren't completely without bias.
There are self-help interactive screen information booths around the Old Quarter but their purpose is to superficially conjure the image of coming-of-age "Vietnam has arrived" impression to the unsuspecting passerby. An example was an inquiry typing out the American Embassy as prompted by an empty field, then it flashed on to the next interactive page asking for which district (one may not be aware that the US embassy has branches in every district) - smart and amazing!
The Tet holiday (Lunar New Year's Eve) is in the Spring. Flowers are the most beautiful during this time of the year. The weather starts to warm up with light rain here and there during the week. Hanoians believe that these light rains bring prosperity and luck for the New Year.
The Summer, on the other hand, is quite intolerable. The heat alone would be alright but there is the humidity which would start to manifest in the air since Spring. Visitors also have to be very careful with mosquitoes because there are a lot in Hanoi due to the level of moisture in the air and the temperature. Hanoi has a good climate for many insects to proliferate, not just mosquitoes.
There is something unique about Hanoi's Autumn. The weather is perfect with less humidity in the air. The temperature would drop by now, offering people a chance to take out their fleece and jackets. Moreover, there is this type of tree – "cay hoa sua" which only has flowers in Autumn. The flower has a very distinct smell. If you have the chance to visit Hanoi during Autumn, make sure you ask the local people about this type of trees and where you can experience their distinct aroma.
Winter can be quite brutal because it is not only cold, but also very humid. The winter in Hanoi feels even colder due to the fact that Vietnamese houses typically don't have a central heating system. Many houses don't have any types of heating at all.
January is a drizzly and even rainy month. It may rain two days or days in a row all day long for a week. Don't go unless you have an aversion to getting a glimpse of the sun.
As of November 2006, international departure taxes should be included in the price of your ticket, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will be - check with the airline to be absolutely sure. If not, the tax (sometimes called "passenger service charge") is payable in U.S. dollars (US$14) or in dong.
Most people arrive at the Noi Bai International Airport (HAN), 35 km (45-60 minutes) north of the city. The airport might seem relatively small considering Hanoi's importance to the country, but this might benefit travelers by making the airport easy to navigate and no need to arrive hours in advance (the limited waiting space is one reason why non-travelers are discouraged from entering the airport) to make sure there is plenty of room for those actually using and working in the airport. Several airlines run flights from Noi Bai, including:
Hong Kong Airlines (Hong Kong) 
Indochina Airlines 63 Ly Thuong Kiet St. – Tran Hung Đao Ward – Hoan Kiem District. ☎ +84 4 3941 1411, 
JetStar Asia/Pacific Airlines ☎ +84 4 9550550  - Discount Vietnamese carrier (formerly Pacific Air) for domestic flights and low-cost flights to/from Singapore.
Malaysia Airlines ☎ +60 3 7843 3000) - Daily flights from Kuala Lumpur.
Singapore Airlines ☎ +84 4 3826 8888)  - Full-service airline with daily flights to/from Singapore.
Thai Airways International  - Two flights daily to/from Bangkok.
Tiger Airways (Singapore) ☎ +84 4 94 54565) 
Vietnam Airlines - 25 Tràng Thi (corner of Quang Trung) ☎ +84 4 934 9660 fax: +84 4 934 9620,  - The primary national carrier.
If departing from Noi Bai airport via Vietnam Airlines with no checked luggage, walk to the last airline check-in counter and to the right of it, there's a sign showing check-in for passengers without checked luggage. Using this counter is a great time saver if it applies to your journey.
From the airport
Taxis to central Hanoi can be hired at Noi Bai . There is a fixed price taxi stand right outside the exit, offering fares between US$10-16 into the city. It is slightly more expensive than the tout taxis, but you pre-pay for the trip, so no hassles about the fare. Other drivers may try to take you to a hotel of their choice to collect a commission, but if you are specific about your destination, they usually give in. As you leave the airport all sorts of US$ prices will be quoted by taxi agents, ranging from around US$15-$30. Be sure you have a clear price agreement with the driver before getting into the car as the price quoted by the agent may not be what the driver is expecting. If you have changed money into dong at the airport you can, of course, pay in local currency. The prevailing rate at the end of 2010 seemed to be around 350,000 dong. If you fly in late and don't want the taxi haggling hassles consider pre-arranging a private transfer with your hotel or book online at [YourLocalBooking.com]
If you already have a hotel booked, you might ask the hotel to dispatch a driver. The nicer hotels will do this and put the fare on your room bill.
