Hanoi marked its 1,000-year anniversary amidst much fanfare back in 2010, and although Western fashions, music, and food have long since elbowed their way into the once-impenetrable north, the city maintains a strong sense of identity. It’s a fascinating mix of old and new Vietnam, with Chinese and French influences, ancient culture, colonial architecture, broad tree-lined boulevards, and beautiful lakes.
Full of things to see, from the architecture of the Old Quarter and the French Quarter to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Temple of Literature, the Vietnamese capital lends itself to leisurely exploration. The city is home to one of Asia’s stronger indigenous culinary traditions, with earthy markets and a rambunctious street-food culture, but also boasts a stellar range of international dining options. Hanoi is also very affordable by urban Asian standards, with the majority of hotels and restaurants offering plenty of value.
Hanoians have increasing amounts of disposable income, and the city continues to modernize at a breakneck pace. The predominant sound at an intersection was once the delicate ring of bicycle bells. Today motorcycles and cars, including luxury models such as BMWs and Bentleys, are taxing the city’s antiquated road system. Like their counterparts in Ho Chi Minh City, the youth of Hanoi express themselves through an eclectic range of influences ranging from skateboard culture and envelope-pushing contemporary art to high living and luxury labels. Nonetheless, Hanoi remains a refined city of academics, artists, diplomats—and contradictions. Timeless tableaus of “Old Asia” are easy to spot. Emerge early and you’ll find old timers practicing tai chi moves down by the banks of mist-shrouded Hoan Kiem Lake. Nearby, beret-wearing grandfathers stroke their wispy beards as they contemplate their next chess move over a cup of full-bodied Vietnamese coffee. Those looking for a city preserved in aspic won’t find it in this urbane, confounding metropolis.