The vibrant Vietnamese capital

The charmingly chaotic Old Quarter is at the heart of Hanoi. A constant stream of honking scooters weave their way through the warren of higgledy-piggeldy streets, clusters of shop owners sit in their doorways nattering, and sellers with conical hats balance baskets on their shoulders as they power walk their wares around. In complete contrast, on the south east side of Hoan Kiem Lake you will find the French Quarter with wide tree-lined avenues, colonial architecture and the neo-classical iconic Hanoi Opera House. And that is not all. The Vietnamese capital is full of culture hits, from must-visit museums and temples to contemporary galleries and theatres showing the ancient performance art of water puppetry.

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From shopping in the Old Quarter to the top historic sights

With a nod to the merchants who once gathered to sell their goods here, the shops in the Old Quarter are still divided by trade. For silk scarves and pashminas head to Hang Gai street; art galleries and traditional artisan shops selling beautiful lacquered bowls line Hang Be street, while Hang Bac is known as silver street.

For fantastic Vietnamese coffee try Hang Giay street: each shop has dozens of varieties of beans which you can sniff and taste before they are ground and bagged. If you are in the city at the weekend, do not miss the night market (held Friday to Sunday from 7pm) when colorful stalls are spread across a handful of streets (it is less about buying, more about soaking up the atmosphere).

Early morning is the best time to wander round serene Hoan Kiem Lake – Ngoc Son Temple sits on an island at the north end and can be reached by the red Huc Bridge; the Thap Rua Tower is on an island in the south – when you will pass joggers and locals practising t’ai chi among the flame trees.

Or go early evening, before catching a show at the nearby Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Hanoi’s other lake is the vast, 500 hectare Ho Tay (West Lake) where in recent years, a bunch of art galleries, boutiques and bistros have sprung up along its shores (do not miss Manzi, part gallery, part cafe which is housed in a beautifully restored French colonial villa to the south).

Other top sights include The Temple of Literature which was originally built as the country’s first university in 1070 and is a well-preserved example of traditional-style Vietnamese architecture; the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square, the final resting place of Ho Chi Minh (or ‘Uncle Ho’ as he is affectionately known in Vietnam); and the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, a Unesco World Heritage Site containing artefacts from the 6th to the 20th-century.

The restored bunker in the grounds which was used by military command during the Vietnam War was opened to visitors for the first time at the end of 2017 and contains wall maps, the briefing room and telephone booths. All three offer a fascinating glimpse into the city’s rich and tumultuous past.

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