Public buses to the city centre from Noi Bai airport take about 1,5 hour. Bus #07 crosses the Thang Long bridge and goes to the Daewoo Hotel on the western part of Hanoi (almost an hour on foot to the historical centre of Hanoi). Bus #17 crosses the Chuong Duong bridge and goes close to the old quarter, to Long Bien (just a few blocks from Hoan Kiem Lake - the destination of most tourists). Prices are 4,000 dong and 5,000 dong, respectively. To catch buses 7 or 17, go to the 2nd floor of the terminal, proceed outside, and walk along the ramp to your left. The ramp, like a highway overpass, will take you to the other side of the road than if you had just exited on the 1st floor arrivals section. Buses 7 and 17 depart from right at the end of the ramp. However, baggage is not permitted aboard the buses, so you may need to wait a few minutes to try your luck several times or give the conductor a small bribe, i.e. paying for the baggage as well. Don't listen to taxi drivers or shuttle bus operators that claim the stop for the public buses is a few kilometers away or that service has been terminated. Public buses operate from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Shuttle-buses from the airport to Hanoi stop at the Vietnam Airlines Office on 1 Quang Trung (a bit south of the old quarter but conveniently stocked with taxis and motorbike drivers, of course!). Tickets are sold in the building in front of which the minibuses park, or you can give the fare directly to the driver. The cost is US$2 or 40,000 dong for foreigners (insurance reason), and 35,000 dong for Vietnamese (which includes VN-Americans),which rate is indicated on the sticker fixed to the bus's body. The driver will potentially give you trouble if you have additional bags, but if you push, you will get the same US$2 rate. They also try the 'typhoon in Ha Long Bay' scam whereby they take you to a street where you cannot see the hotel name and tell you that the Ha Long Bay guests are still in the hotel and they will take you to their other hotel for the same price. This place is a complete dive facing the highway. You should also beware the drivers trying to offer you a ride to your hotel for US$5, claiming the Old Quarter is 5km from the office - it is much cheaper to go to the Vietnam Airlines office and switch to a taxi (or walk, it's 2km MAX to anywhere in the Old Quarter). The taxi will not cost more than the US$3 price differential and if it does, you should refuse to pay as the driver has cheated you somehow. The shuttle buses are also available to get to airport hourly.
Trains to Nanning, China depart from Gia Lam Station (GPS 21.05213,105.87939), about 5km north-east of Hanoi Station, although tickets can be purchased from Hanoi Station. A ticket for a soft sleeper compartment (4-berth compartment) costs 568,000 dong per person. Be cautious buying these tickets from hotels or travel agents in the Old Quarter, as they may quote prices substatially higher.
All other trains use the main Hanoi train station (Ga Hang Co, 120 Le Duan, ☎ +84 4 825 3949), for daily services from cities in the south including Hue and Nha Trang. The Reunification Express goes all the way to Ho Chi Minh City, although there is very little 'express' about it.
There are also train services to the north-west (including Lao Cai, from which you reach Sapa. To board trains bound for these destinations, you have to enter the railway station compound through the "backdoor" at Tran Quy Cap station. Just tell your driver which destination your train is heading to. Be mindful of any "helpful" stranger who offers to carry your luggage - he probably has a sum more than the cost of the ticket in mind for the help.
Tickets for all destinations are sold in the main station, though there are two counter halls, north and south, serving the respective destinations.
Technically, there is a queuing system in place to buy tickets at Hanoi Station which involves obtaining a numbered docket and waiting to be called up to one of the ticket counters. In practice, the process is chaotic and many locals disregard the system altogether, often pushing their way to the counters to be served. If travelling to Nanning, China, it is advisable to ask a staff member where to go, as not all counters can sell these tickets.
