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After more than 1,000 years of existence, Hanoi continues to be one of Asia’s most beguiling capitals. Unsurprisingly, given its vintage, history looms large here. Ancient temples and colonial architecture provide a rich backdrop to broad, treelined boulevards and placid lakes.
Ruins of an ancient gate in Hanoi’s Temple of Literature courtyard compound. (istock/Getty Images)
In recent times, the city has witnessed the opening of a spate of new venues and art spaces that underscore its status as a compelling contemporary hub. The city is also home to one of Asia’s more distinctive indigenous culinary traditions, and features a stellar range of local and international dining options.
Dusk falls in the city’s Old Quarter. (Florian Wehde/Unsplash)
As a city, Hanoi is a stew with a multitude of flavours that emerges, tasting uniquely Vietnamese. Whether you’re pressed for time or you’ve got all the time in the world, here are two ways to rediscover the allure of Hanoi.
When time is of the essence
Chicken or beef? Pho is Vietnam’s nominal national dish. (Hong Anh Duong/Unsplash)
Start your day the local way with a hearty bowl of pho. Hanoi is the spiritual home of Vietnam’s nominal national dish, which comes in chicken and beef varieties. And you’ll find long lines outside the city’s top spots on a daily basis as locals queue up for their breakfast broth.
A stand-out place to try pho is Pho Gia Truyen Bat Dan (known to locals simply as “Pho Bat Dan”). The broth here is clear and rich, while beef is tender and soft, with a glowing pink hue.
Hanoi’s Instagram-famous Train Street in the Old Quarter has stubbornly (and surreptitiously) resisted the
authorities’ attempts at closure. (Dave Weatherall/Unsplash)
Any exploration of Hanoi’s built heritage should begin in the Old Quarter – a warrenlike maze of streets that have been a hub of commerce for millennia.
Facade of a house in the Old Quarter, Hanoi. (Hieu Tran/Unsplash)
The slim buildings that characterise the area are known as “tube houses” – with narrow frontage but deceiving depth, a ruse to dodge the taxes levied on the width of street-facing premises – which combine workshops and living quarters. Visitors can sneak an in-depth look at this style at 87 Ma May Street, a lovingly restored residence dating back to the 19th century.
From unassuming shrines marked with faded Chinese characters to grand complexes steeped in notability, Hanoi has spiritual sustenance to suit every temple taste.
The Temple of Literature compound, Hanoi. (David Emrich/Unsplash)
The most important of these is Van Mieu, or the Temple of Literature.
Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, the compound features five manicured courtyards and is the site of the Imperial Academy – Vietnam’s first university – which was established in 1076. More venerable still (at least in its original form before it was destroyed by the departing French in 1954) is One Pillar Pagoda, which was originally constructed in 1049 by Emperor Ly Thai Thong as an expression of gratitude to the Goddess of Mercy for granting him an heir.
Hanoi’s Red River at sundown. (istock/Getty Images)
A perfect evening in Hanoi should start around sundown at one of the city’s numerous rooftop venues. Current hot spots include the Lighthouse Sky Bar, which offers expertly made cocktails in a three-storey ‘boat-style’ terrace overlooking the Red River. For dinner, opt for fine French dining at La Badiane, a trusty stalwart set in a spectacular colonial villa. To round off a memorable day in Vietnam’s capital, grab a glass of wine or a nightcap at Tadioto, a bar/café, event space and meeting spot for arty types of all stripes.
When possessing the luxury of time
With its rich heritage, vibrant contemporary culture and myriad nooks and crannies, Hanoi is a place that rewards those with scope to dig a little deeper. While most visitors manage to tick off the Old Quarter, fewer make it to the French Quarter, where grand villas rub shoulders with stately Art Deco edifices.
The Hanoi Opera House was modelled after Paris’ Palais Garnier. (istock/Getty Images).
Notable structures in this part of the city include the Hanoi Opera House (built in 1911 and modelled after the Palais Garnier in Paris) and the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel – one of the grandest old hotels in the region, where guests can take a tour of its WWII bunker.
The former Hoa Lo Prison, now a museum, was nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by prisoners. (istock/Getty Images)
The city’s museums paint a vivid picture of a frequently turbulent history. Echoes of the conflict with America abound at the Hoa Lo Prison, colloquially known as the “Hanoi Hilton”. The former penitentiary, now a museum, chronicles the experiences of former prisoners – both Vietnamese revolutionaries imprisoned by the French colonial government, and captured US troops such as the late American senator John McCain.
Although Hanoi has history and tradition to burn, this ancient city is now clothing itself in some fetching contemporary threads, which manifests in everything from a thriving art and retail scene to a booming market for local craft beers. Hip retail options include An Store, an excellent vintage boutique set within a cute shophouse in the Old Quarter, and Collective Memory, a treasure trove of high-quality Vietnamese curios and gourmet products.
To while away your afternoon and evening, there are contemporary art galleries such as Manzi; Tranquil Books and Café, where you can sip cold-brew coffees and kick back with a book; and venues with live shows and DJ sets such as Hanoi Rock City and Savage. Hanoi’s modern vitality can also be seen at new dining ventures such as Bao Wow, a buzzing place that majors in delicious Taiwanese baos, and through an expanding craft beer scene. Pasteur Street Brewery, established in Ho Chi Minh City, has now opened a taproom in the capital. Also slaking thirsts with quality ales is Standing Bar, which offers brews from a host of Vietnamese craft beer brands at its location on the shore of pretty Truc Bach Lake.
A one-bedroom serviced apartment in Fraser Suites Hanoi’s new tower. (artist’s rendering/Frasers Hospitality)
With its prime location in Syrena Tower on Xuan Dieu Street, Fraser Suites Hanoi offers travellers a home close to the city’s pulsating heart, and yet provides a tranquil repose away from its hustle and bustle. Well-appointed in an exclusive residential enclave within the scenic Westlake district, the award-winning property features Gold-Standard fully furnished spacious residences, including magnificent and sophisticated penthouses, with excellent garden and lake views. This June 2021, Fraser Suites Hanoi extends its luxurious brand of hospitality with the opening of its new tower, which adds a sleek new rooftop pool and bar and 96 new fully serviced apartments to the existing 184-room property.
The living and dining area of a two-bedroom serviced apartment in Fraser Suites Hanoi’s new tower.
(artist’s rendering/Frasers Hospitality)
In celebration of its new tower opening, Fraser Suites Hanoi is offering guests an ‘Opening Special’ promotion, starting from VND 1,700,000++ per room per night (approximately USD 74++ per room per night). The offer includes complimentary WiFi and scheduled shuttle to the city centre. The offer is subject to availability at the time of reservation; terms and conditions apply. For enquiries and bookings, please visit https://hanoi.frasershospitality.com/en
Fraser Residence Hanoi
In Q3 2021, Frasers Hospitality is slated to debut Fraser Residence Hanoi, a new 216-room property located in the Bac Tu Liem District.