Buy your tickets as early as possible, especially since sleeper-tickets can be sold out several days in advance. If you can't get a ticket anymore, try a travel-agent who still might have stocks. You may also try your luck in the station just before boarding time, agents still holding tickets will be eager to sell as the departure draws near. Nevertheless, travel agencies in Hanoi are known for their bad business practices. Some of them will try to overcharge you up to 300%, so it is better go to the train station by yourself and find out about the prices before you agree on any deal.
Most of the "open-tour" bus itineraries either begin or end in Hanoi, with Hue the next (or previous) stop (12-14 hr, US$8-9), and from there to Hoi An, Nha Trang, Dalat, Mui Ne, Ho Chi Minh City, and other cities in Vietnam, depending on the bus company. Most seem to stop at their office which could be right next to the old district / most backpacker hotels. Check when booking ticket.
Many of the same companies also sell tickets to Vientiane and Savannakhet in Laos (US$16-18). Do some research before you buy a ticket as rattle-trap scam buses abound on this route.
See Ho Chi Minh City to Shanghai overland if you're interested in crossing over to China by bus or train.
Taxis are the best way to travel long distances, but the cyclos, or pedicabs, are a cheap way to make shorter trips. Taxi fares are not always consistent, and the rates for each taxi company have not been standardized. For lone travellers, rides on the back of motorbikes (actually low-powered scooters) are popular too (known as xe om, literally meaning motorbike-hug).
Some meter taxi owners in Hanoi will attempt to negotiate a flat fee in advance rather than use the meter. If you have a fair idea of how far you're going or how much you're willing to pay, this is probably a good idea. If the driver refuses, turning around and walking away will almost certainly change his mind. Don't sweat it, it's all part of the expected negotiation protocol. It has also become common for the drivers of some of the less reputable taxi companies to "fix" their meters to run faster hence running up a high bill very fast! The recommendation is to only use the reputable and reliable taxi companies. These are Hanoi Taxi, ☎ +84 4 3853 5353), Taxi CP, ☎ +84 4 3826 2626), Mai Linh Taxi , ☎ +84 4 3861 6161). Another common scam by taxis is that the driver takes you for a "sightseeing" - and extends the tour to make more money. This is very hard to discover unless you know the city well, but if you catch your driver doing this (e.g. going around Hoan Kiem Lake twice), demand that he stop the taxi and leave the taxi without paying.
Be very careful with meter taxis in Hanoi. Some have central locking, and are known to lock passengers in, and demand large amounts of US dollars before letting them go. The driver may threaten to have you beaten up or arrested should you not give in to his demands, but if you kick up enough of a fuss, they will let you go.
Most taxi drivers speak limited English, so it's a good practice to get your hotel to write the name and address of you destination in Vietnamese to show the taxi driver, and get your hotel's business card in case you get lost.
Be vigilant when taking a taxi - driver jumps out at destination and dumps most of your bags out of the trunk. While you're busy putting rucksack on he has taken off with your other bags.
Be vigilant also the meter which can run as far or even faster than a digital clock. Do keep an eye on the meter during the journey. Fare flag drops starting at 12,000 dong.
By motorbike driver
Motorbike drivers can be found on virtually every corner, especially in the Old Quarter. Expect to be offered a ride every half-block (or more). You should absolutely negotiate a fare in advance, and again, turn around and walk away if you don't like their offer. There are far more drivers than tourists, and they know it - your fare could be the only one they get all day. You should also write down the negotiated fare (with all zeros) to avoid confusion. Even if you do speak Vietnamese, a driver might pretend that you said 50,000 dong instead of 15,000, In case of argument over fares after the ride, keep calm and repeat the original agreement (remember, you have the leverage). A typical 10 min fare should cost no more than 15,000-20,000 dong. Many drivers will accept US dollars as well. At the end of a ride, some will offer to hang around to drive you to your next destination - either be clear that you don't want a return ride (and don't go near him when you leave), or get a price in advance. Otherwise, you might be surprised when the driver tacks on several million dong for having waited.
Keep your wallet out of arms reach of the drivers when you pay, less honest motorbike drivers are not adverse to grabbing your wallet and helping themselves to any notes they like the look of before jumping on their bike and speeding off.
Negotiate first or avoid using the cyclos services, they can demand 200,000 dong (US$12) for a short ride of less than 100 m (330 ft). At the end of the journey, a few men will come over to translate, and they will pretend to help and later insist that you pay the demanded amount.
Motorcycles can be rented for around US$5-6 a day, and can be arranged by most hotels. This is good for making lots of trips around the city for individuals or duos, but be careful: Hanoi traffic is very difficult place to sharpen motorbike skills. Park on the sidewalk with other bikes, and be sure to lock the front wheel. Locals will help arrange the bikes near their stores. Many shops that have bike attendants will give you a ticket in exchange for parking your bike. This may or may not come with a fee (typically ranging from 2,000-5,000 dong). The ticket will either have your license plate number written on it, or the ticket itself will be numbered, with that number subsequently chalked somewhere on your bike. In such cases (where you've been given a ticket), the attendants may ask that you NOT lock the steering column or front wheel of your bike so that they can rearrange the bikes as customers come and go.
Scam free, cheap but a bit difficult to comprehend at first, the buses in Hanoi are relatively fast and surprisingly comfortable. Pick up a map with printed bus lines at the Trang Tien street (the book street by the Opera house) and spend a few minutes to identify the over 60 bus lines, find your bus stop, wait for the bus, pay 3,000 dong and off you go. If you are unfamiliar with the city, make sure to inform the conductor where you want to get off.
Hanoi's traffic is chaotic, with seemingly perpetual traffic jams, and a large number of almost suicidal motorcyclists and pedestrians. As such, driving yourself around is not recommended, and you should leave your transportation needs in the hands of professionals.
The city will be serviced by Metro sometime around 2015. Construction began in 2010.
Vietnamese Women's Museum - Bảo Tàng Phụ nữ Việt Nam, 36 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Hoan Kiem District (Located in central Hanoi, 1 km South of Hoan Kiem Lake), ☎ +84 04 38259938 (info@firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 84 04 38259129), . Tu-Su 8.00AM-4.30PM. This often overlooked museum has recently benefited from an extensive renovation of its permanent exhibitions. The modernised interior is well laid out with information in Vietnamese, English and French, and contains a huge amount of information on the fiercesome female heroines of Vietnamese history. There are also exhibitions on the rituals and traditions surrounding women in family, as well as a beautifully presented collection of intricate hand-made ethnic costumes. A particular highlight are the regularly updated special exhibitions on a diverse range of subjects, from contemporary issues such as single mothers and street vendors to traditional medicine and Mother Goddess worship. English language tours are available on request. 30,000 dong.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. 8AM to 11AM. Closed Mon & Fri. Last entrance 10:15. The city down south may have his name, but only Hanoi has the man himself, entombed in distinctly Lenin-esque fashion - against his wishes, but that's how it goes. No talking, revealing clothing (shorts should be knee length and no exposed shoulders), or other signs of disrespect allowed while viewing; photos are allowed only from outside, in the grand Ba Dinh Square. Purses are allowed into the tomb, but expect them to be searched by several bored soldiers along the way. Left luggage is handled in a complicated scheme: there is an office near the street for large bags, with separate windows for Vietnamese and foreigners, and a further office for cameras, which will be transported to a third office right outside the exit of the mausoleum. Items checked in at the first office, however, will stay there. Note that the mausoleum is closed for a couple months around the end of the year, when the body is taken abroad for maintenance. Free. edit
Ho Chi Minh Museum, 19 Ngoc Ha St, Ba Dinh, ☎ +84 4 846-3572 (email@example.com). 8AM-11:30AM, 2PM-4PM, closed M and F afternoons. This gleaming white museum and its gloriously ham-handed iconography are the perfect chaser to the solemnity of the mausoleum. The building, completed in 1990, is intended to evoke a white lotus. Some photos and old letters are on display on the second floor, but the main exhibition space is on the third floor. It includes cars crashing through walls to represent the chaos of post-war American capitalism, soldiers charging around with electric plugs, a cave hideout re-imagined as the inside of Ho Chi Minh's brain, and several other postmodern confections integrated with the main story of the man's life and his country's struggle. One of the more informative museums in Vietnam, and perhaps one of the oddest in the world. Guides are available in English, French, Chinese and Russian, but don't bother; the displays are labeled in English and French, and it's hard to imagine the guides doing much other than belaboring the point. 25,000 dong.
Ho Chi Minh's Vestige In The Presidential Palace Area, No.1 Bach Thao, Ba Dinh, ☎ +84 4 0804 4529. Summer 7:30AM-11AM, 2PM-4PM. Winter 8AM-11AM, 1:30PM-4PM, closed M F afternoons. The exit from the mausoleum takes you right into the grounds of the, uh, vestige, where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked from 1954 until his death in 1969. The nicely landscaped complex includes two of Ho Chi Minh's houses, kept shiny and "as he left them" by the authorities, as well as a garage with two of Ho's "used cars" and a carp-filled pond. The Presidential Palace is also nearby, but it's not always open to visitors. Pamphlets are available in English, Chinese, French, and Korean. Guided tours are usually available if you wait. Paying is not enforced unless you are one of the unlucky few to be outed from the crowd. 25,000 dong.
Fine Arts Museum - Bảo Tàng Mỹ Thuật, 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc St. Tuesday to Sun from 9:15am to 5pm. Only party-approved art is shown here and there is no information in English and only little in Vietnamese. But it is an interesting museum at any rate, with pieces such as the wonderful pictures of soldiers on boats depicted on prehistoric bronze drums, Buddhist art, and revolutionary art of the 20th century wars. Also some interesting silk paintings. 20,000 dong.
Army Museum - Bảo Tàng Quân Đội, Dien Bien Phu St. 8AM-11:30AM, 1:00PM-4:30PM, closed on Monday and Friday. Vietnam's military history extends back some two millennia, and this museum covers it on four buildings with interesting pieces. Item descriptions on museum exhibits are in Vietnamese, French and English. On display outside are the ubiquitous MiG-21 jet fighter, T-54 tank and many bombs and articles captured on Indochina and Vietnam wars. closed monday and friday. 30,000 dong, additional 20,000 dong to take pictures (rarely enforced).
Air Force Museum - Bảo Tàng Không Quân, Truong Chinh St (SW of the city centre). There's a decent outdoor collection of a UH-1 helicopter, Soviet-built MiG fighters, a huge Mi-6 helicopter, and other aircraft; unfortunately they've been exposed to the elements for some time and local kids climb over them.
National Museum of Vietnamese History -Bảo tàng Lịch sử Việt Nam, 1 Trang Tien St. 8AM-11:30AM, 1:30PM-4:30PM. This is a collection from Vietnamese history from about 1,000 years back until 1945. Many antiques and the such. 15,000 dong, students 8,000 dong and under 15, 2,000 dong. 15,000 dong for a camera/30,000 dong for a video.
Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution -Bảo tàng Cách mạng Việt Nam, 25 Tong Dan St (and 216 Tran Quang Khai St, . Tu-Su 8AM-11:45AM, 1:30PM-4:15PM. This museum gives a very informed and detailed account of the Vietnamese struggle against first the French (starting in 1858 -- on the first floor), then against the Americans (on the ground floor - ending on 30 April 1975). It is housed in a colonial French building which was completed in 1932. The building, designed by the architect Ernest Hébrard is considered as a successful blend between the colonial French architecture and traditional Vietnamese architecture, called Indochina architecture. He created double-walls and balconies for a natural ventilation system and protection from sunshine. 10,000 dong.
Museum of Ethnology - Bao Tang Dan Toc Hoc Vietnam, Nguyen Van Huyen St, Cau Giay district (Bus 14 from Hoan Kiem Lake - ask the conductor when to stop, and take a 500 m walk towards the museum (backtrack a little from the bus stop, and when you see a large street perpendicular to the street that you dropped off, take that street and walk down the street until you see the Museum of Ethnology to your left). Bus 38 goes from right outside the Temple of Literature to the street the museum is on.), . Tu-Su 8:30AM-5:30PM. covers mainly the culture and ritual practices of the various ethnic groups in the whole of Vietnam - one of the key attractions of the museum is the open-air exhibition, which has houses of some ethnic groups, which even comes with inhabitants in costumes. The museum features actual explanations of the exhibits in Vietnamese, French and English. The Museum of Ethnology houses the excellent chocolate and baguette cafe, which has excellent fare at a reasonable price - an excellent pit-stop after the museum visit. 25,000 dong for foreigners.
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